Saturday, March 25, 2006

How did you learn to cook?

Someone on a message board posed this question: How did you learn to cook?

This was my response.

Growing up with my grandparents in a small city in Andean Peru, I would accompany my grandmother every morning to the local market where she would select the food she would make that day.

I can still hear the sound of the vendor ladies calling us to look at their wares as I held tightly to my grandmother with one hand and to the canasta full of produce in the other.

Back home, I would take a seat in her kitchen, and as she would regale me with stories of the past, of family trials, triumphs, and tribulations, I would watch her chop and dice and stir and mix.

Every so often she would call me closer and slip a delicacy into my mouth. "Shh!" she would say, "don't let your grandfather see, otherwise he'll want this morsel for himself." This is where I learned that making food is synonymous with love.

Once I returned to live in the US, although my mother is a great cook in her own right, the pace of life was much more hectic, and the only days I could hang around the kitchen were on weekends, when Mom would open a bottle of wine, turn on some classic Hollywood movie on the TV, and scour her cookbooks to prepare us elaborate meals.

I didn't realize all that childhood observation had paid off, that I had learned to cook almost by osmosis, until I was in my 30s and set up the first proper household of my own (as opposed to the bachelor crash pads I lived in during my 20s).

Before I knew it, I too was spending all weekends creating elaborate meals.

And word got out: just like in my childhood home in Peru, where people just drop by before mealtime, in my California home, friends learned that Saturday afternoon was a good time to drop by my home, announced or unannounced, to get a piping-hot meal much better than at any local restaurant.

My philosophy: if there's enough for two, then there's enough for three or four.

Although I don't cook like that any more, I know that I can if I want to. And I will always be grateful for those intangible lessons the kitchen has taught me.

How did you learn to cook?


Sury said...

That's such a sweet post. Loved reading it. It's really interesting how we learn cooking. Since you ended your post with that question for other readers, I may do a similar post on our blog.

Oh and thanks for linking us. You are linked to us too, now :)

::Alejandro:: said...

Thank you Sury. I'm glad you enjoyed reading that. I also love your blog, what a great combination: Indian and Peruvian, two of my favorite cuisines.

Happy eating! Namaste! Saludos!


Inka-Wolfy said...

I find great similarites in your story and the way I got introduced to the cooking experience.
My grandparents lived with us in the same house and I still remember after coming home from school, I followed my grandmother into the kitchen to see what she had prepared for lunch and I'd pester her to death with my questions. My mother would cook the same kind of meals but they always tasted different, I could discover tiny little nuances.
My grandma died when I was 15 but her culinary teachings stayed with me ever since. After moving out of my parents house, I just tried everything I learned for myself. And ever since I was in charge of the meal preparation, no matter where I lived or who I lived with :-)
The important thing is you cannot be afraid to try new things. You have to learn through own experience and the dedication of time is essential.