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When did you learn "how to cook"?

ipsedixit Feb 1, 2009 02:37 PM

Was there a decisive moment when you declared, "Yeah, I know how to cook now."

Most of us on Chowhound, esp. the Home Cooking board, consider ourselves as being able to cook. Maybe not as well as Thomas Keller, or maybe not with as much homey-goodness as our mom, or maybe not as frequently as our grandmother, but to some extent we all consider ourselves as able cooks.

My question, then, is when did you realize that you were able to cook?

Was there one moment? Like when you realized how to make great scrambled eggs? Or when you were able to bake a perfect chocolate souffle? Or when you mastered the perfect flaky pie crust? Or when you learned to how grill meat to the perfect medium rare without the use of a thermometer?

Or did it happen gradually without you even realizing it? Like perhaps after a great family gathering when everyone complimented you on every single course, from apps to entree to dessert? And as you stood there doing the dishes you realized, "hey, I can really cook!"

  1. AlaskaChick Feb 11, 2009 08:32 AM

    Baking was my first love - inspired by when I was a kid at Grandmas - I must have been about 3-4 at the beginning. She'd be baking away and would have me measure the flour and sugar She'd wrap me up in an apron, have me roll up my sleeves and wash to my elbows and turn me loose int his huge drawer in her kitchen where she kept flour and sugar I'd measure away, fetch things from the pantry and help scoop the cookie dough and other assorted tasks. Mom taught me to make pie fillings - she'd make the crust (which I still don't really like to make) and i'd make the fillings. Soon I was baking on the weekends - at 47 I'm still the one who makes my dad cookies.

    But then I got into food - I learned to cook over the phone. I was a latchkey kid before they had a name for it - tho there was a neighbor a couple doors away and my dad worked just down the street so I'm not sure it qualifies. I'd call mom to let her know I was home from school and she'd ask what Dad had taken out for dinner and then tell me how to cook it. All the basics - roasts, chickens, potatoes, etc. But being me, I had to experiment and soon I was making up my own recipes. What's funny is that I taught both my brother and husband the same way - over the phone and stll get those calls to this day.

    1. j
      James Cristinian Feb 10, 2009 04:20 PM

      I was fifteen working in the snack bar at a Loew's drive-in theater. While it was little more than "cooking" frozen food, it did make me appreciate timing and doing multiple tasks at one time. I could have several hambugers and cheeseburgers going at once, some fried chicken, hot dogs to prepare, plus pizza, and manning the popcorn popper and applying "butter" to said popcorn. We did make a very decent pizza, better than all the chains do now. Although we used a frozen crust, all the other ingredients were fresh, plus, we used a real pizza oven, not the conveyor belt now in vogue. Not only that, at the other end of the line at the register, I could size up a platter of food and drinks and give the price in seconds, we had an old cash register that did not scan individual items. A comment I got several times a night was "Wow, how did you do that." To this day it drives me nuts to go to a sporting event and have three or four people take longer to get my food and drinks, something as a teenager I could do in seconds.

      1. c
        chefathome Feb 10, 2009 03:01 PM

        Ever since I remember I've been in the kitchen, cooking. I started very young, as soon as I was able to follow recipes, at about six or seven. I did not learn cooking techniques or flavour affinities from anyone - my Mom was (and is) a very poor cook so I almost cooked out of necessity!

        I've always been obsessed with cooking, writing recipes, searching far and wide for unique ingredients and use the most challenging and technical recipes I can find as I love to experiment. As I look back on my culinary book selection it has evolved from the simple basics including Jaques Pepin, Franny Farmer and Julia Child to Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal, etc. My husband and I rarely go to restaurants as we cook and eat better at home. I can say I am an excellent cook and very knowledgeable. I teach cooking classes. I do not know at what age it hit me that I was natural at combining ingredients - it came naturally. Travel and food are what I love to do most - my favourite days are spent in the kitchen, planning meals, shopping for specialized ingredients, trying new techniques, honking skills, etc.

        1. a
          AngelSanctuary Feb 9, 2009 05:45 PM

          hmm...this is a good question. Don't really remember when I started really cooking. I think it was when I made Alton Brown's sugar cookies and it tastes great. So I started watching Good Eats which taught me a lot and inspired me to cook more. Since my mother does not cook I will have to anyways.

          I guess I know how to cook now in the sense that I can take one ingredient and make a few dishes with it but of course, one always need to continue learning in the world of food~

          1. kchurchill5 Feb 9, 2009 07:01 AM

            The funny thing, I baked when I was young ... and yes I used recipes. Baking is indeed different than cooking. I baked a lot and enjoyed it. Then I just stopped for a few years. Late teen early 20's no need. However even in college I was by far the best cook. I made soups homemade and sold them to a lot of the football players and other team sport members every week. I also made fresh bread daily. It was cheap for them and easy for me and I loved it. But still basically just did it for an income. I was the "HIT" of the apartment complex. Everyone wanted my soup and bread. That is when I knew I had to cook more. Well moved, got married and then it hit ... cooking ...

            But other than bread ... I don't bake hardly anything unless I have to. There is 2 cakes I bake and not much more.

            Cooking I never use a cookook, I may look to see some ingredients, but never follow it. I go with my instinct. Maybe blessed that I can see or envision a dish. To this day I read a recipe, never write it down and just wing it. It always seems to work out some how.

