Learning How To Cook


About three years ago, I was over at some boy’s house and we were cooking dinner. Since I didn’t know how to cook much of anything and I hadn’t been dating this guy for very long, I declared it Taco Night, because it takes a special kind of fuck up to ruin tacos, and I wasn’t quite ready for him to know that I knew nothing about cooking. Not a damn thing.

I don’t mean to imply that As A Lady, I’m somehow obligated to know how to prepare a rack of lamb while pirouetting around my 1950’s dream kitchen of the future while singing to the forest creatures who help me do my daily chores. I’m saying that as a self-respecting adult, it’s important to know how to take care of your own basic needs. Doing your own laundry, mopping your own floors, and eating food that you have made yourself are some of those needs, and, until shortly after that Taco Night, it was something that I didn’t know how to do.

We were standing in his kitchen among the various taco accouterments and he wanted to help me.

“What do I do now?” he asked.

“You brown the beef,” I said.

“How do I do that?” he said.

Oh my god, said my brain, he doesn’t know how to brown beef.

I decided then and there that I was going to have to learn how to cook, if only to save myself from the mental side-eye that I was giving him, this 28-year-old guy who didn’t know how to put meat in a pan and move it around for awhile until it was fully cooked. I was going to go to the store and buy things and throw in various spices and learn how to turn my oven on (seriously, I’d lived in my apartment for over a year and had not yet turned on the oven) and store leftovers in Tupperware in my fridge and take it to work the next day, like a real goddamn adult. I was going to cook the shit out of everything.

The next week, I vowed to overcome my fear of raw chicken and, in my grand tradition of overambition, make a somewhat complicated jerk marinade that involved mangos and habanero peppers and about 100 dishes that magically and instantly became dirty. I also bought myself a large, unwieldy grill pan and placed it firmly over two of the burners on my gas stove, and began grilling the marinated chicken pieces as the recipe I was using instructed. What I didn’t realize was that 1- grill pans make your apartment smoky and 2- habanero peppers, when put in a marinade and grilled in an indoor type environment, fill the air with a smoke that can only be described as “eye-scouring.” By the time the non-beef-browner came over for dinner, my face was swollen up, I looked like I’d been smoking low-quality high-paranoia pot for about 3 hours, and the chicken was burned on the outside and pink on the inside. It was not delicious.

I dialed the ambition back and methodically learned how to deal with various ingredients- from tuna to pork chops to flank steak- and gradually became comfortable with much more than Taco Night.

Learning how to cook isn’t “retro” and it doesn’t have to be a gendered act; it’s a life skill that results in deliciousness, relaxation, and enjoyment, and to this day (despite my sort of disastrous initial foray into the kitchen), it’s something I love doing when I have the time and energy. I’m not Emeril Lagasse or even Rachel Ray, but I take comfort in the fact that I can provide for my own needs without having the nice people at Manee Thai #2 recognizing my phone number when I call for the third time in a weekend.

How about you, readers? How did you learn how to cook? What are some resources you’d recommend to people who are just trying to figure out how to be functional adults? Favorite recipes?

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