My early recollections of entering the kitchen to make something would be when I was about 13 years old. Dad being the overprotective father that he is was scared that we would end up cutting our fingers or burning ourselves. I guess the paranoia was due to the fact that my sister had got scalded with hot tea when she was a year old.
Even when I entered the kitchen at 13, I didn’t make any earth shattering cordon bleu delicacy. Like all novices, I started with the humble tea. My family stoically bore the burden of drinking the tea I made. I guess mom & dad were trying to encourage me to cook but sis being the person that she is bluntly refused to come anywhere near my tea. My mother refused to promote me to the higher class in cooking school. I was stuck in the class, which made tea for endless years. The only other work she used to give me was peeling onions and garlic and washing the dishes. I thought that may be a couple of months later she would let me make something, atleast an omlette. But no, I was stuck with peeling onions. I was discouraged and refused to enter the kitchen.
Then came the phase of board exams and higher studies. At that time there was only time to shuttle from one class to the other, study, come home, eat something and fall asleep. Home at that time resembled a hotel, as all I did was eat and sleep there. Once I completed my studies I started working. By this time, kitchen had become an alien territory. Here was this 21-year-old girl whose only known culinary skills was making tea and peeling onions. Now mom was getting paranoid as who would marry a girl who could only make tea. Mom was desperately trying to entice me to the kitchen but why would I want to leave the Jeffrey Archer I was reading and go and peel onions? Mom was getting nightmares of my mother-in-law scolding her for not equipping her daughter with the requisite skills in the kitchen.
I had very clearly told my husband before marriage that I was terrible in the kitchen. One of the things I had asked mom, as a wedding gift was a recipe book where she listed out the common malayalee dishes. As soon we set up home, I was sent to London on a project. Though I was heartbroken to leave my hubby soon after marriage, it was actually a blessing in disguise. I was staying with 4 girls who made excellent food. I assisted them in the cooking process and gained the much-needed confidence. The day I came back home from London, I surprised or rather shocked my hubby with half cooked rice, really thick sambhar (almost a sambhar slush), unchewable ‘payar’ (lentils) and a nice payasam. Even though the food was barely edible, hubby was pleased with my effort. He could atleast expect to have food at home rather than the takeaways which he had resigned himself to for the rest of his life.
Then came the phase of having friends over at home. In the earlier times, I was hyper tensed at the outcome of the cooking. Most of hubby’s bachelor friends were ready to eat anything provided it was cooked at home. They were my brave guinea pigs (they really hogged like pigs too. So it is a literal and figurative comparison) who willingly placed their lives in my hands. They have had the honour of drinking my pulav, having dosa maps and eating burnt chicken among other things. But as time passed by I have realized that I had observed a lot of things which my mom did while I was peeling onions. I seem to remember when the masalas need to be put and so on. Now I can say that I am a fairly decent cook and you needn’t be scared for your life, if you came home for dinner.