Friday, 30 March 2007

He's Right, You Know

When Aidan asked me if I'd mind him writing something about the fact that I couldn't cook very well despite having been trying for over half a century, I thought I'd better write a response. Not that I don't trust my son or that I would be embarrassed. But I've been trying quite hard lately and I'm not going to turn down the opportunity to promote my own culinary talents.
The trouble is that Trig is right. Like most people I learnt the basics from my mum and picked up the rest from my flatmates when I was a student. Everything else came from cookbooks (they didn't have celebrity TV chefs in my day). So I could copy recipes, but I never really learned the underlying principles and techniques. And nor did I learn to take risks, although I always encouraged my boys to do so.

Trig has always been into cooking and from an early age I taught him something of what I know about food.
Last week - the first time I cooked quinoa in my life
Chilli lemon crusted chicken breast on quinoa & broccoli
My little boy loved messing around in the kitchen when he was just six or seven years old and I remember the utter joy with which he used to greet me when I collected him from Saturday morning Chef's Academy at Waltham Forest College many years ago. But over the past three years I've been truly amazed to see just what a top-class, formal catering college education can do for someone.
Fabulous flavour when you gently fry the Savoy in sesame and chilli oils with soy sauce
Ostrich burger on sesame & soy sautéed Savoy cabbage
Nowadays the boot is well and truly on the other foot. When Aidan and I are in the kitchen there's no question who's head chef and who's the commis chef. Once I accepted that reality, I started to learn. Real progress started one day when Trig suggested that I put the can of chopped spinach back into the cupboard... and showed me how to wilt fresh spinach leaves with nutmeg and brown sugar. It was my flash of light on the road. I may not have reached Damascus yet - certainly not when it comes to presentation - but I'm definitely converted.
Ten years ago I was living on take-away spare rib & chips, curries and pork chop & mash. I had a sizeable collection of spices, but they were more to make my kitchen shelves look good than for cooking with. These days my diet is unrecognisable. My collection of spices has grown and I have a burgeoning collection of oils. By now you must be wondering about the two photos above. They were both dishes I cooked for myself during the past week and snapped because I take digital pictures of all food consumed in my house these days. Neither would win its chef a Michelin star. But when Trig said "the times they are a-changin'" he was right. The proof of the pudding is in the ostrich burger. Mike.


Chennette said...

Hi Mike - you're a lot better than my father who only knew how to cook eggs (any way you like, just eggs) until a few years ago when he had to be on his own for a couple months. Mom painstakingly wrote down basic recipes, including the grocery list and he apparently followed them quite well. But, I see no evidence yet of cooking when anyone else is around. And NO deviation from the copybook ;-)

Mike said...

Thanks, Chennette. I think I'll do a lot better when Trig leaves home because I'm completely intimidated in the kitchen while he's here. Last night I spent about an hour trying to skin a kabocha squash for the first time in my life. Trig cooked it effortlessly and it was probably the most delicious roast vegetable I've ever eaten. I'm expanding my horizons by the day.

Chennette said...

Funny - I think that's what it was like for me and my mother ;-) she is just such a great cook (and a bit of a perfectionist) that I only got into cooking new things when I was on my own. Good luck!

Lilandra said...

I wish I knew how to mix things without following a recipe.
I'm not brave and adventurous and artistic and skilled like Chennette.

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