Written by Ken Ho
I have started to learn cooking seriously since my first visit of the Netherlands from June 2016 to September 2016. Cooking skills appear to be very important in the West. After all, the cost of dining out in the Netherlands is much higher than in Hong Kong, although the food price in the latter is catching up quickly. My host family the Millarsons has been very kind to me and the father basically cooks ever day. I was and I am still very impressed by his cooking skills.
After I returned to Hong Kong, I decided that I wanted to learn to cook. It was usually my mother who cooked at home, though it was limited to the weekends as she had to work. As such, we dined out a lot during the weekdays. I started to learn cooking by taking steps. Luckily, I have been the one who does the dishes after meals since quite long ago, and if one sees dish washing as part of the art in the kitchen, then I have already made a start.
I learned to fight back the fear of burning fire and to allow oil to be splashed on my arm while a few water droplets fell into the hot oiled Chinese wok. I observed how my mother cooked, and she taught me some basic recipes. I only asked her for the recipes of those dishes I liked the most, like the fried eggs in tomato sauce. Steaming vegetables is also easier than frying, and therefore I learned to steam vegetables first.
In fact, preparing the ingredients is equally important as cooking. Smashing the garlics, chopping the gingers, cutting the onions are almost a constancy for every meal. Repetition is the key and with practice comes perfection. I recall how I was exhausted after each meal and it took my several days to recover. The exhaustion is both physical (standing in the kitchen for a few hours) and psychological (the fear of cutting myself and getting burned by the fire). But with time, the skills turn into a habit, and the habit lends itself to repetition.
As said, I began with the dishes I liked the most. I also attempted to prepare small meals before I jumped to larger meals. Although it did boost one’s ego to make huge meals, it can be too tough for newbies in the kitchen. There were times when I just wanted to sink into bed after cooking. My appetites were gone even before I begon eating.
Cooking is very hard work: I don’t think enough people appreciate that when they eat out. Then again, restaurants usually have a staff that divides the work—some people chop vegetables and make salads, some fry and grill, another makes sauces, another does cleanup. It’s much more taxing for the home cook who has to do everything by him/herself. (I wish cookbooks would take that into consideration, too. Some recipes seem to be written with the expectation you want to spend all day in the kitchen.) Anyway, it is a life skill that is well worth mastering. I’m glad, and I bet your mother is glad you’re learning!
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It is very true that cooking is hard work. I have learned to appreciate it more after cooking myself. And yes, my mother is definitely glad I am learning. Being a cook at home basically means that you need to be great at all aspects
of cooking, e.g. (a) buying good quality products at reasonable prices, (b) carrying them back home, (c) knowing how to preserve raw food, (d) cleaning them and cutting them into slices or dices, (e) deciding whether among others to steam, boil or stir fry them, (f) how to use minimal amount of plates to make washing easier, and finally (g) cleaning the kitchen and throwing away the garbage. It is really a lot of work!
And yes. Some recipes are really for chefs working in hotels!
– Ken Ho
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