A few years ago, we had just moved into a new apartment and had shared pictures with our families in India. There was one of me in the kitchen, seeing which my then 5 or 6 year old nephew asked, “Adhu Ellayamede office aano?” (Aunty, is that your office?) I may not be spending a stipulated eight hours in the kitchen, but coming to think of it, it is technically my workspace.
I am not sure if cooking genes are hereditary, but I definitely come from a lineage of awesome cooks — my maternal grandmother, her siblings, my mother and my father (he handles breakfast everyday and an occasional full meal). I would like to believe that some of their skills have rubbed off on me. So, when did I actually get interested in cooking? Well, my love affair with food started very early and my cooking conquests probably began when I was in my teens and the journey has been more than exciting.
I vividly remember that when I first started cooking, I would tell my mother to step out of the kitchen, claiming the entire kitchen for myself (highly confident that I could handle it all alone). Unfortunately, confidence alone was never enough to cook a dish from start to finish; it needed some guidance from a seasoned cook, who also knew the layout of the kitchen. I would shout out to my mother, asking her where I could find certain ingredients or what the next step was. This didn’t of course mean that she was allowed back in the kitchen; she was only supposed to clarify my queries and leave again. I bet I must have irritated her to no end with these antics.That trait though, of wanting to cook alone, has stayed with me to this day. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate people wanting to help with prepping and stuff, but when it comes to cooking, I prefer doing it alone. The saying, “too many cooks spoil the broth” comes to mind. Especially because every cook has a unique style, pace and methodology, making it a recipe for disaster rather than harmony in the kitchen.
During my initial years in the cocina (Spanish for kitchen), I vaguely remember an incident where my brother Mr. R and his friends visited us and I took it upon myself to bake a cake. What came out of the oven was one hot mess…less cake, more pudding. Can you guess what went wrong? I forgot a key ingredient: baking powder. And, of course, the cake refused to rise. My poor guinea pigs were sweet enough to taste the dish and I think we ate it all up (luckily, sugar, flour and flavoring agents made it edible).
Going totally off track here, did you notice the Spanish word for kitchen? Cocina… Doesn’t it sound related to ‘Kushini’ and ‘Cucina’, both of which mean kitchen in Malayalam and Italian respectively? Food for thought, for all you etymologists out there.
I learned from amateurish mistakes, honed my skills and believe that I have reached a stage where I no longer forget key ingredients and actually have a fan following (read as family and friends) for my food. I even had an opportunity to conduct a Zoom cooking demo for kids. So, if any of you are planning to visit us, rest assured that you’ll be well-fed.
I believe in the philosophy of satisfying people’s hunger and their hearts, a concept that was beautifully portrayed in the superhit Thilakan-Dulquer Salman (DQ) starrer Ustad Hotel. Veteran actor Thilakan’s character says this brilliant line to his grandson Faizi (DQ), who aspires to become a chef, “Mone, vayaru nirakkyan aare kondum pattum. Kazhikkyunavarude manasu nirayanam. Athanu shariyayu kaipunyam.” — Loosely translated to, “Son, anyone can fill others’ stomachs. To fill the hearts of the people who eat your food is the real gift.”
The journey from an amateur teenager experimenting in my mother’s kitchen to being the boss of my own kitchen has been nothing less than adventurous. On one hand I have been influenced and inspired by wonderful cooks and on the other I have had to answer questions like, “I have placed the cooker on the stove and am waiting for it to whistle (common Indian reference to a pressure cooker releasing pressure while cooking). If it does not, shall I whistle instead?” (I am not naming any names, but you know who you are!). Regardless of the influence, I am grateful to for all the inspiration and encouragement. Especially from my husband who has enthusiastically tasted all my experiments (not that he has a choice) and given honest feedback.
As with any skill, there is no end to this cooking journey. There are so many cuisines out there and a million amazing dishes left for me to try. Until then, happy cooking and Bon Appétit.
P.S. I would love to hear from you: do you love to cook, when did you start cooking and do you have a favorite dish that you enjoy cooking? Looking forward to reading your comments.