            I guess that year when I was young was the first time, but then in college while cooking to make a living I knew ... it just took a couple of years to get there.

            1. b
              Bite Me Feb 8, 2009 11:30 PM

              Graduate school at The University of Chicago. Too cold to go outside. Had to stay in and cook - chocolate souffles, sauces, roasts, etc. Fell in love with Julia Child and Pete the local butcher.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Bite Me
                Passadumkeg Feb 9, 2009 12:10 PM

                Grad school at Univ. of New Mexico. Earned a Ma on 100 lbs of pinto beans and 4 bushels of chiles. Two red and dried 'em. Two green, roasted, peeled and froze. Led to long term chile addiction.

              2. Passadumkeg Feb 8, 2009 10:33 PM

                Moms. Mom ( I've written this before on another post) got a provisional teaching certificate when I was in fifth grade and she had to go to night school as well. My older bros. were in high school and busy w/ sports. It fell upon me, with mom's guidance, to cook for the famil. In college, lived in a farm house w/ 4 other guys. We were all sportsman and I cooked all the game we hunted and fished. They called me mom. I continue to be the cook and grocery guy in our marriage and have taught our all kids to cook as well. Fun when they call, long distance, to ask me how to cook some thing. Mom passed away in Oct., just shy of 93. Her last words to my bro & me in the hospital, was (in abreviated form) was would you bring me a BLT and a glass of wine. A grande dame. Olga RIP.

                1. lulubelle Feb 8, 2009 08:52 PM

                  When I was maybe four years old, I asked for an easy-bake oven. My mother told me that I couldn't have one, but that I could cook in the kitchen with her anytime I wanted. First was brownies, then cookies, then cakes, pies, etc. By the time I was in 3rd grade I was cooking dinner at least one night a week. (baked chicken, baked potatoes, broccoli.)

                  When I was in high school, I worked in a little, local cookware shop. We were frequently dead in the evenings, so I started reading cookbooks to keep myself busy. Because I had a good background in the kitchen, and because my mother had never told me that I couldn't do anything, it never occurred to me that maybe making pate was something that most people didn't do for fun.

                  1. pilinut Feb 5, 2009 10:19 PM

                    Perhaps the question I would be better equipped to handle would be, "When did you start to learn how to cook?" After almost 50 years of hanging out in the kitchen, I am still sufficiently insecure to claim that I can really cook. I feel I'm only as good as the last meal I made, and there are so many, many things to cook, so little time to master any of it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: pilinut
                      folprivate Feb 6, 2009 06:40 AM

                      I could not have said it better. The more I learn to cook or bake, I realize there is so much more I will never master no matter how much my family and friends rave. Perhaps the next question should be when did cooking go from necessity to become something you love to do

                    2. scubadoo97 Feb 5, 2009 04:00 PM

                      I would say kinda gradual. In college I would cook steaks but didn't venture too much into recipes. When taking organic chemistry it hit me that the chemical recipes were not unlike food recipes.

                      Been cooking ever since.

                      As a side note, I hated quantitative analysis and I hate to bake and so lies another connection.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: scubadoo97
                        Candy Feb 5, 2009 04:19 PM

                        But baking is science. The "recipes" are formulae. cooking is different with more variables.

                        1. re: Candy
                          Will Owen Feb 5, 2009 05:01 PM

                          Which I think is what he meant as being the connection between quantitative analysis and baking. There is a lot of science underlying cooking, though, and the more we understand the relevant rules the better and more freely we can cook. Half an hour listening to Shirley Corriher talk about the physics of cooking was as enlightening in its way as a half hour listening to Alan Watts explaining Zen, and as exhilarating.

                          1. re: Will Owen
                            Sam Fujisaka Feb 5, 2009 05:16 PM

                            The results of cooking are what you get - the food and how it tastes. Full stop.

                            In science we have the problem of attribution - the key is not only getting what we got, but explaining how we got what we got.

                            1. re: Will Owen
                              Caroline1 Feb 5, 2009 05:18 PM

                              Yeah but Will, playing the sorcerer's apprentice in the kitchen can be a lot of fun too! I sure learned a lot the time I tried to make yeast bread dough with self rising flour. And as a kid, making my own carbonated lemonade by adding a bit of baking soda was delicious... AND exciting! If I added too much, the lemonade completely escaped the glass! I wonder where I left my wand and pointy hat?

                              1. re: Will Owen
                                scubadoo97 Feb 9, 2009 04:31 PM

                                Thanks Will. I like the science of food. Find Harold McGee a pleasure read.

                                I like the freedom to experiment with different ingredients to yield a final product. This is similar to organic chem. Change the ingredients and you might get something that surprises you

                                Candy, in quantitative analysis you had to weigh your items to the hundredths of a gram or else your reaction would fail. Kinda like baking. I have to concede that even in baking the more you know about the science of the reaction the more freedom it buys you to make substitutions.

                          2. Will Owen Feb 5, 2009 10:33 AM

                            Unlike my rather lackadaisical ways in general, I always had a very conscientious attitude towards cooking, even back before I had any real idea of what I was doing or why. The first time I ever cooked for anyone else was almost totally by accident: I was going on a Boy Scout campout and wanted bacon and eggs for breakfast, so Mom gave me a short course in doing that and sent me on my way, reminding me as I left that if the eggs broke up I could just scramble them. Thus relieved of that much anxiety, I did a perfect job on my eggs, which did not escape the notice of the other boys, some of whom brought me their bacon and their eggs and asked me please to do theirs, too. Probably the height of my popularity, Scout-wise.

