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When and how did you learn to cook?

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Were you adult, or did you start very young?

Did you get it right away, or was there trial and error

(funny stories please?)


I was raised "good for nothing" in typical middle class Indian style,

as kids we were told mainly to study and housework was seen

as time-waste.

This was often a point of argument between Amma and Appa,

as Appa would order us out of the kitchen and tell us to study

or play sports, saying "fumes will make you cough, the knives

and stoves are dangerous" etc. Amma would grumble

"how come it's OK for me to stew in the kitchen, but for the three

daughters it's off limits?" etc.

So I never learnt to cook until young adult, and I left home for

college, and suddenly discovered the joys of home cooking

and I used to telephone home for uppuma recipes, and Amma used

to screech: You are paying long distance charges for upma recipe?

Rs 300 to learn to make uppuma? Are you crazy? etc.

But I finally got the hang of it....

My mother's story was even more drastic;

as her father was a senior govt official and they had

(rough estimate) 2 servants for every domestic function.

So she was in for a rude awakening after marriage.

She used to try and make from cookbooks and produce awful

messes, and my dad would patiently eat them while keeping

the cookbook propped open so he could at least feast his eyes

and imagination on the glorious pictures.

Her first dinner party, she owed many other families in Appa's regiment,

and by that time she could manage almost everything except the


So a khansama was arranged from the military mess.

THe party was at 7 pm and he did not show up until 3, and came

dead drunk, carrying a live chicken upside down, hanging by the feet.

He parked it on the verandah and instructed my horrified mother

to feed it a few drops of vinegar from time to time to tenderize it.

Then he disappeared and Amma was stuck with this crazy situation.

Much panic later he showed up at 6: 30, even more drunk,

and Amma disappeared. A few squawks and feathers flying later,

the chicken was perfectly cooked and on the table in time for the party....

edited to add:

Amma is now an absolutely fantastic cook, though

she still claims to dislike it and hates all housework

(I mean, who really likes to clean?)

In stark contrast, my Montessori educated kids learn "life skills"

in pre-school (ages 3 to 6) and can already slice veggies, grate

and peel things, and my now 8yo has taken to cooking very handily

and can make chapatis and all kinds of other things that still challenge me...

My father still insists on shooing them out of the kitchen and I have

to go in and rescue them. Everyone is still horrified when both kids

love to sweep and swab (jhadoo poncha) and I hear muttering behind

my back (paying so much for expensive education to do this kind of thing??)

So: how was it with others?


Edited by Milagai (log)
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hmm..i learned to cook at a very young age, because my "good for nothing" mother hated having to cook. (Her childhood sounds similar to your mother's) So as soon I was able - she taught me how, and it turned out i was much better at it than she was, and it just sort of stuck.

which was fun for me - because i got to plan and shop and cook and accept accolades for edible food and whatnot.

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After being discharged from the military, I lived with my parents for a while... It didn't take long to realize that it was a serious crimp in my lifestyle, since any guests I had were relegated to the unfinished basement... Exited stage left.

So now I had an apartment, behind the steel mills.. not exactly the most savory neighborhood, but there was always something happening... people getting offshift having beers on their front porches on hot summer days at 2AM

Absolutely no cooking skills, learned by trial and lots and lots of error... Guests invited for supper, always attended with some trepedation... Thankfully there was a burger joint next door.. Their exhaust fan was adjacent to the bedroom window.... For quite a while I was one of their best customers...

With perseverance and a dog that would eat almost anything, I eventually figured things out...

Still has no luck with breads and stuff... but wifey is good with that , so I leave that with her...

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My sibs and I were raised similarly to Milagai, except in NY instead of India - Mom in the kitchen, kids studying...

Well, I have the good education, now I need the good cooking skills! Each time I'm home, I watch Mom cook, writing down how she works her magic. It seems to be working - the first time I made sambar, it tasted just like hers! Both of my parents were really impressed. :wub: My mom's automatic reaction when she hears about us cooking is to wonder aloud why we'd want to be in the kitchen? But then I start pressing her for tips, and everything just comes out... :biggrin: Now she feels sorry for us b/c we don't have a properly seasoned "masala" saucepan for tadka! :smile:

Aw...I live in the city, and my parents only live a little while north out of Manhattan, but writing this really makes me miss my mom right now. :smile:

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  • 2 weeks later...

I started cooking when I was 13.

Let's see... flash back about 16 years to when I had just entered my teens. As you might guess, I'm very fond of food. At that time, I loved Chinese food (the stuff I now call Indo-Chinese glop.) Unfortunately, my parents didn't share my enthusiasm. One day while thumbing through a UK superstore catalogue (that my father brought back from his frequent trips there), I noticed a curious item in the "kitchen appliances" section. There it was, described as "Ken Hom 14" Carbon Steel Chinese Wok. Comes with spatula, chopsticks, and cookery book." Somehow, the idea hit me that if I perhaps got this thing (I didn't even know what "wok" meant), I might be able to satisfy my craving for Chinese cooking by making it myself, or at least get my maid to make some for me.

My poor, wonderful father actually dragged it back for me on his next visit. It wasn't easy; a thick gauge wok weighs a fair bit. Over the next few weeks, I studied Mr. Hom's book in detail. It taught me a fair bit about the philosophy of the cuisine. I realised just how different it was from the goo they dished out at the local "Chinese" restaurants. The only problem was the sheer number of exotic ingredients I'd never heard of. These days, stuff like oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, etc. are available in ever supermarket but in 1988, almost nothing was here. Fortunately, my father's UK business associates were kind enough to keep bringing me bottles of these gems so I could continue my culinary adventures. Over months and years, I studied cooking like an art, trying to understand not just the "what" but the "why" of making food. It is a quest I continue even today. I gradually figured out, "Hey, I've got a talent for this." It soon became just as much of a passion as the other love of my life - computers.

I'm not going to bore you with a longer version. :D

Madhu Menon

Shiok Far-eastern Cuisine

Indiranagar, Bangalore


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  • 2 weeks later...

I made my first batch of cookies at age 7. But since they consisted of sugar, water, and orange food coloring, they really didn't get eaten.

I entered a cherry pie baking contest at age 11, and managed to get one of the top ribbons. That established my reputation.

I started cooking more seriously in college, especially when a boyfriend who had taken cooking lessons while spending a summer in France, considered himself to be a better cook than I was. Competition developed. By the time it was all said and done, he'd turned out to be gay (a really excellent human being, just not husband material) and I had begun to progress beyond quiche.

Somewhere in my mid-20's, I decided to stop just reading cooking magazines, and actually cook from them. So I started with a mushroom salad with garlic aioli. I'd purchased a Cuisinart food processor (a CFP 5A, which I still have) and was anxious to put it to work. But the salad. Oh dear. The salad was very, very garlicky. I was on a shoestring budget and determined not to waste the food, so I ate it. After two days, I had to admit defeat and throw it out. People were avoiding me at work. Years later, I realized that the recipe had called for a certain number of garlic cloves, and I'd used that number of heads of garlic. No wonder.

Since then, it's been a little of this, a little of that. I wish I'd pursued it more diligently, but it's really never too late. There was a lovely winter in 1988 or so, when a local chef who was teaching at the vocational technical school, offered evening classes for adult enthusiasts. They were wonderful, and gave me the courage to try things I'd never tried before. We actually made Beef Wellington.

It's mainly been since finding eGullet that I've developed the interest and courage to stretch and try lots of new things. After all, help is never more than a few hours --if even that-- away. The flops are fewer and fewer, but at least now I'm able to figure out what went wrong, instead of just scratching my head (and getting flour in my hair).

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