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Cooking phobias - why we are afraid to cook

A query for Russian salad on the Home Cooking board turned up this cool link where the blogger surveyed readers about cooking phobias (nice pie chart too ... and appropriate ... pie)

Summed up, the top eight reasons

1. Our mother or mother-in-law cooks it better:
2. The Food Police scared us:
3. It went really badly the last time (or times) we made it:
4. We jinx ourselves:
5. It’s hard to get our head around the steps.
6. There’s a very specific deal breaker:
7. We’re afraid of wasting an expensive ingredient:
8. Our skills aren’t where we wish they were

Since my first post on Chowhound when I asked where to buy a pre-bought pie crust the response is often, it so much easier and better to make your own. I agree. I just don't like to do it. Reasons, 3, 4 ,5, 8 figure big for me.

I'll probably link to this article the next time ... and there will be a next time ... someone encourages me to cook.

And my big reason is I'm just not interested. Cooking bores me and I just don't have the patience.

Ruining expensive ingredients isn't so much a bother to me. However, after five summers of attempting to make tutti fruiti and five autumns of throwing the rotted mess out ... with over $100 of fancy top-notch fruit ... I got the message from the food gods and gave up. This should have been simple. Booze in a jar. Add fruit and sugar as they come in season and let age ... if aging means it turning into the final steps for Dorian Gray ... that's what always happened.

The blog does link to a funny NY Times article on ingredients that are deal stoppers.

Recipe Deal Breakers: When Step 2 Is ‘Corral Pig’

From the link

"The chef Thomas Keller is the modern king of the fussy recipes. His books are stacked with one deal breaker after another. To make his cornets filled with salmon tartare and crème fraîche, one must first figure out how to make “a 4-inch hollow circular stencil.” Then the cook must balance a baking sheet on the open door of a hot oven and set the tips of cornet molds on par-baked circles of batter at the 7 o’clock position before rolling.

These are the kinds of instructions that make people open a box of brownie mix and call it a day."

Yeah. I wouldn't try that ... besides I'm one of the few people who wasn't all that blow away with the cornets at the restaurant. I'd probably just buy Bugles (do they still make those) and fill them with whipped Philly cream cheese mixed with smoked salmon.

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  1. Throughout the past six decades I have had the honor to teach others to do many things, including (among other things) mechanical, electrical, and culinary skills. I have never worked with a student who wanted to learn a skill, and who applied him or herself to the learning task, that could not learn and become at least minimally adequate. Those who have no interest in the subject, find the processes distasteful or refuse to apply themselves never learn. Cooking requires a certain amount of fine motor skills, the ability to multi-task, a desire to create and a certain amount of curiosity. If you truly don't like to cook you are not alone and you shouldn't make the effort to learn. It's OK not to like cooking. I hate gardening; fortunately for me, my wife loves it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: todao

      >>> If you truly don't like to cook you are not alone and you shouldn't make the effort to learn. It's OK not to like cooking.

      Thank you. I wish you were there te many times people urged me to cook.

      It's like food preferences ... some people don't like eggs or liver or blue cheese. Others seem religiously intent on making converts ... if only you try it this way or that.

      And yes, some people will come to appreciate some of those foods and some never will.

      Just as some might be prodded into an interest in cooking but for others, like me, it will never be their thing.

      1. re: rworange

        My wife's mother spent a lifetime trying her best to fulfill her responsibilities as a homemaker. She did many things well but she never developed into even an adequate cook. She felt it was her duty, as wife and mother, so she did try. But she hated it up to the day she died. Her basic problem was timing. For example, she never learned that you can't take a turkey out of the freezer at 2PM and have it ready for dinner at 5PM. She is the only person I have ever known that could use up an entire hour on the clock to prepare a garden salad for four people.
        Hang in there, rworange. Don't let the culinary bullies intimidate you. I'm gonna wager that you have other skills that some of those who insist that you learn to like cooking cannot or will not master.

