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Jan 9, 2011 09:23 AM

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.