                            I think, though, that really being a cook kinda snuck up on me. The realization came one day when we were iced in badly enough to avoid driving anywhere if we didn't have to, and I'd scouted the fridge and cupboards and come up with a very satisfying meal, some sort of stovetop casserole thing I'd just thought up, and it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't so much as cracked a cookbook, nor had I felt the slightest doubt that what I was cooking was going to taste exactly as I'd imagined it would, and it did. This gave me more pleasure than almost anything I'd ever experienced, and I realized that I felt more proud of this than of just about any other thing I'd ever accomplished.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Will Owen
                              Sam Fujisaka Feb 5, 2009 12:23 PM

                              Two really wonderful episodes. Thank you.

                            2. auburnselkie Feb 3, 2009 09:22 AM

                              I was little - maybe 7 or so. I'd always helped out in the kitchen, of course, with Mom and Grandmother. What I really wanted one year was an Easy-Bake oven - all my friends had them and I begged and begged. Finally, my mom led me into the kitchen and pointed at the oven, saying, "You don't NEED an Easy Bake oven. You have a real one." So I cracked open a cookbook and got going. I made popovers every night for WEEKS. It's a family legend. I started cooking, not baking, when I was 9 and my parents got divorced and my mom went to work during the day and school at night. I used to make dinner for the babysitter!
                              I was a weird little kid though. I'd make salads and deliver them to the older people in my neighborhood...

                              1. jfood Feb 3, 2009 03:20 AM

                                jfood's dad walked out on his 12th birthday and his mom went into a bit of a funk. For a few months jfood had a personal chef by the name of Mrs Swanson. She was really good alternating the food amongst fried chicken, roast turkey and chicken pot pie all served in sterling silver containers, well maybe not sterling, more like aluminum. Then jfood did a WTF. So he went to the library and just by chance took home The Joy of Cooking. That night he made a steak with Marchand de Vin Sauce. And he was hooked. It is amazing that 41 years later he remembers the name of the first recipe he ever tried. And it was very good (remember the benchmark of Swanson).

                                Today jfood still enjoys reading cookbooks and learning like Sammy and Picawika, and hopes he never stops learning. He is confident in the kitchen, will try anything the family asks, nothing scares him in the kitchen.

                                But when did jfood learn "how to cook"? Must have been that day back in 1968 when there he was, a 7th grade kid in the city, cookbook in hand, Club Steak in the pan with mushrooms and then taking the home cooked dish to the den and eating alone on the snack tray in front of the TV. It was a true epiphany. Yes jfood could enjoy dinner alone in front of the TV, his cooking became his dining companion and complemented Walter Cronkite.

                                1. mrsfury Feb 2, 2009 05:42 PM

                                  When I was a kid I loved to bake. I'd even make up my own cookie recipes. Then I lost interest. When I moved into my first apartment I'd call my grandma and ask her to read me recipes from her cookbooks. I guess when I really learned to cook was when my future hubby and I moved in together. We ate Hamburger Helper for a year and then I decided I have to learn to cook or I'm going to have to eat this crap forever. Now I have quite a few dishes people ask me to make.

                                  1. Demented Feb 2, 2009 05:20 PM

                                    Thought provoking questions. Prior to reading this post, I had never really given much thought to anything other than when I started learning to cook, that said...

                                    My mother started teaching me to cook when I was about 8 year old, not because she wanted to, rather, but because I wouldn't stop bugging her about it. By that time I had been smelling and tasting every herb and seasoning she had in the house for a couple of years.

                                    It started with scrambled, sunny side up and poached eggs. By the time I was ten, I could make béchamel, cheese, hollandaise, tomato and velouté sauce.

                                    Through high school I worked as a line cook, spent the first year of my enlistment in the navy, TAD to the ward room. Never been one to fallow recipes from a cookbook. I cook by the seat of my pants.

                                    70 - 85% of what I now of cooking, comes ot from books, but from my head. The rest comes from not being afraid to try new things, or experiment. Yes, I've had more than my fair share of failures.... dishes the dog wouldn't eat.

                                    I retired in 2005. Since that time, cooking (and fishing) have become the central focus of my daily life. I could study until I draw my final breath and never learn everything there is to know about food and preparing it.

                                    1. l
                                      latindancer Feb 2, 2009 03:41 PM

                                      When I was nine...I had to learn how to cook/bake in order to take care of my family when my mother went to work.
                                      The best 'on the job' training I've ever had in my life.

                                      1. m
                                        mordacity Feb 2, 2009 03:06 PM

                                        I grew up helping out in the kitchen gradually more and more, so I never really had an "I can cook!" moment. And I still have a LOT to learn, so I'm not getting cocky about it anytime soon. I did, however have an "other people can't cook?" moment. I once arrived on time (ergo early) for a party thrown by a Lebanese friend of mine and the tabbouleh wasn't finished yet. He knows I know my way around a kitchen so asked if I would press some garlic and I of course was happy to help. One of the other guests was also wanting to be helpful and rummaged through the drawers to find me a garlic press. She proudly came up with a citrus juicer. She was amazed that I could properly ID the implement and then peel and mince the garlic with a knife when a press proved unavailable. Chatting with you folks who make your own bread and butter and yogurt and 12-course dinners I sometimes forget how unique it is these days to have even moderate cooking skills.

