Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why Johnny Can't Cook

The explosion of interest in our food culture is everywhere. An entire cable network devoted to cooking and eating, celebrity chefs, reality shows based around becoming the next "food star" (a competition won by two gay caterers) or getting your own restaurant (I finally watched HELL'S KITCHEN the other night and laughed my ass off though I still think I'd have stabbed the host in the head with a chef's knife in the first or second episode), and the list goes on.

But here's a funny thought. Despite all this heightened interest in the world of food and cooking, many adults just can't cook. And I don't mean be "a chef" and come up with your own recipes, I mean "cook." Follow a recipe, cook something correctly, etc.

So it's not surprising that the Culinary Institute of America is finding plenty of participants for its Chicken Roasting 101 weekend class.

Me? I'm not surprised. My father couldn't cook and his kitchen "jobs" were often relegated to toasting and buttering bread for our Sunday morning Heart Attack Breakfast. In fact, his lack of kitchen skills drove me to sit in the kitchen during the week and watch my mother (who never used a cookbook or recipe) turn out meals that tasted the same when I was 18 as they did when I was 8.

One woman I dated was particularly dangerous in a kitchen, able to fumble her way through a few things here and there but not somebody you wanted to depend on for your nightly meals. The reason for her lack of ability in the culinary arena? A mother who kept cooking and meal prep a state secret, operating her kitchen like the man behind the curtain in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

My favorite story about her mother's cooking involved her Stuffed Pork Chops which were actually quite delicious. When I mentioned to one of her son-in-laws that I'd love to get the recipe he laughed and told me that the reason for all the secrecy in the kitchen is that the stuffed chops come already stuffed from a local butcher. All she did was stick them in the oven and pour gravy over them at the appropriate time.

God bless my wife, who grew up in a restaurant and can whip something up from scratch far better than I can. I still like to have a recipe handy, even if it's just to refer to or use as a jumping off point (like last night's Spicy Lime Pork Chops).


Aj said...

OK, I'm not much of a cook, but I can follow instructions well. There are so many easy cookbooks out there, it's really difficult to really screw some things up. Is an entire weekend class in roasting a chicken really needed?

My problem with my mom trying to teach me to cook was, and still is, that she's a perfectionist, and things have to be done HER way. If I'm chopping an onion, and it's not how she likes it, she takes the knife and redoes it. It is very disheartening and it's been going on a long time. Things seem to be easing up a little bit, maybe.

And how about posting the instructions for those Spicy Lime Pork Chops! Can you grill them?

Dan said...

LOL... I think I have a little bit of that kitchen perfectionist in me, though I think I'm getting better, too. As for the Spicy Lime Chops see above!