We’re a completely food-obsessed generation inundated with celebrity chefs, cooking shows, and recipe books for any and every occasion. Ironically, it seems like people are actually using their kitchens less and less these days.
It’s true that we generally work longer hours and have less time and energy to prepare home-cooked meals. It’s also way too convenient in Hong Kong for us to just pop into a restaurant and get a full dinner set for less than what it costs to buy a head of organic lettuce. And so relegating the kitchen to weekend and blue moon stints would only be logical for the typical Hongkonger.
But I think there’s also been a fundamental paradigm shift in terms of people’s attitudes towards cooking over the years. Cooking at home has evolved from a being common household activity (no biggie) to a next-level art form — or a complete science — reserved more for serious foodies, hobbyists, and the extremely diet-conscious. In other words, we have started to treat cooking as a subject that one needs to study and master, rather than as something we just do, because we can and we feel like it.
This revelation really hit home after a series of home-cooked meal attempts on my part that simply defied common sense.
I decided I wanted to make tacos one day. I convinced myself that I would be cheating if I didn’t make the tortilla shells from scratch. And so I did — by spending hours mixing up some flour with water, then rolling and pounding out the dough until I managed to produce some misshapen and not particularly memorable pieces.
Another time, I wanted to make a Chinese stir-fry following a cookbook recipe that called for some chili oil. The cookbook suggested making the chili oil yourself, which of course I did, by frying some dried chillies (which unfortunately I couldn’t grow myself) with a lot of oil (which unfortunately I could not produce from scratch in my own kitchen) in a sizzling wok, then letting the mixture sit overnight. The recipe also called for chicken stock and suggested that you make the stock yourself — using a whole chicken if possible, for maximum flavor. Which of course I did.
Not that I had anything against making my own tortilla shells or chili oil or chicken stock — but by investing so much time and energy to get a few components ready for a single dish that might or might not have been just one part of a multi-course meal, I had pretty much sapped the pleasure out of the actual cooking process. The worst thing about it? I couldn’t even imagine using store-bought tortillas, chili oil and chicken stock for fear they would make my dishes inferior.
At some point, it occurred to me that I was defeating the purpose of cooking at home by being so uptight about every aspect of the preparation. Eventually — and it took a while — I stopped beating myself up over every little thing and got comfortable with pure, guilt-free improvisation.
And with that, I hope my story will inspire some of you to get back into the kitchen and just do whatever the hell you want, because trust me: cooking is only as intimidating as you want it to be.