                                        1. t
                                          Terrieltr Feb 2, 2009 12:30 PM

                                          I started "cooking" at around five. I was a horrifically picky eater and my mom declared that if I didn't like what she made, well, I was old enough not to poke my eye out with a butter knife and could make myself a snadwich. From there, I slowly built up my skills, until fifteen years later when I had an "I've made it" moment, making a soup from what we had laying around the kitchen that it still a family favorite today. Oh, it was hardly the end of my journey, but it felt like I'd moved from "learning to be a cook" to "learning to be a BETTER cook."

                                          1. j
                                            jacinthe Feb 2, 2009 12:26 PM

                                            I think that it was a gradual process for me - I never woke up one morning and said to myself, "Hey, I can cook now!"

                                            I remember being around 8 or so the first time I cooked something by myself - I wanted pan-fried potatoes, my mom was too busy to heed my request, but she said that I could have 'em if I could make 'em. I remember carefully cutting the potatoes into large dice, and making sure that each side was fried evenly. That was probably the most meticulous I ever was in the kitchen. Until I left for college, the Joy of Cooking was the only cookbook I ever looked at, and I'd prepare stuff from there depending on how interesting it sounded.

                                            I first really had to cook for myself in college. Our meal plan was gross, so I went off of it, preferring to walk a mile each way to the supermarket rather than eat the stuff served in the dining halls. That was the era of lots of broccoli stir fries, chicken stir fries, pasta puttanesca, and snickerdoodles. (All recipes were meticulously copied onto index cards from the Joy of Cooking.) Word got around that I could "cook", and there were plenty of guys who would offer to take me out if I'd cook them dinner sometime.

                                            I started experimenting more when I studied abroad in Paris, where I threw my first dinner parties. It was around then that people started actually praising my cooking - not sure if it was actually that good (I vaguely remember making a lot of dishes that consisted of either quinoa or couscous with roasted veggies washed down with a lot of wine), or if people just missed home-cooked meals prepared by others.

                                            It really wasn't until my master's program a couple of years after that, where I ended up becoming friends with someone who really really liked to cook, that I really considered myself as having a modicum of talent in the kitchen. We would spend a lot of evenings making dinners for our friends. No party was a party unless we'd prepared tons of food for it. We would drive all over Boston trying to find good and tasty (and still affordable) food. We even cooked our own graduation dinner for our parents, because, well, that's all we did. Cook and eat (and make mystery death punch, but that's another story.)

                                            Now, it's the same story. My advisor jokes that maybe I won't go into academia, that I'll open up a restaurant instead. My dad says that it would be a worthy back-up plan. (Some days, I definitely ponder about that option more seriously. And then wonder why people keep talking to me about leaving academia.) Food and cooking is my "thing", as my friends say. And I'm fortunate to have a group of friends who love food (and sometimes cooking) just as much as I do.

                                            But as others've said, I'm still learning. And wishing that my dissertation would somehow write itself, so I could cook some more.

                                            1. BobB Feb 2, 2009 12:19 PM

                                              Like many of you I began cooking as a child, at first "helping" my mother (who did a lot of baking from scratch), then later actually assisting her. I began to solo when I was eight or nine, starting with packaged desserts and moving on to eggs and various breakfast dishes. I continued to cook with gradually-improving skills throughout my adolescence, but pretty much dropped it during college (no kitchen and much more interest in other subjects like sex, drugs, and rock & roll).

                                              I began to cook more seriously when I was in my late 20s, living in Boston with a group of people who all turned out to be really into food. We also were lucky enough to be living around the corner from a kitchenware overstock showroom, so every time I'd be inspired to make something new that required a new utensil or pot, I'd go buy one cheap. Eventually I got so into it that I decided I needed more control over the dinner table itself - with three roommates, plus their random collection of boyfriends/girlfriends, a dinner for four could end up turning into one for eight at the drop of a hat.

                                              At that point my course was clear; I went out and found a one-bedroom apartment of my own, living alone for the first time in my life for the primary reason of being in complete control of what would appear on my dining table, and who would be sitting there when it did. I experimented with ingredients and techniques, place settings and table decorations, wine pairings and liqueurs, and not least, timing. I pride myself on being able to get all the elements of a dinner to the table at the same time, perfectly done. And when I learned to do this while socializing with my guests, not appearing (and not being!) unduly stressed out, I truly felt that I had learned to cook.

                                              1. m
                                                mpjmph Feb 2, 2009 09:49 AM

                                                When my mom, the person who taught me to cook, started asking for my advice in the kitchen I realized that I actually knew what I was doing and could think for myself in the kitchen. I wasn't dependent on a recipe to tell me what to do anymore and started approaching food in a more creative and experimental way.

                                                1. l
                                                  lcool Feb 2, 2009 07:51 AM

                                                  The first major step for me at about ?13 or 14 was no longer encountering written terms for techniques needing explanation.So the next 50 years was practice,experimentation and more and so on.
                                                  The next major step was food handling.Hands on from farm to fork is woven into my daily life.Then proactively involving,educating and sharing with others.
                                                  OVER 60 ,still in the kitchen,still learning,still happy with it.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: lcool
                                                    kchurchill5 Feb 2, 2009 08:30 AM

                                                    I think growing up at a summer home where I had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and had my own garden. We grew every vegetable known, canned some, made pies, froze a lot and with my mom being a teacher she had her summers off. We cooked alot Our summer home was also on a lake so fresh fish, crawfish. So at a early age. Fish down all ways with a big large salad and rhubard pie was normal. I used to eat peas out of the pods. tomatoes off the vine, melons off the vine. Zuchinni was a standard. I think that always helped.