    2. Todao summed it up for me as well.
      As a youth I cooked often and loved it. My parents were good teachers but not overly culinarily advanced.
      I stopped cooking during my college years, but picked up a desire to do it again while renting a room froma good friend whose wife loved cooking and lead me to discover the Moosewood cookbook and many others.

      Cooking is both a science and an art to me, thus both success and failures are both possible outcomes. Hopefully more the former than the later. LOL.

      Now I currently make 85% of what I eat weekly and never find it a chore. Entertaining for groups more than 4, yes, but not my daily lunch or dinner.

      I can understand how folks find cooking daunting, especially if they never had parents, siblings, etc. to show them the basics and mentor the process and progress.

      As long as there is a "back up plan" aka frozen dinners or leftovers to feed you during those times when cooking experiments or untested recipes go awry, the only things your are out are time and money. But the experience gained is often priceless and timeless.

      Forward into the cooking "fog".


      1 Reply
      1. re: jjjrfoodie

        Actually my mother was a pretty decent cook. Probably my interest in different food was influenced by her. She was always clipping and trying out new recipes. The 'decent' comes from some spectacular failures. To this day I cannot eat spoon bread because of the odeious version she made. It is one of the most memorably bad dishes I've had in my life. I can still smell and taste it when I think of it decades later. It tasted like a garbage pail smells.

        But most of of it was delicious. When I was a kid she would enter baked goods in the county fair and often come away with blue ribbons. As a kid, some of my stuff won blue ribbons ... easy crowd to please, I guess. My grandmother was an outstanding cook, grew her own veggies and raised her own chickens.

        So that isn't it. I just don't have the cooking gene that gives me an interest in it. As todao wrote, I have other intrests that I put my time and energy into.

        I do shop well, food-wise and can put together one pretty fabulous meal ... however it is heavy on top-notch, simply prepared meats and veggies and baked goods and such provided by artisan food vendors Someone has to keep those folks in business.

        My guess though, is that the people who didn't have parents who cooked much are the most likely to become converts when given some encouragement and direction.

      2. I enjoy cooking, and I love to make those finicky Thomas Keller recipes that take days and numerous sub-recipes. However, I didn't start to love cooking until I learned cooking techniques. Before that, I had to rely on recipes for everything: if I had a chicken breast and some rice, I'd have to go online and find a recipe for chicken breasts and rice. Of course, the recipe would always include more ingredients than I actually had on hand, which meant a trip to the store and more money than I wanted to spend.

        Buying food used to be really intimidating as well. I knew that my mom made grocery lists, but I always just ending up buying stuff that looked appealing. I'd have only meat, or only side dishes, or not enough veggies, or so many that they went bad before I could use them.

        Learning HOW to do things (how to pan roast, how to blanch, how to saute, etc) meant that I was able to take ingredients and experiment with them, which opened up a lot of new doors for me. Not making very much money and being forced to eat in meant having a food plan, which also helped out.

        I think a big problem people have is not cooking very often, then trying to make a complicated dish for a special occasion. Of course, that's a lot of pressure, and it feels like a failure if it doesn't come out exactly like the picture (which it won't, because of lack of experience). Repeat this a couple times and cooking becomes something you never, ever want to attempt.

        Practice makes perfect; having a well practiced go-to meal makes cooking a fun thing to look forward to after a long day at work. Thomas Keller says "Many home cooks try a new recipe once and then move on to the next, but the fact is, you really only begin to learn the second time you prepare a dish." I completely agree with this, especially when it comes to simple dishes. I figure, a simple steak cooked perfectly is better than some sort of asian-fusion glazed steak tacos or something.

        1. Good thread with interesting posts. I can really relate. My phobias are #s 5 and 7. I have thought so many times about really learning how to prepare fine meat. But I don't because I worry about ruining it. I love halibut, but it is so expensive, How hard could it be to prepare it? But then I think, what if I buy it and I mess it up. And if a recipe involves many steps, and some of them are pretty involved, I won't try the recipe. I just won't.

