Just Cook

This is what I did for my Creative Nonfiction class last sem when we were asked to write food essays. I really enjoyed writing this. I miss Ma’am Roldan and our class. 

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My teacher is a brown-skinned chef named Johnny. With a big smile, he presents me a cookbook that contains recipes of well-loved favorites across America. He tells me that I’m cooking a three-course meal today. The catch is, I have to finish cooking each dish within the shortest possible time.

The appetizer should be soup, I decide. A bowl of steaming broccoli soup topped with toasted almonds. It starts with a spear of broccoli and half a white onion. With a steel knife, I chop them as fast as I can until all that’s left on my chopping board is a green and white collage of tiny florets and glistening onion bits. In a saucepan, I mix minced garlic with the broccoli and the onion. After sautéing them, I pour a cup of water inside the pan. I let the broth simmer for a few minutes; add a dash of salt; and to keep the garlic from burning, mix it with a ladle from time to time.

I’m nervous that I might burn the almonds that will give the soup a distinct nutty flavor. From a distance, I see Johnny watching me, still smiling. I realize that he’s here as an observer, not a teacher. So, I cross my fingers and try my luck anyway. The almonds turn out fine. I sprinkle them in the saucepan; they look like golden-brown seashells floating on a green lake. My broccoli almond soup is done.

For the entree, I choose a smoked salmon roulade. It’s a fancy name for a simple dish. Making the roulade is like making sushi. Fill strips of salmon with slices of goat cheese and butter-sautéed shallots and asparagus. Fold the strips into rolls; then slice the rolls into round, bite-sized pieces.

My dessert, chocolate mousse, is easy to prepare like the roulade. I mix eggs, sugar, melted chocolate and a pinch of salt inside a bowl. I whip the light brown mixture until it becomes frothy. Dollops of the chilled chocolate mousse are served in dainty dessert glasses. For the sake of presentation, I top each glass with a maraschino cherry.

Pleased with my work, Johnny gives me four stars for my broccoli almond soup; five for my smoked salmon roulade; and four for my chocolate mousse.

I cooked a three-course meal in three minutes. I should be proud of myself.

 But of course, none of these is real.

The arrow hovers above the red X button. Click. The perpetually smiling Johnny disappears. My soup, salmon, and mousse are as good as gone, too. And I didn’t even have the chance to taste any of them, let alone smell the whiff of sautéing garlic in butter. Let alone lick the leftover chocolate batter from the egg beater.

The game is over and I’m wishing that cooking in real life is just as easy as a couple of clicks with my mouse.

The reason I don’t know how to cook is that I see food as something which is always already prepared on a plate for me. The only thing left to do with food, whether I’m eating at home or at a McDonalds’ or at a fancy restaurant, is to destroy it with my fork and spoon then gobble it up. Seven years of home economics did not inspire me to be the creator of food rather than its destroyer. Simply because eating is so much easier than cooking.

My culinary endeavors include spreading peanut butter on a piece of toast, pouring milk into a bowl of cornflakes, and boiling rice in a rice cooker. When I’m feeling adventurous, I would add powdered milk to a ten-peso cup of taho and call it dessert. Sometimes, I would bake cookies that deserve to be named after “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” You get the idea.

But seeing people cook amazing food on TV makes me feel like I’m missing out on a necessary life experience. One of these days, I have to face the fact that food won’t always appear on a plate in front of me.

Last summer, I asked my mother to teach me how to cook tinolang manok. With her guidance, I was able to come up with a pot of something that resembles and tastes like it—soft white chicken in a clear broth with chili leaves, ginger, and slices of green papaya. I was happy with my tinola; I thought I finally opened the gates to culinary heaven.

Sadly, making it didn’t spark in me the interest to keep cooking. My desire to eat trumped my curiosity to cook.

But not entirely.

How do I channel my frustration for cooking? By playing games like “Hot Dish: Cross Country Cook-Off.” In the virtual world, I get a taste of what it’s like to be a kitchen goddess who can whip up dishes with complicated names like ‘eggplant manicotti’ and ‘alouttes sans tetes’ in less than a minute. However, even if I don’t have to go to all the trouble of cleaning up afterwards, the thrill I get from playing cooking games only lasts as long as the time it takes me to prepare virtual dishes. They provide a temporary escape for frustrated, lazy wannabe cooks like me. But once you start playing cooking games, it’s difficult to stop.

It isn’t impossible though.

So, forget the soup. Forget the roulade. Forget the mousse.

Because the reality is, all the wonderful food you cook with pixelated people like Johnny are sheer reminders that what you really should be doing is head to your kitchen, turn on the light, face the damn stove, and start cooking.

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