Cooking, they say, is an art. The world’s (apparently) most vicious chef Gordon Ramsay “understood that cooking was never going to be a job, it’s a passion”, from rather early on; he pretty much imposes the passion on every wannabe chef. It’s really easy to see why, if you compare Gordon and our very own Star Chef Sanjeev Kapoor: one smiles all the time, explaining why you should dry roast the semolina before adding water in a mellifluous voice. The other almost comes to the verge of tearing as he looks at the horrible state of the kitchen in a restaurant that clearly needs some saving.
I admit I have been fed on Khana Khazana, and watching the Aubergine pannacotta being tested/tasted on Masterchef does not give me any culinary satisfaction. (Disclaimer: That recipe is entirely fictitious. I don’t think any version of the show has ever made this.)
While you are away from home, you not only miss good ol’ homely food but also get that urge to cook something. Anything, from scrambled eggs to the Spanish potato omelet, to the sinfully indulgent molten chocolate mug cake and cheeeeeeeeeesy chicken lasagna that calls for an Instagram-worthy photo, can be learned in less than 5 minutes from those Tasty videos that keep popping on your timeline every now and then.
Those five minutes are enough to elevate you to a transcendental Zen Chef state. Frankly speaking, you’d prefer the burnt remains of your so-called Mongolian egg bhurji to the pav bhaji of your hostel mess. (Acceptance, O worthy disciple, is the key to bliss.)
How do you cook up a storm?
Being an engineer-to-be, I know of a million, zillion, gazillion (okay, exaggeration) things to cook in a hostel room. The easiest one, of course, is to buy ramen packets, boil them over a slow sputtering flame, and add an approximately double the amount of recommended seasonings (for that extra tang, y’know). But guys don’t consider this as real cooking.
Once you start exploring the limited resources you have, you discover that you’re either
- A pretty good cook
- Dr. Doofenschmirtz
In hostel, you get out of the regular home-made food with Mom’s magic touch, and come with terms to something called a mess. Disproportionate sizes of potato and paneer make you lose faith in equality. You start roaming outside, like the hunter-gatherers your ancestors were, scouring down the rows of Chinese take-away stalls and other unhealthy options and thrive on them. At one point you even hate it all. Then one fine day you watch Hell’s Kitchen or Shokugeki no Soma, and you take it upon yourself to cook.
So the first two ingredients to cooking a storm are:
You start with simple things, no doubt: cooking simple Maggi, the occasional black tea/coffee, buttered toast and boiled eggs.
After sufficient experience you have been formally inducted into the freshman chef cadre. You begin to experiment. You boil milk, and somehow it turns into paneer or rabdi. Or spills over. Or burns. This marks the first of your numerous failures. You try to break eggs with a flourish and you get it all over you. Even at the risk of smelling like eggs for the entire week, you manage to get some egg to look like an omelet. You burn the toast. You forget to add sugar to your tea.
Once you have got your first scar of war (cut your finger while chopping onions/burn your hand trying to get a vessel off the stove) you become wary of things in the kitchen. You juggle spices and seasonings, you hit upon a formula for the perfect chapatti dough, you know what to add first to the sizzling pan.
Slowly but steadily your eye searches for a new ingredient, your nose is keen enough to pick up an exotic fragrance. You experiment more and more: first, a rock-hard biscuit-cake, then a delicious, succulent chocolate mug cake. Then you decide to conquer the smaller forts first.
BAD ARTISTS COPY, said Salvador Dali; GOOD ARTISTS STEAL. Creating good food is an art. It needs as much of heart and soul as it needs sugar and spice. No one ever cooked up a storm without spilling something or getting screamed at for destroying half the kitchen. But once you do conjure it up, the flames will flambé your crème custard, the soufflé will bloom under your hands– and if nothing, then you will not be making just ready-to-eat ramen or reheating yesterday’s dinner. Non, non– you will not reheat food or order women to “go, make a sandwich”.