          I also agree with the poster who said that when you learn good technique, cooking just gets easier. If I do master something, then doing it becomes second nature. This is a good reason for continuing to learn new things. I also like the thoughts by Keller who recommends making a dish repeatedly to master it. Good stuff all of it.

          4 Replies
          1. re: sueatmo

            You raise some very good points, sueatmo. The first phase of any of my training programs, whether it's cooking or anything else new to the student, involves teaching them to accept failure as a natural part of the learning process. I even go so far as to suggest they embrace a failure and re-examine their experience to identify where the project might have gotten off track. I call it "recklessness in the ____________" (kitchen, garage, etc.) It's important to be able to laugh at yourself when you forget to put the baking powder into the biscuits, lose track of the time something has been in the oven (until it starts to smoke) or leaving the salt out of your bread formula. Those students who can't laugh when that happens will sometimes cry, out of embarrassment. If that happens, I've failed.
            Go ahead, cook that Halibut. There are many ways to prepare it, including fried, sauteed, broiled, baked, even poached. It cooks in fifteen minutes or less. Find a relatively simple recipe. Here's some to get you started:
            Keep a notebook outlining every step (times, temperatures, ingredients and their order of introduction to the process, mistakes that you identified or questions that arose while preparing the dish, and the results.

            1. re: todao

              Laughing it off is probably the most important thing, not just in cooking but in life. No one's perfect at everything!

              Just wanted to add that, on top keeping a notebook (which I do on my computer, with pictures), I've had some good luck getting cookbooks used, with other people's notes.

            2. re: sueatmo

              I think you've just explained why most of my meals are vegetarian, even though I am an omnivore. I am afraid to wreck a good cut of meat. (I did make a fabulous beef tenderloin for Christmas, but that was the exception.) When I do buy meat, it's usually ground lamb or beef, and since that doesn't suffer from having the hell cooked out of it in some type of soup, stew, or casserole, I'm safe.

              1. re: Isolda

                tenderloin is like chicken breast. plain. ya can't ruin it, because it sucked to begin with. now give me something with REAL flavor... brisket, ground beef, flank steak. [and not prime!]

            3. Interesting thread. The only thing I do not do at home is deep fry. Simply because of the aromas and grease splatter. I suppose I could buy a contained fryer, but that seems like an incentive to cook more deep fried foods. Perhaps a bad idea for a 40+ male. For now, I will go out when I crave tempura, fried shellfish or fried chicken.

              1 Reply
              1. re: AdamD

                My wife won't allow me to deep fry in the kitchen. She hates the odor of hot oil. So I use my camp stove on the deck, deep frying in my cast iron Dutch Oven. Where there's a will, there's a way.

              2. I'm confused by #6. Doesn't it pretty much cover all the rest?

                I think the real #1 reason for most of us is simple - We just don't have the time. Sure, I'd love to make this, but do I really have time to hunt down that ingredient, wait for that amount of time and be busy for that amount of time? Probably not.

                Phobias, concerns, irritations and whatnot, I'd bet if you were whisked away to the Top Chef kitchen and had all ingredients at your disposal (after hearing a very calm music, saying a quite "Thank you" and wiping away a tear), you'd attempt to make every single food item known to man.

                5 Replies
                1. re: ediblover

                  Number 6 is a specific thing or procedure. Ingredient-wise I have no problems, in fact, I love the hunt ... must use New Zealand rainwater collected during the summer soltice ... I'm on top of it (and actually know where to buy it). Also, I'm savy enough about substitutions

                  Specific proceedures give me the vapors though. Even the word chiffonade is enough to make my head spin. And dont' even talk about specific equipment. I used my food processor twice in 5 years before selling it at a garage saie ... and good riddance to it.

                  If I had the Top Chef staff doing the prep and clean up, it would make me more willing ... but still there's that pesky business of stirring and watching times and ... technique. I still wouldn't enjoy it.

