Smoke poured from the frying pan as someone began pounding on my door. I was in my 20s and learning to cook by way of disaster. Inept and absurdly confident, I had zero doubt, having watched a few cooking shows, that I could master any dish.
“Seriously, how hard can it be?” I thought. “Any idiot can follow a recipe.”
That night I tackled recado negro, a Mayan paste akin to mole poblano—but way spicier. It seemed easy: Roast chilies till black, then blend with spices and vinegar. Sure, Mérida, Yucatán, had banned cooking the dish within city limits, given that the burning chilies can double as a chemical weapon.
“But whatever,” I thought. “I got this.”
Now pain seared my eyes; my lungs screamed. I turned off the stove, but the pounding continued. When I opened the door, my Latin American neighbor stood in the threshold, a hand over her nose. The noxious fumes had traveled through the walls into every apartment. Her expression said it all: You asshole.
I followed a half dozen of my neighbors down the hallway. Outside, I promised I’d never cook again. Any illusion I’d had about becoming the next Anthony Bourdain or Andy Ricker had gone, well, up in smoke. I was the idiot who followed the recipe and still managed to cause a mini-catastrophe. A seasoned cook would have known not to roast the chilies indoors; a seasoned person wouldn’t have thought so highly of himself to even try. When the fumes cleared, I returned to my apartment and, with my hubris in check and a newfound respect for actual chefs, quietly ordered a burrito.
This essay is part of our Art of the Fail series.