Cooking is (not) fun
Published on Page A15 of the November 18, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
I DON’T understand how other people can find cooking therapeutic, or even fun. In my book, an activity that involves extreme heat and sharp objects is plain stressful, if not life-threatening. Leave me alone in the kitchen and I would think I’m in Mars! This life form simply isn’t cut out for a merry existence in a place where organic matter is chopped, minced, sautéed, boiled, steamed and simmered. (Culinary vocabulary courtesy of “Del Monte Kitchenomics” from childhood TV watching.)
But make no mistake, I’m a great fan of cooking’s end. Thank heaven for making eating such a pleasurable -- and not just necessary -- experience. One night, while I was having pizza (and chicken and salad and potatoes) with my officemates, Arnold and Gladys, our dinner talk digressed to what kinds of food we don’t like. Arnold barely touched the spaghetti on his plate, but claimed he’d have “pancit” [native noodles] any time. Gladys, whose latest food obsession is tuna salad, abhors beef in most of its forms. As for me, let’s just say that I realized then that I’m truly an omnivore. I don’t seem to dislike any particular kind of food.
Now, if I derive so much pleasure from consuming food, I should try my hand at preparing it, right? Well, at least nobody can fault me for not trying because I have, in fact, attempted some form of cooking a few times.
Once, compelled by house rules, I fried tilapia with my best friend and then housemate, Roovin. The tilapia he fried came out nice-looking and, well, normal.
Piece of cake, I said to myself. After minutes of struggling to disengage my (dismembered) tilapia from the frying pan and on to the plate, the thing looked pitiful -- and hardly edible. The poor fish was murdered for the second time! I felt a need to apologize to my tilapia for bringing it to such a dishonorable end. But, instead, I found it more helpful (and sane) to direct my apologies to the people around the dinner table who, for some reason, found my culinary misadventure amusing.
Several Christmases ago in Davao City, I decided to surprise my family (and myself) by offering to whip up pasta. Blame it on the season’s miracle-conducive atmosphere, but I was actually excited to cook! With no significant culinary experience to back me up, I turned to my housemate Jireh, a mighty great cook who patiently detailed the recipe of his ooh-la-la pasta (the exact variety escapes me now) before I flew to Davao for the holidays.
I absolutely love Jireh’s pasta and I wanted to share the experience with my family as some kind of Christmas gift to them. I went to a grocery store in Davao to get all the needed ingredients. When an ingredient was unavailable, I sent Jireh a text message to seek his suggestion for a substitute. (Before this time, the only Basil I knew was the crooner. “Oh, this spice was named after that singer? How nice!”)
My mother and sister didn’t even try to hide their amusement as they watched the newbie cook, open cans, read the recipe, slice tomatoes (lots of them!), read the recipe again, boil the pasta, read the recipe. I made sure I followed the recipe to the dot. If it said four cloves of garlic, I counted like a kindergarten pupil. If it said two teaspoons of cooking oil, I fretted if the teaspoon I was using was of standard size. Each step was belabored.
Then came the moment of truth. Total consumption per family member: one (polite) plate -- yes, even for my voracious eater of a brother. What, no seconds? They weren’t rude at all; they were just suddenly full, or they suddenly had to go elsewhere, or they suddenly had a craving for fruitcake instead.
Before I retreated to a corner to nurse a bruised ego, I tasted my masterpiece. Eeew! And I laughed.
Cooking is fun, after all.
Alexander C. Tan, 28, lives on fast food and other people’s cooking. He is the creative head at a publishing house in Mandaluyong City, which does not list cook books on its catalogue.
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