I want to improve the importance of complicated cooking. So far the only item I think that would be a good example of what to do is cake. Cake is hard to make, but rewards the player for making it more than other foods (It can be placed for others, it doesn't take inventory space, it can give a lot of hunger back).
Potions in my opinion are underrated in Minecraft's community; they grant large bonuses in defense and offense. Cooking should be the same way, except with easier crafting and weaker reward. I feel this would fit into Minecraft perfectly because of the deep but simple feeling to it.
Examples of items are Spiced Steak, Salted Steak, Sugared bread, etc.
Salt would give Resistance 1 and give the Salted prefix.
Pepper would give Strength 1 and give the Spiced prefix.
Sugar would give Haste 1 and give the Sugared prefix/
The effects would last for a short time, like 15 seconds so that they aren't favored over potions for effects.
To gather salt and pepper, you have to gather pepper and mine salt.
Pepper plants will be found in jungles like cocoa beans, they will be rarer though and will stand 3 blocks tall. Salt is found in two forms, by the beach and underground. They will have two textures, a pure salt by the beach and an ore texture underground. Salt will be about the same rarity as gold, except will be in in levels 0-48 instead of lower levels. Harvesting these will drop 1-5 salt.
Screenshots in the spoiler
Salt on a beach
Freshly planted peppers
Please let me know what you think!