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Aspiring to achieve perfection in the kitchen

It takes decades of experience to become a good cook

Gulf News

It seems that there is an age and a stage for everything. There is a voting age, an age to marry, middle age, retirement age, senior stage, true old age...and now, researchers add one more. There is also the age of mastery over culinary skills!

Researchers, according to a recent news article, have found that women do not become perfect cooks until they reach the age of 55.

I am not sure whether the age when the women in the study began to cook has been taken into account, but it seems that we women need to have at least a couple of decades of kitchen experience (accompanied by the usual disasters and cover-ups) before we can go forth with confidence to feed unexpected guests, rustle up a meal from scratch with random ingredients dug out of our fridges — and still have people relish our efforts. When I first took that small step over the threshold into my own kitchen, I did not feel that I had landed on the dark side of the moon or was in alien territory. The cooking place, the heart of the home, was familiar ground for me.

In our parental home, all of us were ‘foodies’, and when Mother was cooking we would hang around waiting to taste or to get first dibs on wiping the dish clean. In time, that progressed to adding a touch of coriander or a twist of lemon to decorate curries and cakes, and we learned to give the finishing touch to all kinds of exotic dishes that mother loved to experiment with.

Soon we went solo and would wait until Mother retired for her afternoon siesta and then would raid the cupboards and the fridge to whip up a delicacy while she was sleeping.

Clean-up job

At tea time, we would serve her usual cup of tea and then with a flourish, would present a batch of freshly baked muffins or picture perfect squares of chocolate fudge. Of course, it was understood that no matter how small — or large — the quantity of whatever it was we had prepared that first time, we would finish it there and then.

Thereafter, if the dish was a success, we would multiply ingredients and go through the whole creation process again to make sure we had ‘stocks on hand’ for those days when we didn’t feel like experimenting.

After a good decade of these light-hearted culinary experiments, when blunders were talked about as much as triumphs and usually gave us more food for thought, it was time to venture into running our own kitchens.

For a time, like everything else in a marriage, it was all roses and stars and sweet nothings – even if there was little or nothing on the table!

An earnest joint effort was put into scouring recipe books and ‘must-try’ dishes were marked by both of us to be tried out by one of us. Another few years of happy trials and errors — shared and laughed over — went by before it dawned on the cook that the entire thing was her baby (in addition to the baby boy, the baby dog, and other sundry creatures that, though larger, qualified for baby care in the household)!

I was alone out there!

It didn’t matter that these were not uncharted waters – all I knew was that there were no magic solutions for those three meals a day over the next few decades!

So, at 55, with the rock solid experience of having prepared about thirty thousand meals, other women may feel confident that their cooking skills have been perfected – but I am only perfectly and completely sure the kitchen is not for me!

Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.