A book i read had this to say. Go to a kindergarten class and ask who can dance. All the children would raise their hands. Go to a college and ask the same question and only a mere few would raise their hands. And even those who raise their hands would want to add qualifiers like, “Only to pop music” etc. The same goes for questions like who can sing, who can draw, and the like. The author wonders what went from between kindergarten and college.
I think the same thing happens with regard to cooking. People, especially those who don’t cook beyond recipes of instant noodles and eggs, would be quick, almost eager, to claim that they can’t cook. But that’s a whole lot of crap. Unless a person is missing arms or eyes or a kitchen, everyone can cook.
But of course, we know what they really mean is that they don’t know how to cook. Which really is based on a misunderstanding of what cooking is. Cooking is applying heat to a substance to cause chemical changes to the said substance. So you see, it’s not very difficult to cook. If we were trapped in a room of fire, we would cook.
Even if we don’t want to.
My rejoinder to such categorical statements would almost always be, “Nobody is born with knowledge of chopsticks usage.”.
What do we need to cook? I would say everyone who cooks, and continues to cook, would require two traits. The first would be patience. For cooking is all about waiting. Apply heat and wait for the food to turn into our opinion of cooked. Or more than cooked, which is usually not an appetizing conclusion. Even before the application of heat, there would be preparation of ingredients, the chopping up of stuff. And stuff.
Imagine chopping up an onion. And imagine that you need to feed a horde of twenty ravenous beasts and you need to chop forty onions. It would be a monotonous and repetitive activity. Something that you cannot achieve without patience. Because there is always an alternative to chopping onions and cooking. Everyone could buy cooked food.
The second trait would be resilience. Few would get their cooking right the first time round. So to cook, you need patience. And to continue cooking after a cooking disaster, you need resilience.
Back in Gippy, i watched a season of cooking show. I think it was Jamie’s Kitchen. There are only two scenes that i remember from the entire season. One scene was a restaurant opening or something like that and one of the guests was a food critic. The reason i remember that scene has more to do with politics in Singapore, as such it is not really relevant to this post.
The other scene was when a master chef told one of the most promising students to get him some basil. The student got for him parsley. The chef went to get some basil himself, along with a bunch of other herbs. He raised the basil infront of the student’s face and said, “This is basil. Now eat it.”
I thought the student was in deep trouble and was going to get fired. Or at the very least be humiliated. It was when the chef went on with the other herbs that i realized what was happening. “This is corriander. Now eat it. See what it tastes like.” and so on and so forth. It is not enough to know what a basil leaf looks like. A chef would need to know what flavors the herb brings to the dish for him/her to make informed decisions on his cooking.
What is significant about this scene? I think it’s important to cooking. To know how to cook well, one has to know how to taste food. In busy Singapore, few people actually know how to taste what they’re eating. It’s always, let’s gobble this up in the half hour we have for lunch. Additionally, we’ve been spoiled by the consistency of mass produced food. Who would bother to check if today’s packet of 3 in 1 coffee tastes any different from yesterday’s?
So you want to know how to cook better? My advice is to start savoring your food today. Look at it, smell it, touch it, and finally eat it.
Or if you need a sound test, throw it onto the wall before eating it.
What makes a cook great? In my opinion, it’s not how pretty one can make the food, nor now how tasty one can make the food, nor how exotic a reicpe one knows, nor how much food one can make in one go (it’s not easy to cook alot of food in one go). A great cook is one who knows what to do with leftovers.
For Christmas pot luck, i cooked a chilli onions nachos casserole. It looked great on youtube. But nobody wanted to eat it. There is this unspoken rule of ‘you take back your dish if it can’t be finished’. And there was alot of chilli to take home. I suggested to mom to fry noodles with it. She didn’t. Instead, she poured coconut milk, water, curry powder and turn it into a thick nachos curry paste. Yum.
And to date, she has no clear idea what was in the casserole (except that it has lots of chilli). She has called it names from pasta to pudding.