On cooking

A short piece about cooking I wrote for my Gotham Creative Nonfiction Workshop.


6/7/20232 min read

Two pizzas cut into slices
Two pizzas cut into slices

I love cooking. Like writing, to me it is not a hobby; it is something my soul feels it must do. I get so much joy and satisfaction from doing anything in my kitchen. I have gleefully spent all day preparing a meal, declining offers of help, only to watch as friends demolish it all in forty-five sumptuous minutes.

Perhaps this is because my childhood was filled with women who could cook. The joy of cooking was palpable. They made it look instinctual, as if it came from some source of divine inspiration. When I ventured out on my own I realized it was a skill I would need to nurture. I was not going to become my mother or grandmother overnight.

There were disasters — undercooked chicken, overcooked chicken, sunken cakes, and flavorless blobs. But nothing ever required the fire department, and I never made anyone sick (that I know of). My knowledge and skills have grown over the years, so I feel confident enough to compose a meal from what I have on hand. Like a super chill version of Chopped or something.

And, like any self-professed foodie, I watch cooking shows and I scroll through Instagram. I think culinary taste-makers have made cooking look intimidating and out of reach for the average person. All these shows and Instagram foodies make some feel like cooking is meant to be difficult and must achieve five-star perfection, or look Instagram-ready.

So now you have people who need to feed families thinking they must use the freshest ingredients or the most exotic cooking method to do so. I want people to understand that when you’re cooking to survive it doesn’t matter if it’s beautifully plated. Use the canned or frozen vegetables, the cheaper cut of meat; as long as it’s nutritious and tasty and feeds your family, you’re doing fine.

Cooking should not be about shouting, shaming, or plated perfection. If anything deters someone from attempting something new it’s expecting perfection on your first try.

The media have taken the idea of cooking — a learnable skill that improves lives — and glamorized it in the name of drama and ratings, which is a shame, because I think everyone should know how to cook. Or at least not be afraid of the kitchen and know some basics, like frying an egg or boiling some pasta. Cooking is a vital skill and I’m thankful my mother and grandmother passed that on to me.

I guess cooking isn’t taught in home economics classes anymore. I asked my 12-year-old cousin about the class. “What’s that?” she said, and went back to her phone.

Apparently knowing how to feed yourself won’t get you into college. What a way to ensure the next generation is afraid of kitchen knives and can’t even cook pasta, relying solely on Grubhub for sustenance. And a steady cast of characters for future seasons of Worst Cooks in America.

Tacos al pastor
Tacos al pastor