                                                    I always tried to get my son involved in cooking but just around that age that was good for him to learn I got divorced and we went to live with Dad ... Dad and new wife just ate out always. My poor sun suffered. He know is back with me but no he just eats with his friends or not much appreciative of my food. But I still try.

                                                    But we always continue learn that is for sure, never ending!!

                                                    1. re: kchurchill5
                                                      l
                                                      lcool Feb 2, 2009 08:53 AM

                                                      Things will come around I am sure.You have such a fine foundation to lean on /work
                                                      with.$$$ was the turning point for many,once in the kitchen more than just better for less made the scene.A faceted sense of pride and sharing comes to the table.

                                                  2. m
                                                    MommaPhoenix Feb 2, 2009 07:15 AM

                                                    When I was younger, I had to watch my brothers (I'm the eldest) while both of my parents worked. I was 12 at the time and pretty much had to run the house. Cleaning, laundry, making sure homework was done, and cooking was part of this detail.

                                                    My mom cut back on the snacks she bought at the supermarket because I was stubborn in learning how to cook. If I wanted to eat, though, I had to learn. So, I started with the baking of brownies, cookies, cakes, and moved on from there. Eventually, I broke down and started to watch my mother and my grandmother cook for various holidays and events.

                                                    My "A Ha!" moment came when my boyfriend at the time (now husband) asked me if I could make him cajun catfish as he hadn't had it in a long time. Braving the frying pan, I bought the necessary items and began my (at the time) culinary masterpiece. When he gave me a huge smile of approval, I knew I had graduated from apprentice to Adept.

                                                    1. Caroline1 Feb 2, 2009 01:11 AM

                                                      Really interesting questions! Thank you for asking them!

                                                      For me, trying to learn how to cook was a conflict. My grandmothers managed to teach me how to make things like pie dough from scratch at a very young age, but for my mother, cooking was power, in that it allowed her to determine when the family came together and what we ate. Consequently my mother would tell me to go do my homework while she was starting dinner, but after dinner, I was ordered to do the dishes. For those of you too young to realize there was life before detergents, doing dishes with soap, which did NOT break down fats but congealed with them to float on top of the dishwater forming a barrier that would frighten the Creature from the Black Lagoon, dish washing with soap was an exercise in miserable disgust! I had to keep a kettle boiling to add more hot water to melt the floating grease. But enough about appetite suppressants!

                                                      When I married at 21, my mother's best friend was aware of my plight when it comes to cooking. Well, I could make marinara sauce as a result of participation on the kitchen team for my church's frequent spaghetti dinners, but how useful is knowing how to make spaghetti sauce for 200 when you're cooking for two? So my mother's best friend gave me a comprehensive cookbook when I married. But even the best of cookbooks often presume a certain level of general culinary knowledge. I was a blank slate! So for our two week (or was it two month?) wedding anniversary, I decided to make lobster thermidor from that lovely cookbook which failed to tell me that the varietal wine the recipe called for was a dry white wine. Who knew? So I hoped the manager of my grocery store would know. He sold me a bottle of Mogen David (or was it Manischevitz") sweet concord wine for my lobster thermidor. And I quickly learned there is nothing uglier than lovely coral colored lobster floating in a sea of purple gray ugly sauce!

                                                      I will say that my first husband's most endearing quality was his insistence that if I cooked it, he would eat it with great appreciation. He ate things I had cooked that I refused to take a second bite of! But we managed to survive on things like tuna casserole made with a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom (or celery) soup and a can of Starkist. Spam baked with pineapple rings on top and surrounded with cinnamon/brown sugar crusted canned yams were a Sunday stand by. And this was also the era when I learned that if you try to make yeast bread with self rising flour, the dough will rise up and occupy your entire kitchen! Couter tops, sink, floors, it was everywhere. It was a time of trial and error. Many trials. Many many errors!

                                                      About two years after we married, we ended up living in Turkey. My husband had joined the Air Force to gain health care for both of us. In Turkey, my first housekeeper -- housekeepers were not a luxury but a basic necessity since there was no commissary on base and all of our food had to be bought on the local economy from shopkeepers who didn't speak a word of English-- did most of the cooking, which was okay with me since I wasn't all that good at cooking aged beef back in the States. In Turkey, there had been a drought with the end result that lamb, chicken, and fish were the primary proteins, and the lamb and chickens were slaughtered the day you bought them. Sometimes the meat was still warm! What did I know about cooking such things?

                                                      Not too long after arriving in Adana, the housekeeper absconded with two pieces of my very best jewelry and my best designer dress. She was Kurdish, and Kurds are little people. I was 5'9" tall, and my dress probably made a two man tent for her tribe. So there I was, sans cook, sans housekeeper, sans jewelry, and sans my favorite dress!

                                                      A dear Turkish friend was the owner of the top four restaurants in town, and a mutual friend told Sureya about my great misfortune. Two days after the thief stole out of town, Sureya showed up at my house with a plump, pleasant looking middle aged Turkish woman in tow. He explained that she spoke no English, but that he had heard about my plight and this woman -- Fatma -- had been his executive chef for all of his restaurants for nearly twenty years. She was tired of having to do the same dishes in exactly the same way day after day, and that she had been nagging him that she wanted to go into private service for about three years now, so..... would I like to give her a job?

