The culinary secret

I have been trying for long to master the fine art of cooking. Every time I serve up a new recipe-book inspired dish, the response has been less than enthusiastic. As I look expectantly at my family, they gulp down whatever it is on the plate and try not to grimace. If I persist in asking how it tastes, the maximum they have been known to concede is that, it is a good experiment.

The talent some people seem to possess in churning up a wonderful meal remains a great mystery. I have seen my mother-in-law chatter endlessly while stirring the pan, throw in salt and spices, exclaim she has forgotten something, tap the vessel imperiously with a ladle, raise the flame and reduce it at random and, in the end, serve up a meal fit for the gods. This is contrary to everything I have heard, that concentration is what it takes to be a great cook.

I have laboured with weights and ounces, stuck to formulae, given a great deal of attention to detail and turned out quite a few disasters. When I see TV hosts talking to themselves on how wonderful everything looks at each stage of the preparation, I wonder if that’s what I am missing. Perhaps, it is merely the art of faking it till you make it.

I have also acquainted myself with the theories of mindful cooking. Ultimately, say the experts, it is all about positive energies. Ingredients of food are said to absorb energies and transform themselves into delicacies when the ambience is right. That, I convinced myself, should be the X factor.

I have experimented with music, wielding the ladle like a baton, and even incense, thinking that perhaps it is worship that a cabbage actually wants as it is boils in the stove. Thus, I reduced myself to a mere catalyst, beaming over as the process happens. While this does contribute to a relaxed and stress-free cooking, it does not seem to necessarily add to the happiness of those who finally have to eat the dish.

While food channels, contests and food shows offer many insights on the flavours, textures and balance, they have not helped me crack the code. I have acquired a gourmet’s skills at analysing food, though. But this has done little to help create culinary wonders that everyone else around seems to be able to. I have become a great fan of raw and semi-cooked food. Tossing up a salad is a very satisfying effort. It is also undoubtedly healthy. Further, sauces and pickles can enhance every eating experience. 

My cook finally demystified the secret of what it takes to tantalise the taste buds. I once complimented her on a cup of tea that tasted like nectar. She hastily disclaimed all responsibility. “It’s the weather. When the weather is good, the chai tastes good,” she said authoritatively. The unsaid emphasis was, ‘do not expect a repeat; it’s a random event.’ That does explain the hits and misses in the kitchen.

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