                  I mean the recipe that started all this - ensalada rusa is pretty simple - cubed potatoes, cubed carrots, peas and mayo. I was thinking I'd make this sometime at home. Then I thought about the process of actually cubing ... I have better things I want to spend my precious allocated lifetime doing.

                  1. re: rworange

                    A deal breaker for me would be a difficult to find ingredient. Or, frankly if it calls for a springform pan, which I do not own. Something like that.

                    Millions of homemakers got the willies learning to cook things for their spouses and/or families. Some I suppose never got over their reluctance, but many of course learned their craft because it was them cooking or everyone starving. Now no one has to cook if he or she doesn't want to.

                    I am frankly amused by tips you find in articles about saving money. Tips rarely say learn the home arts! But, in a pinch if you know how to make supper from the raw materials you might have squirreled away in your pantry, you can save yourself some money, particularly if you have to do this enough.

                    I allowed my sons the run of the kitchen, and they all cook, bless their hearts, and they know how to clean up. I didn't instruct them all that much. I allowed them to cook stuff. I think that is the key to feeling OK in the kitchen to mess around. But if you really have anxiety about cooking, then I can see where you might not feel so free to mess around.

                    Now why don't I feel so free to mess around with halibut or prime rib? lol I don't know the answer. But I think this is a good thread anyway.

                    1. re: rworange

                      It's interesting that the thread I most associate you with is the sardines one, which I appreciate very much. Now I see the probable back-story: something that convenient is attractive to the ambivalent cook.

                      I'm not in any sense afraid to cook, but in comparing my attitude to those I know who think more like you, two differences leap out. First, having any kind of performance anxiety is not helpful (not the least of cooking's relations to sexuality, I bet). But also, I simply find cooking relaxing, and it does for me what other people accomplish through meditation or music or gym classes. If cooking were a stressor, I'd quickly learn to stay away. Who wouldn't?

                      1. re: Bada Bing

                        The sardine thing wasn't due to convenience factor. I get curious about a food and then try lots of variations of it. There was the Christmas I learned about pannetone, trying a dozen differnt types ... my stollen year ... the Corque monseur crawl.

                        And of course, I will cook if that is the only way to learn about food ... like the chayote thing and the hatch chiles. Actually, eating out alot helps with creativity in the kitchen.

                        Don't remember what got me started on sardines as I didn't really care for them all that much. I think I was trying to eat something healthy at the time. It was interesting and I like sardines a bit more now.

                      2. re: rworange

                        My strong opinion is that if one wants to cook then one does. With stepping stones of successes and failures. If one doesn't want to cook, then the failures get too much attention. I CHOOSE to cook. You CHOOSE not to. That determines where we wind up. IMO

                    2. i remember the attitude you got when you asked about buying the pie crust - responses like that piss me off. there was a post just this weekend on the LA board asking where to buy harissa, and someone just *had* to chime in asking why he would bother going out & buying it when it's "so easy to make." i'll never understand why some Hounds feel the need to be so judgmental, presumptuous and snarky about these things. i know i'm blessed with the passion and skill for cooking and baking, but i certainly don't expect everyone else to be! hell, i'm the only person in my family who even remotely enjoys cooking - Mom only did it because she had to when we were growing up, Dad can barely toast a bagel, and my sister can't - and won't - do anything more involved than pouring cereal into a bowl or nuking a Lean Cuisine...and that's just fine.

                      i'm sorry if people have made you feel as though you're "supposed" to cook, or that there's something wrong with the fact that you don't like to do it...because there isn't.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        I remember that thread too. It's funny how the love of eating and the love of food collide on this site.

                      2. If there were some type of gardening website ("manurehound," maybe?), I'd cut and paste your post and sign my name to it, because those 8 reasons could easily apply to me.

                        The real issue, though, is that you're not interested in cooking and I'm not interested in gardening. All perfectly fine.

