HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Volunteering to help cook in someone else's kitchen?

Ok, I admit it. I can't go to someone's house and let them cook me a dinner. I have to get my hands in the preparation of that food in some way, whether it's throwing things in the oven, chopping, plating food, whatever.

Sometimes I've found myself actually cooking the meal, instead of the hosts. Is it me, or is it them? I'm not sure. Maybe I'm pushy in the kitchen? For instance, every time I go to visit my parents, I volunteer to help my mom cook, then end up cooking the meal myself, while she plays the role of sous-chef. Now, because she's my mom, she gladly lets me do it and always says how much she loves cooking with me in the kitchen.

I swear, it's not because I'm a control freak, or that I don't think my friends and family don't cook as well as I do. It's because I simply love to get my hands in there and cook. A passion for cooking that I can't let go.

I'm sure I've annoyed people with it before, but I just can't stop. It's like an addiction. One that has no cure.

Do other people have this problem or is it just me???

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I have three cases:

    1. A couple of friends are good cooks; we share cooking, and when do so, we hardly need to talk once we know what the menu is.
    2. Some younger friends are on their way to becoming cooks. I sit nearby having wine, but do and say nothing unless asked.
    3. Some of my friends almost expect me to cook because they know I enjoy doing so.

    1. LOL, yep you sound like an Alpha in the kitchen. But do realize that not everyone wants you inthe food in their kitchen...mind you nothing against you, I am sure, but they are probably Alpha too.

      Personally, I do not like ( OK, I even hate it) when folks wanna mess with my stuff, in my kitchen, especially when I have planned out a dinner party. Since they cannot be inside my head, their "little help" is almost always a big hinder. i can and have planned, we-all-cook parties, usually things like making pastas or do it yourself pizzas on the grill. But unless I invite you, ty but NO TY I do not need yoru help.

      1. "Anything I can do to help?"

        That's where I start. The answer can range from, "Got everything covered, go and enjoy yourself in..." to "I got a real problem" and then I feel like a Navy Seal.

        I cook most nights at home, and although I love it, being a true guest is very pleasant. The hardest part is the eating. I have been served close to raw chicken to salmon that the host grilled for 30 minutes. In the first case I carved one piece and spread it around the plate and I drank a LOT of water to get the second case down my throat. And you know what, both were great times. I couldn;t care less about the food that was served because we were having a great time. There are many times my dinner is a PBJ when we get home, but that's OK.

        But there is a cure if you want it and its good news, I think you might grow out of it. I was like you 20+ years ago and as you can see from the first paragraph, not doing it any more.

        1. I would offer to help, but wouldn't insist if they declined my offer. Most people I know who enjoy cooking consider their kitchen to be their castle, and prefer not to have anyone messing around in it. I love cooking too, but save it for my own kitchen.

          How about when you have people over for food? Do you like it when they "help"?

          5 Replies
          1. re: hrhboo

            I kind of have a different problem. Mom handed over her spatula to us kids long ago, and when we go to her house, if cooking's involved, it's always up to us kids. (I don't mind - she's 76 years old!!!) But the maddening thing is, we can never find the stuff (utensils, pots, spices, etc.) we need, since she's got it organized HER way (never mind she doesn't cook anymore!), and she would get very upset if we changed anything - she's very protective of her space. So, for Thanksgiving, for instance, we always have to rummage around on a scavenger hunt IN ADDITION to cooking!! : (
            Oh vey --

            1. re: aurora50

              Exactly! My twin sister and I started cooking dinners for the family when we were 9 years old (no lie) - my Mom had gone back to school to get a second degree and we had always been in the kitchen with her anyway.

              Now I do most of the cooking when I'm at her house, which is fine with me, however trying to find things in her kitchen with the way she has it organized is AGGRAVATING!

              1. re: Jeanne

                Oh my gosh. I was talking about Me and MY twin sister!!!
                And we started cooking at about the same age.
                Small world, eh??? ; )

            2. re: hrhboo

              See, the thing is, everyone always asks me to help.
              I think the problem is, I start taking over.

              When people come to my house, they are always welcome to help in the kitchen. There's always something to chop or stir. Having help is great.

              1. re: QueenB

                The problem is that helping is one thing and taking over is quite another.
                I, like Quine, don't like guests around me when I'm cooking. I move relatively quickly while cooking; so IMO going from "helpful" to "hindrance" only takes one quick misstep.

                Different people have different ways to prepare the same things; when you're in someone else's home you have to respect their way of doing/preparing things. Therefore I think you might be better off taking a deep breath, and moving away from the kitchen. Try to remember that as a guest your role is to enjoy yourself.

                Having your host repeat for the nth time that indeed he/she has things under control and no help is needed can become annoying. I never had the situation happen; however, depending on the level of obtrusiveness I think my reaction would be to drop the person from any future guest list and leave it at that.


            3. I understand the urge to want to jump in there because I feel it too BUT I try to remember who of my friends/family likes help and who of my friends/family does not and definitely respect the person's kitchen and their space. My mom is a total control freak in the kitchen and I learned early to know my role in someone else's kitchen. It was a good lesson.

