The Pandemic pushed citizens indoor, locked away the outsourced Cooks at their homes and soon the jittery hoards of kitchen-haters, evaders and too-busy-to-cook gentry, found themselves inside their kitchen.
By Nivedita Das Narayan
COVID-19: MasterChef Australia gave us language to describe our food experiences. The show, boosted by the charisma of the three chef-host-judges, gives us a high-end tutorial on the emotion of food and of taste-its essence. An annual emotional culinary trail that proves useful in our real-life food adventures—aiding selection out of fine-dine menus, in the thrill of MasterChef like plating at tables, in improvisations inside home kitchens and a somewhat contemporary yet homely lens to look at the food we consume. It’s no wonder that the Indian audience also includes tweens and teens, allowing the dalliance of waiting up for the 9pm telecast on school nights. My 12-year-old is one such and this is one of the few TV shows we share equal fellowship for. These were my limited thoughts on food as an experience until the Pandemic took over life, timelines and social chatter.
The Pandemic pushed citizens indoor, locked away the outsourced Cooks at their homes and soon the jittery hoards of kitchen-haters, evaders and too-busy-to-cook gentry, found themselves inside their kitchen. ‘Oh it feels like this to have cooking on my To Dos!’ may well have been a panic flash for many like me, in the first week of reluctant entry into the kitchen.
Things have come a long way since then. From efforts to click Instagram quality photos of food cooked and served—although for me it is mainly to store as food memories—to round-the-clock sharing, hooraying and ideating on meals, recipes and hacks on many family & girlfriend WhatsApp groups (I may be uninformed about similar male group chatter), from chancing upon a runaway hit of a Facebook group set up for sharing easy recipes for kitchen novices, to quickly enlisting membership and bringing the FB App back on my mobile, the Kitchen has truly arrived at the center of my conscious social universe.
I have rivetedly watched an inspired gent show off his roti-rolling skills on the same Facebook group’s feed—imagining his female partner hold the camera to his flair at the roundest rotis and most perfect triangles of parathas. I have revelled in watching my hubby determinedly roll out his first roti, search up salad recipes online and hone his understanding of varied salad combinations and dressings within the four weeks of lockdown. Salad is now squarely his area of expertise.
Above all, I am reveling in how the act of preparing food is talking to me at a deeper level, heightened by the completely unexpected shift of mood around the process of cooking.
If you think my euphoria is a tad inflated and that food has been a part of urban discourse quite as much before the lockdown, the explosion of chatter around recipes, hacks, grandmother’s recipes, first time efforts and online recipe searches is proof that Cooking food (not only eating) has arrived at the center of our socially-visible-universe. We have loved eating good food, there’s been a certain pride in sharing a review of a new restaurant outing in social circles, we gladly look for new options of ordering food in, yet we had never really inhabited the ramparts of our kitchens—the place of pride and ownership for our Mothers, Aunts and Grandmothers.
We love when these ladies cook; much of our childhood reminiscing is around the food we gathered around and devoured, and food’s inherent language for generational upkeep and passing down tales of bonding & togetherness. Yet many of us never really ventured into cooking for ourselves. As for me, I never believed that my own kitchen could be a hub to curate experiences—for stories, memories and personal encounters—for those currently in my life and after mine. That possibility and the romance in that idea is worth all the time spent sweating in the chulha heat.
Affluent Indians could always source the best ingredients and the best available Cook to prepare meals. We, under lockdown, are now beginning to be brave and upbeat around cooking our own food and experience the joy of deeper involvement in the process of food. The Kitchen is finally open to us.
(The author is a blogger, life & executive coach and columnist. Views expressed are the author’s own.)