Chefs quite often talk about flavours that go together ect. But isn't food really just a subjective thing? What one person likes another may not and I'm not sure if there really is a right way to cook.
Isn't food a subjective thing?
Yes, Chris, food, is a subjective thing and for every rule you can find lots of people to the contrary, but even subjective things can have guidelines. Why do certain foods go together, because time and time again people have reinforced those beliefs by agreeing that they go well together. And certain foods, to the the majority of people, don't taste good together. Much of this is learned and based on cultural preferences, but some of it has to do with how flavors compliment and contrast with each other. Most people would agree that bitter foods are better paired with foods that compliment or contrast with those bitter flavors as opposed to heaping more bitter flavors on top of them, same with salty, sour, or sweet foods (of course you can find people that would disagree with those statements). As chefs, cooks, and home cooks, we can't expect to please 100% of the people 100% of the time. Taste is too subjective a thing for that to happen, but if we follow the guidelines set before us, by hundreds, and thousands of years of precedent we can be pretty sure to please most people, most of the time.
Pete gave you a good answer. I'll risk adding to it.
There is a right and wrong way to do everything and some things are better then others.
Rather than expound on this subject in a cooking sense, I'll use an analogy.
If you built a house, you could chop down a tree and keep at it until you got some kind of shelter built.
Making sure the foundation, walls and roof are all plumb and level makes a difference. You can make a shelter with crooked walls
and an uneven foundation, but it's not as good.
So instead you go to those who have experience building house to learn how to do it right.
What style of house you prefer is subjective, how you decorate it is subjective, How to build it correctly is not.
Once you have it built, an interior designer can offer advice on which color schemes go well together, how to coordinate themes, etc.
based on what is most pleasing to the eye.
Flavor combinations are part of what takes experience, diligence and patience when cooking. You can throw anything you want together and call it dinner. Don't expect everyone else to like it and don't wonder why.
We talk about this all the time at work.
Can you imagine being that first person who smashed an oyster open on a rock and slurped it?
Or lazing under a palm tree and a coconut falls at your feet and you figure out how to open it, drink the milk and enjoy the chew.
How about octopus, or vanilla bean.
This is where to history of food began.
Yes. Subject to 7 billion people staying alive every day. I just ran out of coffee, now my breakfast is subject to me being cranky.
Eye of the beholder.
And about is there a right way to cook. Yes there is, the way your Chef tells you to, while being fast and clean.