I started cooking by myself at 11 years old. I was FULL of confidence. I couldn’t wait to go home and demonstrate to my parents what I had learnt after each home economics class. I bet they were just as excited…or maybe not. I do remember now that my stepdad was never particularly hungry on the nights that I cooked. He would taste, he would encourage, he would endure but for some reason he never quite finished his meal. But at 11 I knew I could cook and he just didn’t appreciate my talents. I knew he was a meat and 3 veg kinda guy so I knew he was never going to enjoy anything as exotic as pasta. I had all the confidence in the world that I was an awesome cook.
I’m going to convince you that there is a good cook in all of us. Cooking is a skill and to develop a skill it takes practice. Lots and lots of practice and encouragement.
Home economics wasn’t my first experience at cooking. I had grown up baking with my mum and spending the holidays with my grandmother in her kitchen as she showed my brother and I how to cook. In fact, these are some of my fondest memories of her; her patiently showing us the perfect way to make lemon meringue pie, rolling out bread rolls or baking chocolate chip bikkies. I still have her recipes in my recipe folder.
While I was growing up, cooking was never about healthy eating. It was about making food we enjoyed eating and spending time together. I am hoping to instill the same in my children. We flip pancakes, they help chop the vegetables and help out whenever they feel like it. I have now become the parent who struggles through her meal because I don’t quite have the same tastes as my 8 year old. One memorable meal was pasta with a pureed nectarine sauce, which was basically a sweet fruit smoothie poured over pasta. I ate it and offered praise for the effort that went into the meal but I couldn’t quite appreciate my dessert like main meal. Even though it wasn’t my idea of dinner, I didn’t want to discourage him from trying again – I’m looking forward to those nights when I don’t have to cook. Training starts now!
As children we are full of confidence in our own abilities. Anything is possible. As adults, self-doubt tends to creep in. Or is it the need to get it right? Programs like MasterChef certainly don’t help. These home cooks create amazing dishes that even I, as a qualified chef with 7 years experience don’t know how to produce. How can we ever measure up to this standard? While these type of programs are entertaining they aren’t how the majority of us cook. For most of us it’s about getting some food on the table in between all the other commitments that is a part of life.
Do you consider yourself a good cook? Are you happy to cook for friends and family? Do you like the food that you prepare? Or is there a lot of shoulds in your responses? I should cook more healthily, I should cook more variety, I shouldn’t cook from a packet, I should cook more often.
The biggest thing that stands in the way of cooking is confidence and acceptance. Confidence to try new things and to experiment. If it goes wrong what is the worst that can happen? You have to throw it out and have toast for a meal. What’s the best that could happen? It is amazing, you love it and you have a new family favourite. Acceptance can also stop you trying a new recipe. Acceptance of where you are right now. When you accept where you are right now it allows you to be comfortable and to stop ‘making’ yourself change. What I mean by this is that if you say to yourself my food is ok it allows you to appreciate the food you have right now. And when that isn’t enough anymore, for whatever reason; your tastes change, you start to get a little bored or it feels repetitive then you will be motivated to make changes because you want to and not because you feel your cooking isn’t good enough.
I have a client who is a perfect example of this. She has given her permission to share. She never liked to cook. She never felt that her food was appreciated and she believed everyone else could do a much better job. Visitors would be invited to cook as she slowly edged herself out of the kitchen. We spent the morning creating a stir fry and baked fish. Quite simple dishes. From this she realized that she could cook. Once my client accepted that she cooked the foods that she liked to eat, and that that was enough, she gained the confidence to try different things. She also gave herself permission to not cook at all if she didn’t want to and be content with eggs on toast if that’s what she felt like. By not making herself cook she found she was more enthusiastic when she did. And she started to try new things because she wanted to, not because she ‘should’.
Confident cooking is a skill; it takes practice. The more you do, the more you know, the more you experiment. But first be comfortable with what you cook right now. Remember Master Chef is not the reality for most of us. Just getting dinner on the table is good enough.