Béchamel sauce has long been a bête noir of mine. The first time I made it the recipe stressed the importance of mixing the butter and flour quickly into a paste in order to avoid lumps, which, it was made clear, were akin to summoning the devil to the table for three courses and cheese. On top of this you were instructed to add the milk slowly, over a low heat to make a silky sauce and prevent the liquid boiling over. In my mind these elements resulted in a process that could not only lead to lumps of flour in a thin white sauce, but that sauce could boil over and cause a disaster in the kitchen that would make Quatermass' pit look like a Ikea catalogue. To add to my chagrin my favourite food at the time (and this remains perfect comfort food today) was lasagne, which needs a good béchamel - just ask Garfield. Mine, however, was thin, lumpy, and whilst it thickened up in the oven, and tasted okay, it never really added to the dish. Over the years this image appears whenever I begin a new attempt.
Now I began cooking about twelve, and the excitement of creating my own food was combined with fear of processes and techniques that I had no experience of. I have a natural apprehension towards anything new, based entirely on a fear of getting it wrong. In my mind I feel that I should be able to master most techniques, and yet I find myself paralysed when it comes to adding heat, setting up hardware, measuring amounts, using a new device and so on. I also have a brilliant side effect that stems from this, which is a dislike of asking for help, feeling that if then I still can't get it right then I have truly shown myself to be an idiot.
It is only as I get experience and confidence that I find that I can fully express my ideas and trust my instincts, but the process of taking the first steps can be hideous and a process full of self recrimination and doubt - like walking with a bungee rope wrapped around your scrotum (I speak from experience). The importance of trusting my instincts came from work experience during university: working on colour design in an animation firm I spent five of a six week placement dithering and not working fast enough, then when told I'd been taken on because of my colour sense I was able to speed through the work without debating each decision twenty five times, and using the simple criteria of do I like those colours next to each other?
Each time I come to a new project I remember this, and remind myself - often under duress - to believe in my thoughts, instincts and any talents or qualities I possess. So now, when asked to whip up a béchamel I know I need enough flour - rather than using too little for fear of lumps, I know I can use a whisk if I need to make sure it combines quickly, and I know I can up the heat a little without the sauce mutating. From this I can mess about with flavourings, and explore variations; I can trust my gut, before filling it.