                                                      That day was possibly the most singularly life changing and fortunate day of my life. Fatma was a master of French and Byzantine cooking, and a master teacher! So for the next three --nearly four -- years, I received daily training six days a week from a master. I learned to use a chef's knife properly. I learned to dice and blanch and poelle. And it is a joy to explain that there are few other places on planet earth that have the quality of produce native to that region of Turkey!

                                                      The money exchange rate between Turkish lira and U.S. dollars was weighted heavily in our favor, so I was able to use the very best of the very best to cook and entertain with. I daresay I am one of the few people on the planet who has ever bought premium fresh caught Black Sea beluga caviar for ten dollars a kilo. The shrimp from the eastern Mediterannean were huge! Truly excellent Turkish wines. And exotic foods and combinations of ingredients that still enchant my dinner guests today.

                                                      The downside was returning to reality once we left Turkey. After four years of cooking and living "high on the hog," we returned to live in Dayton, Ohio, the victims of a sadly broken ladder. We just couldn't reach that high any more, and it was as much related to a total lack of available quality as it was to lack of financial resources that could equate. If you check my profile page, you can read about my birthday dinner our first year back from Turkey. Memorable, but certainly not great.

                                                      But I do realize how extremely blessed and fortunate I am. It was well worth waiting until I was in my twenties to learn to cook. For me, the joy of Chowhound is the opportunity to share and pass on some of the great and wonderful things I have learned. One of my fondest wishes is that both Sureya and Fatma may have had an inkling of the joy and richness they contributed to my life. I hope so. One of the most mysterious and fun things about life is that you never know what the long term impact of any given act may be. Without those two people, my life could have been very different... And far poorer. I'm grateful. '-)

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: Caroline1
                                                        yamalam Feb 2, 2009 01:46 PM

                                                        Thank you for sharing, I always enjoy reading your posts!!!

                                                        1. re: Caroline1
                                                          j
                                                          JudiAU Feb 2, 2009 03:34 PM

                                                          Great story. Thanks for sharing.

                                                          1. re: Caroline1
                                                            Caroline1 Feb 2, 2009 07:14 PM

                                                            Yamalam and Judi, thank you so much. Both of you!

                                                            1. re: Caroline1
                                                              pilinut Feb 5, 2009 10:01 PM

                                                              What a lovely story, Caroline1! You were indeed fortunate. And you are right: many of the best and most lasting gifts we receive are from people who grace our lives only briefly--often teachers of some sort--and who will probably never know the extent of our gratitude.

                                                              1. re: Caroline1
                                                                Divamac Feb 14, 2009 05:57 PM

                                                                What a lovely, wonderful story. I am thankful and not a little envious!

                                                                1. re: Divamac
                                                                  Caroline1 Feb 15, 2009 05:10 AM

                                                                  Thank you so much! I do realize how extremely blessed I have been. But there are times when I'm a little jealous of myself when things I have relished and taken for granted in the past are now endangered or prohibitively expensive. Still, it is a great blessing to have climbed a mountain and not be able to climb again than to never have climbed at all. Life is an adventure! '-)

                                                              2. j
                                                                JudiAU Feb 1, 2009 07:43 PM

                                                                I think I was seven. =)

                                                                Working mom. Inquisitive kid. I liked to cook. She didn't think it was responsibility. We struck a deal and she paid me to cook dinner most nights. $1.25-3 depending on what I cooked. A pie or fresh rolls got me an extra $1 so I made a lot of them. =)

                                                                I cooked a LOT and poured over recipe books. Simple, wholesome stuff.

                                                                When I went to college I was a very confident cook, got a chance to eat at a broader array of restaurants, started to cook by season, etc. Still love it.

                                                                My older sister never cooked as a kid and still hates to cook. Her poor kids think chicken is shaped like dinosaurs.

                                                                1. Shrinkrap Feb 1, 2009 06:48 PM

                                                                  People say I can cook, so I guess... I think I know about food and what I like to eat and how to make it.....but I remember when I learned "to cook". My mom went to school at night, and every night we had pot pies or TV dinners. Didn't take long before I was taking notes from the Galloping Gourmet. I would have been about 10. I can remember making some sort of cake roll. The cake or the filling was flavored with ginger, and I think there were peaches involved.I was pretty pleased with myself, when I was able to roll it right!

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Shrinkrap
                                                                    a
                                                                    arrose100 Mar 20, 2009 11:31 PM

                                                                    Same thing here my mom went to night school and worked full time, and there was no money for restuarants. So ya same thing started watching cooking shows and reading the cook books, magazines, the same time. My mom helped when she had time, teaching me the importance of timing, and clean up. Like Fathercook said above it's a very basic skill, like swimming or dancing. I just never thought anything of it until maybe 20 years later my husband bought an old framed needlepoint that said "even my mistakes are edible", and mounted it in the kitchen. That's when I knew I could cook.

