In cooking, three really is the magic number

Take inspiration from the simple genius of Danish chef Bo Bech

Bo Bech’s avocado, caviar and almond oil, from his restaurant Geist in Copenhagen. Photograph: Instagram/bobech

That 1973 three-minute song that tooted out over the TV airwaves in Schoolhouse Rock! was catchy and witty: "The past and the present and the future. Faith and Hope and Charity. The heart and the brain and the body. Give you three as a magic number."

What is it about three that makes it magical? It’s a number I use every day in the kitchen, combining three ingredients to try and make the perfect dish. Mackeral, gooseberry and hazelnut. But why three? I’ve always found that three main ingredients look right.

Bech elevates these three ingredients to divine heights

Mallard, artichokes and thyme. The Pythagoreans taught that the number three was the first true number because it was the first number that forms a geometrical figure – the triangle. Three was also considered by the ancients as a number of harmony, wisdom and understanding. Is this why I like the number three? Three things tripping off my tongue.

One chef who seems to have made a career out of combining three primary ingredients is the Danish chef Bo Bech (formerly of The Paustian, now of Geist in Copenhagen), whose recent cookbook, What Does Memory Taste Like, was published before Christmas. His most famous dish is simply avocado, caviar and almond oil. Nothing more. Though when you look at it you could be forgiven for thinking it a simple combination. The dish is given nine pages in his cookbook. Bech elevates these three ingredients to divine heights.


Some of his other dishes (all of which can be seen on his Instagram: @bobech) play on the number three: Poached lemon sole, salted butter and garlic; black kale with fried egg and ramsons [similar to wild garlic or chives]; or Jerusalem artichokes with scallops and chestnuts. I could go on. Often when we go to cook a dish, we fail to hold back, continually adding ingredients until we have expunged ourselves. But the next time you cook, try and limit yourself to only three ingredients (I don't count seasoning or oil) so you can relish in their combination. I'm thinking of getting clams tomorrow and steaming them with wild garlic and cider. Heat cider. Add clams. Cover until opened. Toss through wild garlic. Three is the magic number.