Learning to Cook by Watching People Who Know


I have many skills. I know how to dance the chorus choreography to 5ive’s ‘Baby, When the Lights Go Out’. I know how to take a blood sample from a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I know how to burp on command.

But I can’t cook.

I’ve blogged about this frustration before. I’d already discovered I can’t gain success by following a recipe book. Even watching YouTube videos is of very limited help. I need to stand next to somebody who knows what to do, and watch them.

There are only two dishes I do well. Incidentally, I learned both of them from watching someone else, in a one-off cooking tutorial session about a decade ago. Those are the dishes I make when I’m on a donate-a-meal roster, for someone who’s just had an accident or a baby. (Those are intended to be two separate examples.)

If I were only cooking a meal once a month, or even once a week, perhaps I’d be content to be mediocre. (Actually, if I were only doing it once a week, I’d probably bypass the crisis by using a Just-Add-something.) But if I’m cooking dinner every day, I need to use sustainably affordable resources, and I need to not…absolutely suck. Any activity I’m obliged to spend so much time and effort in, ought to be done well. Not just for my family’s sake—who have to eat it—but for mine. I don’t want to feel embarrassed and/or humiliated every night for the next twenty years.

I’d tried searching for local cooking classes, but the only courses I could find were proper chef things, where you’d make lightly toasted fru-fru on a bed of pretentious floof-floof. With expensive or obscure ingredients that Joe Public is unlikely to already have.

I learned about the cooking classes run by a local church, quite by accident. A mutual contact shared a notice on Facebook, saying they had a couple of spaces left.

Of course, I jumped right on that. I jumped on it like a dying man clinging to one last chance at life. Y’know, hyperbolically.

Yesterday was the first class. There was no fru-fru or floof-floof in sight. This was about making practical, normal food. Which, this week, included pizza.

You’d think I couldn’t stuff up a pizza…but you’d be wrong.

My homemade pizzas to date—which were only half-homemade to begin with, as I would use store-bought bases—sometimes need to be eaten with a knife and fork. They’re kind of…soup pizzas. Even when I try to use sauces sparingly (or what I thought was sparingly), the result was much too gloppy. On a good day, it made the base so laden and gluggy, individual pieces couldn’t be picked up. Hence the knife and fork. On a bad day, the topping would slide right off, to sit in a greasy pile next to the now-naked pizza slice.

I felt it fair to warn the teacher that if there were way to stuff something up, I’d find it. (Which I did. Twice. I underestimate my own powers, sometimes.) But having someone there to walk me through each step, and to help fix my mistakes when they happened, made all the difference.

I came home with a large remarkably non-gloopy pizza, on a base I made myself, and a chocolate pudding.

That afternoon, the pizza waited in the oven, to be heated for tea. And I was looking forward to it! I was actually looking forward to dinnertime! That almost never happens!

A class like this is exactly what I’d been looking for, and exactly what I need. It sounds like they had trouble getting sufficient numbers for it (up to the voluminous total of six), but surely that must be owing to a lack of awareness, rather than a lack of interest! Six people, in a district of over 70,000? There has to be more than six who want it. This is the sort of practical education that everybody needs! (Unless they’re born with an aptitude for fru-fru and floof-floof, I guess.) A class like this should have waiting lists stretching to the moon!

These classes are a ministry run by the hosting church—they donate their time and ingredients, making the course free for its students. All they asked of us is that we turn up on time. But such a course is well worth paying for.  Why aren’t night classes at school Home Ec departments, a thing?

Next week, we’ll be making burger patties and apple crumble. More importantly, I expect I’ll be learning how to make patties that don’t break apart, and apple crumble that doesn’t contort the eyes, or crunch were it’s not supposed to.


(2) Comments

  • Deborah Makarios
    17 Feb 2017

    “Lightly toasted fru-fru on a bed of pretentious floof-floof” is now my go-to description for OTT menus. I thank you. (Minus a bit for getting “Baby, When the Lights Go Out” stuck in my head for the first time in decades. I don’t even know the words!)
    I entirely agree, Home Ec night-classes need to be a thing! Not just for cooking, but for sewing, mending, budgeting and all that good Life Skills stuff that people just don’t get taught these days. [old lady rant ends]

    • Eve
      19 Feb 2017

      ‘Fru-fru on floof-floof’ is an acceptable truncated version. For rhetoric’s sake.

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