                                                                  2. k
                                                                    kayEx Feb 1, 2009 06:27 PM

                                                                    As many others I have always been in the kitchen and literally was enchanted with the smells of the veggies combined during prep. I might have been a weird 3 year old to be in love with the smell of scallion, onion, tomato, garlic and thyme, which is the seasoning base my mom used for any and every meat practically. It just conntinued from there. At 15 I used my free time to reinterpret recipes from my mom's 1970's Good housekeeping cookbook and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The first time I think I can say I thought to myself, hey, you might have a clue was when I was around 18 and would wtch food t.v. all day and be able to mentally envision the recipes and techniques the cooks were about to execute as well as quickly come up with changes to suit my personal tastes. I love cooking because even though I know I can do it I know I will always have something new to learn.

                                                                    1. pikawicca Feb 1, 2009 06:10 PM

                                                                      I'm almost 60 and a good cook, but I'm still learning. When I stop learning, I'll be dead. And I think I'll be sharing the same ground as jfood and sam. A good place to be, so I'm not worried.

                                                                      10 Replies
                                                                      1. re: pikawicca
                                                                        Sam Fujisaka Feb 2, 2009 07:28 AM

                                                                        I just turned 59 and a good cook, but I'm still learning. When I stop learning, I'll be dead. And I think I'll be sharing the same ground as jfood and pikawicca (and many many more). A good place to be, so I'm not worried.

                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                                          jfood Feb 3, 2009 03:23 AM

                                                                          jfood's 53rd last week and learns every day about being better. how many people read cookbooks on airplanes.

                                                                          BTW - jfood just asks that you keep the area around you clean.

                                                                          1. re: jfood
                                                                            Sam Fujisaka Feb 3, 2009 10:47 AM

                                                                            Happy Birthday!!

                                                                            Well, I just toss my left overs back in your dumpster from where they came!

                                                                            1. re: jfood
                                                                              Father Kitchen Feb 3, 2009 12:42 PM

                                                                              Fr Kitchen does. He's just shy of 65 (coming up in April) and still learning. Cookbooks are great travel reading. Better if you are traveling where that cuisine is served, even if the local cuisine and the cook book version aren't quite the same. I just read about tamales on a trip. If I could only get to Oaxaca ...

                                                                              1. re: Father Kitchen
                                                                                Candy Feb 5, 2009 11:03 AM

                                                                                I'm 60 and still learning. As a child I always wanted to cook. I think I started when in about 4th grade and was tall enough not to have to stand on something t reach the stove. i often had to wait until my parents were out of the house. If my mom was around and I wanted to cook she always delegated the salad, yes we had one every night, to me.

                                                                                I'm still learning. i had great fun testing recipes for Andrea Nguyen's newest cookbook that is due out in September. I learned about some new ingredients and some techniques I had not encountered before. i like tackling something that might be considered difficult or as my DH says, "fiddly".

                                                                                Both of my parents cooked and were good at it. My M-I-L is a god cook and taught my DH well. We share the cooking responsibilities. Somethings he leaves to me and I some to him. It works out well.

                                                                              2. re: jfood
                                                                                c oliver Feb 8, 2009 06:29 PM

                                                                                You're 53????? Sheesh, I can't be your mom. I'm *only* 61 (ok, almost 62 - get to sign up for Social Security soon!). And I'm with Sam - live in a magic house with a magic dumpster :)

                                                                                1. re: c oliver
                                                                                  Passadumkeg Feb 8, 2009 10:17 PM

                                                                                  Sixty two in June. I kinda cook "professionally" when I take "clients" (great psychological therapy for city folk) on 3 day sea kayak tours during the summer (my summer job). I do all the cooking and clean up and am always thinking of new ways to prepare Maine seafood for my "guests" in a new and exciting manor. Cooking on remote islands for nine people is quite a challenge. Forget something and you're screwed. Lotsa wine always helps.

                                                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg
                                                                                    c oliver Feb 9, 2009 06:50 AM

                                                                                    June what? I'm June 9.

                                                                                    Have you ever started a thread on your summer job. I bet plenty of us would be really interested in what and how you cook, successes and failures. Sounds really interested. Living at Lake Tahoe I keep saying every summer that we're going to rent a kayak and try it out. I'm not so sure about sea kayaking.

                                                                                    1. re: c oliver
                                                                                      Passadumkeg Feb 9, 2009 11:53 AM

                                                                                      God, you're old(er)! By 2 days. Nope never thunk of it. I will now, however.

                                                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg
                                                                                        c oliver Feb 9, 2009 12:04 PM

                                                                                        And I can only imagine the fun pictures you could include.

                                                                                        Yep, old but still pretty frisky --- or is that ornery???

                                                                          2. c
                                                                            catrn Feb 1, 2009 05:52 PM

                                                                            I am definately a gradual cook. After getting married, the best I could do was boil water. I worked really hard to learn. Read every cookbook , and had some really bad meals. I can't even count the times I cried after a failure or how often the smoke alarm has gone off. At a young age my husband had a heart attack, and I needed to cook from scratch and cook healthy. No more take out. Ouch. So I guess that was my turning point. I can now just look in my pantry and refridge and put something together. A looooooong way from boiling water.

                                                                            1. kchurchill5 Feb 1, 2009 05:25 PM

                                                                              I was 11, and I remember the exact time. I always helped mom especially baking. Funny because I don't enjoy baking know. But Mom was a teacher and we had a summer home in northern MI while living in Dearborn Detroit area. So every weekend and summers were spent at the summer home. We had a garden and lots of fresh fruits and veggies. I always helped in the kitchen but I guess I didn't really care. One thanksgiving we were up north and mom got sick with the flu the night before thanksgiving. Mom talked me through some things, but basically I did it myself. Homemade butter ever since I was 8 every year, dressing from scratch, potatoes as well, turkey and ham, gravy fresh, waldorf and ambrosia salads, homemade bread, 2 cranberry sauces, one a ginger mold and one regular, got to please several people, 2 pies pumpkin and pecan and fresh whipped cream.

