I often find myself wondering if I missed some important lesson somewhere down the line that I should have taken to learn how to cook. Was I supposed to attend a cookery class at school that no one told me about? Was there some ridiculously vague memo that went around at some indefinite point during my childhood that said something like:
All children across the world aged [insert age as appropriate]: meet in the kitchen at 5pm on Thursday to learn how to cook.
I don’t remember getting this futile memo. Even if I had gotten it, maybe I ended up going to the wrong kitchen, or to the right kitchen on the wrong Thursday.
Because my invitation to “Learn How to Cook Stuff” was lost in the post (or emailed to me before I had email, or successfully delivered but ripped up by my parents in an attempt to sabotage my cooking skills as a source of humour), this is the complete list of dishes I can currently make:
Don’t get me wrong: I’m quite the toast chef. I can cook a mean toast “any style”; varieties include: regular toast, burnt toast, buttered toast, burnt toast, untoasted toast (bread), burnt toast.
I don’t tend to venture away from my toast comfort zone (an actual zoned area in my house, bordered by a wall of toast), because I end doing things like making leek and potato soup for two people using two leeks and six potatoes. Needless to say, the soup was very potato-y. And I later felt very bloat-y.
I can’t even “cook” mashed potatoes out of a packet, and those are for people who can’t cook. So what does that make me? (Don’t answer that.) The last (and first, and only) time I tried to do so, I was stunned, after having followed the recipe word for word, when my “mashed” potatoes were the consistency of porridge – and thin porridge at that. Prison porridge. The potatoes were drowning in some kind of watery, milky, greasy gloop, and they did not taste good – even out of a straw.
(It later turned out that the gourmet powdered potatoes had gone wrong because I hadn’t understood that “a cup” referred to, in fact, a concrete measurement – equivalent to around 240 millilitres – not an actual cup. I’d been frantically throwing mug-fulls of water into the mix as if I were trying to bring a dehydrated goldfish back to life.
When I manage to successfully follow a recipe, it’s not a lot better. After a hard day’s work – hypothetical, of course – it’s exhausting to have to return home and spend an hour slogging away at the stove, only to wolf it down within ten minutes, and then spend another half hour cleaning egg yolk off the kitchen walls, dragging chicken fat out of my hair, and fishing carrots out of the toaster. (My first instinct is to put anything edible in the toaster; it’s an appliance I’ve grown fond of.)
Some people (good cooks) sneer and assert that it’s better to experiment by adding spices, herbs, and so on, casually with a trial and improvement method, instead of measuring ingredients precisely. These people clearly think of cookery as an art, whilst in my mind, it’s very much a science that requires precision – and a brain the size of Einstein’s hairdo – to figure out. I’m very much for free-pouring spirits, but my liberalness with foodstuffs ends there; I need to follow recipe measurements to the T, using lab pipettes and test tubes. I am not opposed, if I think I’ve added too much of an ingredient, to dig out single grains of salt with a pair of tweezers. (Obviously not the same pair I used to pluck my nose hair. Not that I have nose hair. It’s hypothetical.)
So this is why I leave the cooking to the pros. There are a lot of people out there who enjoy cooking, so why not let them have their cake – but not eat it, as that’s my job. I love to eat good food, but I kindly let others – relatives, friends, restaurant chefs, people who owe me favours in return for shady, unspeakable dealings – prepare it for me. I’ll even help clean up at the end. No chicken fat in their hair, you say? They obviously didn’t follow the recipe correctly.