I didn’t know how to cook.
I love eating, but I didn’t really have that urge to learn how to cook as I grew up.
Discovering new flavors are always exciting for me, which made working in the manufacturing industry quite fun for me, because it taught me how to discern flavors (and fragrances) on a different level.
It didn’t make me want to cook though, because I felt like the best part of the cooking process is the payoff – eating.
However, after I proposed to my then-girlfriend, I realized that I was going to be leaving the life of comfort that I grew accustomed to, and I needed to learn how to cook for my would-be wife when we’re living together.
About five years in, and I believe that I’ve cooked enough to say that at least I am no longer a kitchen newbie because a number of people already think I can cook well while quite a few have validated that thought.
I think I’m on the level of when I’m part of a group that asks “who here knows how to cook?” I can confidently, but slowly, raise my arm.
I’m writing to share the secrets I’ve learned along the way, which may or may not help you in your culinary journey:
1. Make Technology Work For You
Before I cook a dish, I usually scour the internet for the appropriate recipe. When before, you only had cook books and family recipes to teach you how to cook, you now have a plethora of recipe sources right at your fingertips, so make use of it!
“Julienne” was an alien term for me, but it was a common word in recipes, so I’m guessing even if I had a cook book with me, I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own.
But because I live in the age of YouTube, I was able to learn that technique and a lot of other processes by watching how others did it.
Unfamiliar ingredients are also easily learned with a simple Google search, and if I can’t source it out, finding the appropriate substitute (and even where to buy it) are similarly solved by asking the almighty Google.
Just like there’s no one way to cook Adobo, there’s also a variety of ways to cook any dish, so I usually check out about five or six recipes before deciding on which steps I could replicate with consideration to availability of ingredients, tools, and skill involved.
I always imagine what the effect of each step does to a dish, so if I think one recipe has a good idea but another has an efficient execution, I would fuse those together to come up with a dish that tastes nice in my imagination.
So far, it’s been helpful.
2. Conditioning Through Description
I enjoy watching cooking shows and anime. I’ve watched most seasons of Masterchef, a Korean series about a pop-up restaurant in Spain (Youn’s Kitchen), followed Cooking Master Boy, Yakitate Japan, and Food Wars to name a few.
In all cases, I would imagine that the food they serve are amazing, just based on how they describe it and how they react to it.
Of course I know that some of the anime dishes are probably impossible, while I’m guessing not all of the food served in real-life shows taste as well as they sound, but if left to your imagination, it could stay as an amazing dish.
Over the years, I’ve learned to be confident in anything I cook. After all, if I didn’t like it, how else would others receive it?
From time to time, I build up excitement for my dishes – during the process of cooking or preparing the dish, I would create anticipation by telling those who will eat that I’m about to do something amazing, or that I’ve tasted parts of it, and I feel like I nailed it.
4 out of 5 times, I would get a positive reaction when they actually taste the dish; of the 4, maybe only 2 really liked it, while the other two didn’t dare offer their criticism thinking they might offend me. The one who was not as impressed as the other four would offer a half-hearted praise before stating their criticism.
Personally though, getting someone to take a bite of my cooking is winning half the battle. Seeing them finish their plates is satisfying enough, but getting seconds is really humbling.
Who knew confidence could add such flavor to a dish?
3. The Home Cooking Adventure
I’m not a professional cook, and I didn’t take any cooking classes. That said, I don’t want to teach how I cook my dishes not because I’m selfish, but because I don’t have the proper credentials for it.
Besides, all my dishes only have a list of ingredients, with no defined quantities. See, I’m the guy who would chop half a head of garlic when a recipe asks for two cloves.
Considering I don’t feed paying customers and I really enjoy food, I treat each dish as an adventure – I never know how it will turn out.
I don’t have a specialty dish, because if you asked me to cook you that delicious Paella that I cooked for you once, what I’ll serve you next time will not be the same, but I believe you’d appreciate it differently.
It will be a different kind of delicious, because I would take notes from the last time you tried it, and will try to improve the dish based on your taste preference.
I grew up in a family that doesn’t have a heritage recipe, but what my wife and I have in common is that both our fathers rely on the “Pacham” method of cooking – “Pachamba-chamba” or “Luck-based” cooking.
It may not be consistent, but on the bright side, eating Adobo for five straight days won’t be as boring as it sounds because it will seem like it was cooked by five different people.
4. Presentation Is Everything
Food blogs and food reviews are always a great example of item #2 of this blog. If having an item about TV shows influencing my cooking is not enough to tell you how much of a sucker I am for reviews, then let me share another point.
When How I Met Your Mother had an episode about “The Best Burger in New York,” I tried to hunt down my own “best burger” in Manila, and took food reviews as bible truth.
That’s when I realized that some bloggers would exaggerate their experience because they are paid or they got free food. (for closure on this story – Sweet Ecstasy is legit, quality of Charlies’ went down a bit for some time but I’m not sure if it picked back up again. Shake Shack was nice when we visited last year.)
Still, they got the job done when it comes to having at least one person try out their place.
Given this, while I’m no influencer, I understand that social media allows me to extend my food experience with my circle of friends.
While my dish could only feed three and a half people, maybe thirty more can experience it through the pictures I post on my feed or story.
As such, I make always make it a point to make my dish look pretty.
Even if you can’t taste it, at least I was able to share my dish to your imagination and make you wonder how good of a cook I am.