                                                                              And yes I was 11, Mom couldn't believe it. I was like on auto pilot. I seem to know just what to do without her saying anything it was wierd. My whole family and our friends who came couldn't believe it. I even remember making place cards from scratch for the table and mom was so sick so I set the table too. I picked fresh greens from outside. It had snowed 2 days before built a fire. Went out to get pinecones from outside to decorate the table and Froze cranberry juice for ice cubes for my glasses. Yes I was really 11. And I tides left over ribbon from christmas on each wine glass with a pine sprig. I think my mom knew then.

                                                                              Funny thing 5 years later, I cared less about cooking ... until I was 25, then It hit ...I guess we all have our time. That was mine. That honestly is a true story.

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: kchurchill5
                                                                                toodie jane Feb 5, 2009 11:02 AM

                                                                                Thanks for sharing this story. I've done things on 'autopilot' but it was in the garden, later I came to believe it was long-passed English estate-gardener grandfathers whose hands were guiding mine. I just seemed to know what to do in a situation I'd never faced before. I think they'd approve of my shoveling techniques : -)

                                                                                I remember draggin out Mom's c. 1935 Fannie Farmer, I must've been about 12 or 13, to make some cookies while parents were gone for the day. Recipe called for blanched almonds, so I followed the instrcutions and blanched them. Thankfully, I am good at following written instructions! Mom was amazed.

                                                                                1. re: toodie jane
                                                                                  kchurchill5 Feb 9, 2009 06:52 AM

                                                                                  Fannie Farmer, loved their hot fudge sauce. Nothing ever compared to that.

                                                                              2. kattyeyes Feb 1, 2009 05:12 PM

                                                                                I come from a family of really talented home cooks, so I was lucky to be able to learn from all of them and to have their encouragement along the way.

                                                                                I do think one's real ability to cook happens gradually. By the time I figured out I didn't always have to follow a recipe to a T, I guess that's when I knew I was onto something. It has just gotten more fun from there.

                                                                                I like something I heard Rick Bayless say about cooking. To paraphrase, "When I cook something, you should be able to tell when you eat it that I made it." I think being able to impart one's own signature/style to the point others can identify it as yours, that would be the mark of knowing you truly know how to cook. And with some of the things I make, I think I'm there...even if it's only my slow and low cheesy scrambled eggs, brownies, tacos, meatloaf or chili. There's something about the way I make each of these particular dishes that has my stamp on it. And I think that's kind of cool.
                                                                                >>^..^<<

                                                                                1. Bryn Feb 1, 2009 02:57 PM

                                                                                  I was definitely gradually in my early teens. My mom had gone to work at a new job and wouldn't get home until later, so I started cooking supper because I was hungry and my older brother was lazy.

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Bryn
                                                                                    Father Kitchen Feb 1, 2009 03:31 PM

                                                                                    Both my parents cooked, so I figured it was something anyone could do. I started with scrambled eggs at eight followed closely by French Toast. Cakes and cookies came later by the time I was ten. I added custards and pies from scratch in high school. Then fried spam with brown sugar and cloves and Kraft maccaroni and cheese. In high school I made some sourdough bread and strudel. I also cooked some recipes out of my mother's old cookbook--I loved making curries. But I didn't cook seriously until I was 28 and we had to take turns in a monastery. And it wasn't as if I were doing something new. I knew I could cook. It was like adding words to a vocabulary when you already knew the language. Joy of Cooking was my dictionary. I focused on soups and the way flavors blended. Then came learning to cook fish. I didn't understand braises until I was in my mid fifties. I'm still learning. One of these days I may actually learn to grill a steak properly.
                                                                                    Some years ago in Africa I was asked to dance. I was always shy about dancing. My African friends couldn't understand how you could be human and not dance. So I let their drums carry me away. Similarly, I can't understand how anyone can be human and not cook.

                                                                                    1. re: Father Kitchen
                                                                                      c
                                                                                      CuriousCat Feb 1, 2009 04:13 PM

                                                                                      What a lovely story/analogy. Thank you for sharing that!

                                                                                  2. todao Feb 1, 2009 02:55 PM

                                                                                    Reflecting on your list of questions has been a satisfying self analysis exercise. I've "cooked" since I was old enough to read and follow recipes on the side of soup cans and other commercial packaging. I was blessed to have patient immediate and extended family members that ranged from good cooks to fantastic cooks to encouraged me. The first time I realized that I might qualify as a "capable" cook is when I began to justifiably critique the food on the menu and on the plate when I visited various restaurants. First chain restaurants (e.g. Denny's, IHOP, etc.) then three and four star restaurants. Later, when I developed an interest in some ethnic foods and had completed a few classes on ethnic specialties, I found myself critiquing those. About the same time I discovered I could write some pretty good recipies of my own and that I was beginning to understand what I might expect if I adjusted a recipe I read in a book or magazine. It was then that I felt I could call myself a cook. There aren't enough years left in my life for me to ever achieve Chef status - but I'd sure like to have had that opportunity.

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