I am not afraid of bees or bugs or the dark. I am not afraid of public speaking or taking charge of a group. I am a reasonably competent 23-year-old who lives by herself and cleans her apartment and does her laundry every Saturday. I take out the trash and the recycling. And I am terrified every time I show up at a friend's house for dinner and find myself asking the question, "Do you need help with anything?"
Don't get me wrong: I am not someone who doesn't know how to boil water or dice an onion. I cook for myself most nights, and when I'm really on top of it, I make double portions and have leftovers for lunch the next day. It isn't that I can't cook, but that doing it for other people makes me unreasonably anxious. And in this, I would guess, I am not alone.
It is, in many ways, understandable: Cooking is risky. You're offering both to nourish and to please whoever you're feeding, to see to their health as you engage their tastes. To cook for someone is to try to give sustenance as a gift, one that is laced with social implications. (It is no accident that the traditional trajectory of dating waits until the third date to move from restaurant to home kitchen.)
It seems to me, however, that my kitchen anxiety has progressed beyond a shy desire to please at the same rate that food and its preparation have become a near-constant topic of conversation (even among my friends who don't work for a project with "food" in the name). With the rise of the kitchen stadium and the advent of the food blog, critical language has become the order of the day. Somewhere between Iron Chef and Top Chef, eating has become a game you can win, both as skilled cook and as outspoken critic. The new food culture prizes sustainability (sometimes) and creativity, and it wants to get us excited again about what's on our plates. None of those things are in themselves problematic. But when you start hearing Tom Colicchio over your shoulder as you stir up another sauté of things found in the fridge, wondering why you aren't reaching for a more exotic flavor profile, it might be time to start worrying.