The Undomestic Writes About Kitchens

There’s a type of person who seems to have grown up in or within reaching distance of a well-maintained active kitchen. They’re the types who, in their teens or early twenties, already know how to cook very well without going to fancy-shmancy culinary schools because their mom or dad (or both) taught them everything while they were growing up. While I, the Undomestic, admires their kitchen skills and wonders whether it can be acquired through absorption if you hang around them long enough.

My mother, Cristina, is a wonderful cook. She can cook anything from scratch! Everything that comes out of her kitchen tastes heavenly, flavorful and so very healthy since she’s very conscious about the evils of certain oils and too much salt. She curls her lip at MSG and instant products, often frowning at my college-age self’s tendency to overstock my dorm room with instant ramen and spam. She is an expert of Filipino cooking – she takes traditional recipes and improves them. For her, baking a chiffon cake is as easy as boiling water. My father, Jun, is a self-taught cook. He likes foreign fare (especially Italian) and experiments with European-style cooking. He invents recipes and makes me eat them, which I happily do.

With parents like these, I could have been the next Bourdain. Oh no… I was a terrible disappointment with all things domestic, most especially in the kitchen. I barely cleaned, didn’t do the laundry properly or often enough, let my brother deal with the vacuuming, and got sick a day after I clean a room. I boil water through the microwave, couldn’t manage to keep a yolk whole while frying eggs, and the only soup I could manage was with a packet of Maggi instant crab and corn. I only bothered to learn how to bake something if it had chocolate. For a while I reasoned that it’s okay to be such a terrible cook if I can at least earn a good living. Besides, that’s why restaurants were made.

It’s just fairly recent that I’ve made an effort to be more conscientious at home. I cleaned (and got sick the next day), took care of my laundry every week, and tried to learn how to cook. As if Gordon Ramsay was looking over my shoulder urging me to stop being so lazy and make something, I thanked God for Internet and read up on recipes, spices, baking, and even kitchen tools. I’ve always thought that food enthusiasts were dowdy ladies or frumpy old men and that they were all fat from all the cooking. I was so wrong! I think Kenji Lopez-Alt (from Serious Eats) is a rockstar with his scientific approach, I trust Jo and Bella’s reviews and adaptations of recipes (from Bitch&Bake), Jaden Hair is my new Asian food guru, and Deb (from Smitten Kitchen) is such a cool mom and baker with her unique recipes and adventurous outlook with food. And they’re all thin! I learned that not only does cooking help you burn calories, it’s even better when you share the calories and keep the weight off.

But there was a big problem at first. I had two kitchens, but I was a stranger to them. I didn’t know where everything was except for the microwave. The family-apartment I share with my Dad has a little kitchen: long, narrow, utilitarian and had a gas range and oven. In my other apartment which I share with Tita Dina, the kitchen is cozy and triangular with an electric range and oven. So I tried to acquaint myself better with both kitchens by cleaning them. I scrubbed the latter’s counters and turned the former inside out, wiping and spraying surfaces with 409. By the time I was done, the awkward moment of small talk was over and the kitchens felt slightly comfortable with my presence.

I’m still very much a kitchen noobie, though. Cooking isn’t just practical work, I have to do a lot of reading to back up my projects. This is like another college course! Haha… I fail 20% of time, deliver less than stellar results 30% of the time, and manage to be a bit proud of myself half the time.  Maybe in a few years, I can cook just as my mother does – by instinct.

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