                        And although I do love to cook, your Bugles and cream cheese concoction sounds delish.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Isolda

                          There's a gardening board on Chowhound, but people don't puht the grow your own too much. While almost everyone has a kitchen, not everyone has a yard. It's pretty limited to suggestions for growing your own potted herbs. I have a brown thumb too. The cactus vender discouraged me from buying any more as I was even killing those.

                          1. re: rworange

                            That is SO not true. There's a TON of great info on the Gardening board. Not growing herbs in pots. Because I live at a high elevation with a cool, short summer, I don't spend a lot of time there but there's great info there.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Badly worded. What I meant was that while people will often advise people to cook their own food, it is rare that people will suggest growing their own. At most every now and then on the regular boards there are suggestions about growing herbs. I have no clue what is on the gardening board as I've maybe visited it about a half dozen times at most since it was created. I'm just saying people don't urge others to garden like they urge people to cook.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Well, no. Except on the Gardening board. And gardening takes an ongoing frequently daily commitment that some people can't make. Or they don't have a yard. Or enough sun. Or a conducive climate. Etc. So it's far easier for most people to cook than it is for most people to garden.

                        2. I can't find Bugles anywhere. I remember when my mother first brought those home, when I was in grade school. "Like little cornucopias," she said.

                          The only one on that list that doesn't scare me is the first one, because neither of those lovely women liked to cook. My mother and mother-in-law-ish both regard me with curiosity, and something akin to admiration. They were of the generation of 'had to', among a long list of such. My grandmother once sewed her little brother's toe back on, after an incident with a mower on the farm, with both parent's at the farmer's market. Tell me if she felt like making the noon dinner that day. The doctor marveled at her stitches, and her brother kept his toe. This woman went on to have ten (living) children, with not any measure of wealth to sustain them.

                          I've had a bit more luck than that, in deciding where to spend my energy, creative or otherwise. But it was not until this fall that I admitted to myself that when I am sad, or defeated, or tired, I do not want to write, or paint, or *cook*. I had always told myself that doing such things, especially cooking, was healing. But it isn’t true. I guess I felt like I needed to have more joy in nurturing than those women who raised me, who had so many more responsibilities, and losses, than I have had. The women who sharply turned, and barked, “What? What do you want? I'm busy!” when I entered the kitchen, weren't something I needed to overcome, but respect. Recognizing that was very important to me.

                          I regard every post I make on CH on here as subject to the food police, and somewhat brace myself for that. Sometimes I earn the critique, but sometimes I don't. Damn it, I like tilapia, and canned fish, and Plochman's mustard. I have a limited budget, and am proud of what I do with it . . . but sometimes, still, I cringe. I think I just fear a wasted life, and project that unto tomatoes and basil and the people here (most of whom are kind, I think).

                          Good topic, rworange.

                          1. rworange--

                            As someone who can cook and cook well I generally assume that everyone else can do the same. However when I think about it I realize that most people are like you. They like eating but they do not like the monotonous process of cooking and of learning how to cook. My assumption is just that since it comes so easily to me it should to everyone else.

                            The truth of the matter is that we are all interested in different things. We tend to practice and do those things more than others. We should not expect everyone else to share our passion or obsession for details in a particular subject. That doesn't take away from those people to enjoy the fruits of our labour. For example I enjoy listening to music but I really have no interest in taking up the drums, guitar or viola.

                            It actually would be a pretty boring world if everyone had the same interests and hobbies. I am ok that people don't obsess over cooking like I do.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: MVNYC

                              Very, very well said. And you can see on CH the TYPES of food that those who cook enjoy cooking. Desserts and baking are of practically NO interest to me but are of primary interest to others. Out of curiosity I've checked profiles of some renowned diner-outers. It's quite common to find that they never or rarely post about cooking. That doesn't mean a phobia is involved at all. I think OP is concerned about a nonissue.
                              BTW, I'd kill my husband (or at least divorce him again) if he obsessed about cooking. Fantasty football is bad enough :)

                              1. re: c oliver

                                The original link about the subject on a small blog had over 600 responses, so I would say this is an issue to a lot of people.