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Now's the time to learn to cook

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

"On YouTube, the average daily views of videos with 'Cook with me' in the title increased more that 55 per cent for the first two weeks of March compared with the same time last year" Natasha Gillezeau - AFR Weekend

Everything is about COVID19 at the moment is it not? And today as I was doing some catchup reading of the AFR Weekend, I saw that little quote at the top of an article entitled Joy Not Despair Behind Closed Doors, which tried to focus on some of the positives of social isolation. Now is the time to learn new skills via the internet it posited and one of these new skills might be cooking.

It certainly would be nice to think that this might be an unexpected benefit of social distancing and working from home, but it's possibly not that easy. The photograph above is from a light-hearted experiment in trying to cook like a chef using YouTube for a week, by one of the Guardian's correspondents Tim Dowling.

I'm not sure he was quite fair about YouTube, or else his research skills were poor. Even if he was trying to do fancy stuff I'm sure he could have done a bit better than this

"A common feature of YouTube cooking videos is their specificity: they often tackle a single technique, rather than a whole dish. You have to cobble together your own recipe from a number of separate tutorials." Tim Dowling - The Guardian

After all there are plenty of videos out there that are simple, fun and include everything you need to know. Like this one from Jamie Oliver's YouTube site in which his mentor Gennaro Contaldo cooks what he calls Southend Vongole on Southend Pier

I found this because I just wanted to check that there were video demonstrations of complete dishes which were simple but cheffy. I looked at it partly because it was the first one, but then I saw that it was called Southend vongole and Southend has a special place in my heart. We frequently visited Southend in our childhood. It was a treat, and we did indeed buy those little cups of cockles - vongole - that Gennaro uses for this recipe. I also now think it is the place my father may have grown up, which was the reason for the sentimental visit. Gennaro cooks his dish on the end of Southend Pier - the longest pier in England that has a little train to take you from one end to the other. On a recent trip back there I actually walked the mile back. Here is a somewhat blurry photograph I took of the whole thing. Gennaro was out there at the end. I bet he took the train.

Southend is a pretty downmarket place - it's at the end of the Thames estuary - not really the sea, even though it calls itself Southend-on-Sea. It's where the poor East Enders would go for a cheery day out, and the cockles and whelks were a feature.

But I am rambling again. Back to Jamie Oliver videos. There are masses of his videos on YouTube. Here is a screen shot of the first page. Gennaro's Southend excursion and demonstration of a classic dish was the first one. I suspect that every recipe Jamie has ever featured in his tv cooking series is there somewhere.

And he is not the only one. I just chose him because he is a bit of a crusader for people learning to cook. But you name a chef or cook, and somewhere you will find a video of them demonstrating something. And that goes for Michelin starred chefs as well as amateur home cooks.

And then there is Delia's online cookery school, where you can learn how to cook from absolute scratch - like how to boil an egg..

I consider both of these online sources to be really, really good for a novice cook, but I suspect the millennial and other younger generations have sources of their own. Or they just feed in some vague term - like cooking spaghetti bolognaise and then they pick some amateur having a go on YouTube. But I may be unkind. Probably some of those 'amateurs' are pretty good - like that lady I showed some while back now cooking from one of those home delivery boxes.

Generally speaking millennials and the like do not cook much. Or that is what we are led to believe anyway. The mostly dine out or eat in from takeaway delivered by Übereats and the like. Now that they are confined to home they can no longer eat out, although they can still get takeaway. I gather even fine dining establishments are considering this option. Maybe we shall find pop up food trucks doing the rounds of the suburbs delivering fine dining to your door.

So will the millenials just eat takeaway or will they learn to cook? According to the few articles I read, they do not use cookbooks - so old-fashioned, but they cook from the net which they access on their phones, their iPads and their laptops. Even the fridge these days. And when really stuck they ask Siri or Alexa. Or so the media seems too imply. I wonder if it is true. And if it is, is it such a bad thing anyway?

"The most important feature in a millennial’s kitchen is likely to be a mobile device. Millennials turn to mobile at every phase of their cooking journey: from deciding where to order groceries, what to cook, what to buy and how to prepare it." Bosch

"Google research from 2015 found that 59 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds cook with their smartphones or tablets on hand" Rebecca Santiago - New York Times

Well looking at the above picture I do wonder whether you can actually pay the right amount of attention to what you are doing when you are cooking with your smart phone in hand. If you are accessing an actual recipe online, then I guess that is much like using a cookbook and could be a together kind of exercise - like parents and children who would maybe find this more fun.

And yes this is probably a couple of models rather than a mother and daughter, but you sort of get the picture. However, if you are cooking from a YouTube video you would surely have to keep pausing the video because the people on those videos just whiz through everything and don't necessarily tell you quantities, etc. They always move on to the next step by having something they prepared earlier. But then on the plus side they often tend to show you little tips and tricks along the way - certainly Gennaro Contaldi was very good at that. But that prime imperative of reading the recipe and preparing everything before you start cooking is a little trickier to manage with a YouTube video. You might just have to write things down.

There are those also who think that we are less creative when using the internet. The argument is:

“I believe we’d be much more likely to bypass the book and try to cook from memory if we didn’t have the internet available to us all the time,” Mitchell Davies - James Beard Food Foundation

I'm not quite sure about that I have to say. I would have thought that in some ways you were more likely to cook from memory using the internet than using a book. After all the book is always there to refer to - you can flick back and forth as you please. Whereas I can imagine that using a video might be a bit frustrating unless you truly study it by watching it a few times before proceeding.

Going back to Tim Dowling and his little experiment - he did find himself improvising because he just didn't have time, or an ingredient, or the right equipment for what he was trying to make:

"While the dish requires no particular skill, it is still a bit precious. The point at which honest cooking tips over into fussy cheffery is probably different for everyone, but for me it starts as soon as a recipe calls for shallots instead of onions. I don’t have shallots." Tim Dowling - The Guardian

Which I suppose just means that, like cookery books, you just need the right one. If you want something simple but interesting, then stick to Jamie or somebody similar - Donna Hay perhaps. If you want to actually learn to cook from the real basics, then try Delia. But if you just want to cook a killer Green chicken curry, google that and check out all the videos and recipes that come up before you choose the right one. Same as choosing a cookery book really.

And then be like the millennial and take a photo of your achievement. It's a way of sharing your triumphs in these difficult times. Maybe even make a YouTube video of your own.

Interesting times.



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