              1. QueenB: I've heard of worse addictions! I love help in the kitche but I have a fairly small kitchen so the "helper" has to be able to do his or her thing without holding up the whole production! I'm a lousy cook so please come over to our house for dinner any time!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Bite Me

                  my ex mother in law was a lousy cook so there was no choice but to go into the kitchen and get the heat right in the oven, cook the starch, cook the vegetables etc or there would be hours before dinner and my kids would be starving. In fact I used to feed them before we went there.

                  She once tried to feed us undercooked turkey that had been in the oven about an hour. maybe she was trying to kill me!!

                2. There are maybe three people I know with whom I can stand to cook anything under any and all circumstances, none of whom live where I now do. If I had a kitchen large enough to have separate prep, washing and cooking stations, I could tolerate the help of almost any competent person, but I don't have that, so I like my family and friends to just stand aside for the most part. If I'm really busy and trying to do three things at once I'd rather even my nearest and dearest would go away for a while, and if they don't take the hint I'll stop hinting and tell them. It's an attention thing, mostly - I simply can't keep myself aware of how everything's progressing and what needs doing next, and converse at the same time. The people with whom I can cook have the knack of mingling their awareness with mine, like in a sort of jam session, and I with theirs.

                  I think I just said almost the same thing as Sam Fujisaka did.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Will Owen

                    Exactly! For the few people I can cook with (also about three and none around here at the moment), we really are on the same wave length and little talking about the cooking itself is needed. Magic when it happens.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      When Mrs Jfood and I are preparing dinner for company it is like a ballet in the kitchen. We know each others strengths and stay out of the way of each other. When knife skills are needed on either dish, the food comes to me when dessert is needed, Mrs Jfood to the rescue. We designed our kitchen with two workspaces and it is great. The only issue we normally run into is the compactor is in my space and she is very neat so the force field is broken every now and then.

                      1. re: jfood

                        I totally understand! I call my husband my sous chef because he doesn't cook much but I couldn't cook without him! He gets things out for me and puts things away, measuring, stirring, chopping, etc. When we have big parties over for dinner I usually don't want any help in the kitchen besides him because he knows when to let me go and when to help. But I do have a couple friends who I can cook well with. It's a true art to make it work and the mark of a good relationship.

                        1. re: upstate girl

                          Ditto - I've had dinners at several friends' houses where one of them has had professional training. He usually does most of it, but knows I love to help (and knows I'm relatively capable in the kitchen [grin]) so I become his prep cook for the night. I really enjoy it, learn a lot from him, and think it works for all concerned. There are some who are content to sit back and enjoy the kitchen show; and others who enjoy pitching in.

                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        That's how my mom and I are in the kitchen together. We hardly have to speak with each other and the right things just somehow get done at the right time.

                        I think I've been misunderstood. I certainly don't push myself upon people who don't want my help. If I ask to help, and they basically let me take over, then I do so. If they ask me to play sous-chef and chop, then I do that. If they say no, then I leave them alone. The whole time though, I itch to get in that kitchen and help. It's just the passion of cooking for me. I didn't realize I'd be looked at as being such a jerk, because that's not the case at all.

                        I also feel that if someone invites me over to eat, I should repay in some way, usually with helping out in the kitchen or helping clean up. It's what my family and friends have always done with each other. Something I'm just used to.

                        1. re: QueenB

                          I understand what you mean about wanting to dive in because it's just so much fun! The way you've described yourself in the kitchen, only doing what your host wants you to do, sounds just right. There's nothing jerky about *wanting* to get in there as long as you check yourself and let your host maintain control by staying out if you should. At home I am a kitchen control freak myself, partly due to space issues (and partly just my nature, truthfully...), but there are times I'm really grateful for some help, especially from someone like yourself who knows her way around. Because I know how I am I always offer to help but totally respect their role as kitchen in-charge. Sounds like you're saying you do the same and are just expressing how much you love working in the kitchen.

                    2. I try and have the meal mostly done when my guests arrive. I may ask them to pour wine or set plates, but the food is my domain. I will, however, gladly accept help cleaning up and doing dishes.

                      1. I always offer to help cook or clean up. If the host or hostess wants me to do something, I'm glad to do it. I hate cooking in unfamiliar kitchens where I don't know where they keep utensils, spices, pots etc., so I only do what I'm asked. I would never take over someone else's kitchen unless they were at the meltdown stage and coming unglued. Like many, I've suffered through barely edible meals. I think DH's family believes I diet constantly because I eat so little in their homes.

                        I probably have a hands-off policy because I can't stand most help in my kitchen. I move quickly, have everything organized and know what needs to be done. It takes too long to communicate that to a helper so I'd rather they move into the living room and relax while I finish cooking. DH's main function when guests arrive is to get them out of the kitchen so I don't have to make gracious conversation while juggling everything on the stove, counters etc.