The first chef

Because my mind wanders frequently to random things, I occasionally wonder about cooking. Specifically, who came up with cooking? When you really stop to think about the average recipe or the foods that we all take for granted, it seems very strange that they exist.

Take bread as an example.

Who the hell thought up the concept of ‘bread’? What was the process? One day, did someone just wake up and say, “You know what? I bet if I took that wheat, ground it up, threw in some yeast, baked it over a fire…you could eat it.” That seems like a very, very random thought for someone to have had. But how else does one invent bread?

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It’s not like bread happens by accident. It seems very unlikely that, one day, all of the separate ingredients for bread just happened to be knocked over into a mixing bowl, kneaded, and then it fell into an unattended oven for just the right amount of time. At some point in history, someone invented bread on purpose. I just wonder what the hell the thought process behind it was.

Some things were obviously accidents. Take booze. Fermented fruit? Totally possible and even likely once you invent agriculture and start to store large quantities of fruit. I could see how cheese and yogurt could also have been created by accident.

But there remain some things that I can’t help but wonder about. Like, who was the first person to cook meat? And why? For thousands of years people ate it raw, and then one day someone decides to stick it over a fire. Because something. I’m intensely curious to know how these things, these foods and these cooking processes came to be!

If anyone out there has their own theories and can shed some light on this, I would be most grateful. Now, if you’ll all excuse me, it’s time for lunch.

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8 thoughts on “The first chef

  1. Are you sure I didn’t plan this idea into your head at some point? I have totally wondered for some years now how bread got invented. lol The best I could come up with was this:

    First it seems that the first type of bread would be unleavened bread. While you can obviously get yeast to form naturally that would take a much bigger accident to discover. In terms of grains, of course wild grains are often smaller and not as easily chewable, but I imagine that they would have seen many larger herbivores eating it. One possibility thus on the origin of bread is that initially the grains were stored for the early domestication of animals and then in lean times they were forced to eat their animals and the feed for their animals. As dried grains would have been very difficult to chew but would have had valuable calories I can see them grinding it into some sort of powder and then to make it more palatable turning it into a paste or dough and then it was only a matter of time before someone started cooking…perhaps using calories from animal fat to fry it in, thus making use of other parts of the animal that might have been less easy to eat. Grease from animal fat I imagine was an easy add into the dough too, to make it softer, as just cooked flour and water by itself would have been rather bland and tough to eat.

    Another possibility is that flour can be made by other things too. Flour made from nuts or coconuts, or corn (early corn was not edible by itself, but again I think they would have recognized it as food). So grinding something down and turning into a paste was probably not unheard of, and trying to heat it up I guess doesn’t seem like much a stretch. An accident of leaving that paste out in the hot sun to dry out would have at least made them notice a change of texture.

    I imagine cooking meat was probably also an answer to try and utilize meat after it had started going bad. Without refrigeration, meat would spoil more quickly and they might have figured heat might help remove some of the taint from spoiled meat. Early mean may have at some point realized that cauterizing wounds helped someone not die from infection, so applying heat as a way of “healing” spoiled meat might not be too surprising. It could have also been an answer to help make meat more chewable by the young with fewer teeth, or the old with fewer teeth. Again I think lean times and the absence of a variety of food would have spurred a lot of these attempts to stay fed with whatever they had.

    1. The best minds think alike 😉

      Your bread theory sounds very plausible. Surely, we can’t be the only people who have ever wondered about this. I bet there are anthropologists or archaeologists out there who have some answers.

      1. Clearly. 🙂

        I am sure there are answers out there, but I sought expert knowledge I might find out that one of my hypotheses was incorrect and thus shatter my illusion of being brilliant. Damn, I sound like a Christian fundamentalist. 😉

  2. My comments have to be moderated!? lol I just thought of another thing. Probably the first bread wasn’t made from flour at all. Many grains also soften in water, something that could have easily been discovered by accident. The first meals using grain probably was more like a cereal. From there is also doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to try and cook it. Especially since wet grain would be hard to transport. Cooking it, might have seemed like a good way to make calories transportable.

  3. My guess would be bread as we know it evolved from simpler forms. By evolved I of course mean manipulated by man as time went by. Cultural crossovers, accidents, and trying new ideas, surely contributed. I agree that Swarn’s assesment sounds pretty good.

    I doubt we could ever actually answer your question to a satisfying degree. Too much time gone by, water under the bridge, lack of data.

    I think the cooking meat thing was covered by a Sponge Bob episode. Yes I have been raising kids for friggin decades (through two marriages), I have watched some Sponge Bob…

  4. Give it just a few million more years! Forget the rise of the machines, look for the rise of the bread dough.

    Or it could happen the usual way, one loaf of bread and an accidental gamma ray blast in a lab… I can see it now an enormous blob of dough terrorizing the countryside. Run for your lives! And the B movie exits.

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