"I've noticed, as I continue to work as a chef and grow as a parent, that there are a whole bunch of people who just don't cook at all, or do so very rarely. But I truly believe that anyone can cook and love it - and everyone has it in them to hold great dinner parties, family occasions or everyday meals that are remembered for a long time." Jamie Oliver
In June it will be my birthday and because it's a significant one we are having a party for the extended family. Seventeen of us - well eighteen if you count the toddler - and so I tried to make it easier for my daughter-in-law who is organising it all by getting everyone to provide something in the way of food. But as she pointed out my older son and family, her sister, her parents - all are somewhat reluctant cooks, and so in the end she is probably going to do virtually all of it. Which is sort of fine because, like me, she loves cooking. And the others can contribute in other ways anyway - wine, cheese, bread, decorations ...
Like Jamie I also believe that anyone can cook. "If you can read, you can cook" says Yotam Ottolenghi, although I don't think he is alone in saying that. Not that I disagree. And interestingly when I asked my middle grandson - now aged 12 - why he didn't cook he said he was alright if he had a recipe. I suppose his problem then is choosing the recipe and honestly there are just too many recipes to choose from these days. Even if your mother doesn't collect recipe books, there is always the net which is absolutely bewildering when it comes to choice. Just as a quick example. If you google Chicken curry - and of course there are literally thousands of recipes on the net - just the first page is bewildering. Do you choose Taste, Recipe Tin Eats, All Recipes, Once Upon a Chef, BBC Good Food, Delish.com, Jo Cooks or Jamie Oliver - who has 11 recipes all on his own? He's probably, well maybe not, heard of Jamie Oliver, and he knows about the BBC but how about the others. Who are they? Are they any good? I suppose there are pictures to go by, but it's not a simple process is it? Just too hard.
Moreover I do not think there is a single cookbook that you could give to a beginner that would provide enough appealing recipes to justify having it. Remember that publisher's think that if you make two things from a cookbook it's a success. There are very few that I own which have yielded more than two recipes - although there are some. If I chose that as a criteria for weeding my collection I don't think I would have many left and I would have discarded some well-loved recipes as well.
This book here, from which the quote at the top of the page comes, is perhaps a good start because it does indeed cover the basic kind of things that we eat every day, and virtually all of the recipes are very easy to make. Plus, it's chatty and the pictures are tempting and there are lots of hints and ideas on how to expand outwards from one recipe. But is my grandson going to browse through a cookbook? No I don't think so.
I was going to feature three takeaway foods - hamburgers, pizza and curry - and demonstrate how easy it is to make these at home. Not in an authentic way and cheating here and there, but I think there is more to the problem. Anyway, because I can't resist - a quick look at how to make your own takeaway.
Hamburgers - the food of the poor, but actually I reckon you could make a hamburger as cheaply as MacDonald's, and certainly better. I see a quarter pounder MacDonald's hamburger is $6.95, which I have to say is a lot more expensive than I thought they were. And anyway I am not really talking about cost here - that's another issue really. Let's assume that the non cooks I am talking about are able to afford most things to do with everyday cooking. I checked today and a bag of 6 buns in Woolworths will cost you $3.00 and a kilo of beef mince $12.00 - which would feed 8 people if you used roughly a quarter of a pound. But I won't go on about the expense. No complicated shopping involved. For a basic burger you don't even have to add fancy things to your meat. What could be simpler than shaping it frying it and putting in a toasted bun with a bit of cheese, tomato and lettuce and the inevitable tomato sauce. You could cook it in half an hour or less.
Pizza - This is a picture of a pizza made with a bought pizza base. It's advertising the brand, so that's why it looks so pretty, but honestly anyone these days can make a pizza without having to make the dough. Not that that is hard, although it does take time. All you have to do is buy one of those pizza bases, or a pitta bread, or a halved turkish loaf, spread some bought passata over it and whatever toppings you want plus cheese. You don't even have to grate the cheese yourself these days. Much quicker than ordering a takeaway one and waiting for it to be cooked. Besides it will be past its best by the time it gets to you.
Curry - slice some onions fry with garlic and ginger - can be out of a jar. Add some diced meat, fry until brown; add some curry paste out of a jar; stir until fragrant - add liquid. Cook. Done. Now who can't do that?
Roast chicken - very cheap and very easy too. So many more things.
In his book Jamie talks about pesto and an occasion when a friend who did not cook saw him make some and couldn't believe how easy it was. Which reminded me of a similar occasion with my two sons. At least one of them now regularly makes his own and the other one might do. I'm not sure. He certainly knows how. And then Jamie goes on to demonstrate just some of the vast array of things you can make with pesto.
Honestly I don't know how to convince people to cook. Even good cooks like my sister may not actually like cooking. Why I ask myself. Which leads me to wonder how to convince them all that it's worth doing, not just to save money, but because it's so satisfying - to create something out of virtually nothing that gives pleasure to you and to others too. There is no excuse these days about not knowing what to cook or how to do it. Magazines; social media - all those TikTok and YouTube videos; the internet itself; television and all those gorgeous cookbooks. Of course some of it is all about very fancy food but an awful lot of it is very definitely not. And it's fun too.
I know that schools are doing their best, but they probably don't do it for long enough. And often they perhaps take the easy way out and just show kids how to make cookies. Fun yes, but it's just as much fun to make a hamburger, or a pasta dish.
Should we have pushed my son and family more? Maybe, but then again maybe not. I think they might feel stressed and that's not at all what we want. It's a great pity though because I do know that they can cook.
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Though you would have thought the horse would want to drink wouldn't you?