How I started to cook. “A white lie”

1 Apr

A white lie.
Stockholm, Sweden. December 2000.
It was snowing outside.
I had recently moved to a new place with my mom and my little sister. I was eight years
old and in the midst of a recent divorce between two parents that had ceased to
communicate. After a while I realized this day was not like other days. Despite it being so
late in the evening, mom had not served dinner yet. My belly commanded me out to the
living room.
“Will there not be any dinner tonight?” I asked mom in an agitated tone of voice.
“I am not going to cook today,” she answered.
“No dinner?”

In an even more agitated tone of voice I asked her, ”Why?”

“Because, today you are going to cook.”

Me? Why should I cook? She was just so reliable when it came to food. Other than
enjoying her native Punjabi homecooking such as chole, dhal and biryani, I had
sometimes assisted her in the kitchen. But that day, I was to reach a completely new level
of cooking.

After some complaining, my mom finally agreed to be my assistant and to
enact the role I had been so confident in before. I had no choice but to take the risk.
Ready, though still in shock, I decided to fry some peppers (yellow, red and green – I
loved the colors) and serve it with pasta. First of all, I poured tons of olive oil in the pan.
Then I put the pasta in the boiling water and the poorly cut peppers in the pan, wellcovered
in oil. Then it was time to add salt – something I knew that you should always
have in food, no matter what. The salt poured and poured until I had emptied out half or
the jar. Now the dinner was ready to serve, I thought.

Oh. Of course, the pasta!

I can still remember the taste of oily disgusting and insanely salty peppers served with the
overly cooked pasta.
Naturally I was sad after that dinner. I felt I was a worthless chef. I was embarrassed by
having offered such a disgusting meal to such a brilliant chef.
But all she said after that meal was: “Wow! This is tastes so lovely!”

Although her words were a white lie, they have probably been the best thing someone has
ever said to me.

Eventually I started to cook more often. I made progress – a simple task, considering that
just by adding less oil and salvaging the pasta in time was a grand step.
Already from the first day that mom threw me into the kitchen, a curiosity in me of
exploring the unknown emerged. And, I became conscious of the fact that, along with
sharing one meal a day, discussions, arguments and love all surfaced at the dinner table.
During these countless moments, mom nurtured a notion of food and its healing powers
that always made me hungry for new challenges. Food is more than its physical form – it
is life itself. It is a social event and a form of art. Behind every meal there is a story.
Behind every meal there is work. Behind every meal there is a will to communicate a
feeling, and the most important ingredients in any dish is love.
From what seems coincidental I have built up knowledge and passion of a magnitude I
never could imagine. Ten years after my first dish I moved to New York to pursue those
passions that come to life in educating the next generations, by holding cookery
workshops for children in New York, using a course that I first developed with children
in Stockholm.
In a society where parents may not know how to cook or may not have the time to teach
their children how to do so, the emphasis on the dinner table as a social gathering point
has almost vanished.
Stockholm and New York have in common characteristics that are widespread
throughout the Western world. Those that can afford, by choice or necessity, prioritize
not having to cook. I believe that to eat healthy you do not have to be rich because wealth
lies in knowing how to prepare your meal.
For that reason, education around cooking and what comes with it is more vital than ever.
And the best part?
Every time I am hungry, I only have to ask myself.

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