The Armchair Critic

(Pretending to know everything)


Culinary Irony

Posted by Lee i.

So I don't like to cook. I discussed that at length in my very first post. But I do love to eat. And I have been lucky enough to be well-fed while escaping the tediousness of making menus, understanding recipes and (heaven forbid) marketing at the talipapa. (Sorry, traumatic childhood experience at the wet market involving mud and pig's blood.)

In college, I lived in a dormitory where food was served everyday. Sure, the U.P. Food Service is not the best in the world, what with rumors of Band-Aid floating in the soup, but nobody ever had a bout of food poisoning. And when we've had enough of the food they served, there was always Rodics (a veritable landmark in the U.P. Campus), and if our allowance had just arrived, McDonald's.

I had also been lucky enough to room or share apartments with ladies who have the passion for cooking. I'd wake up in the mornings with pancakes (made from scratch) on the table. I was constantly amazed at their ability to open the cupboard (usually bare) and come up with something delicious. All without much planning, it seemed.

Even The Artist, when he was courting me, would visit bring raw ingredients for sinigang and cook them right before my admiring eyes. Now I know that cooking sinigang just involves throwing vegetables and meat in a potful of boiling water, but we are talking about me, remember? I can't even cook rice, so I was easily impressed.

So can you blame me that I never had the impetus to learn how to cook? Not even that awkward potentially deal-breaking moment when my future mother-in-law (MIL) after tasting my sister-in-law's dinengdeng, asked my mother, "Si Lee po ba, marunong ding magluto nito?" (My family exchanged meaningful stares while my mother giggled nervously). No, not even that close brush with losing my man during the traditional pamamanhikan could make me swear to learn. Cause I remember my MIL adding that The Artist took cooking lessons from Nora Daza. Well, at least, I knew I wouldn't starve and he would feed me in the manner I was accustomed to.

So imagine everyone's surprise when six years into the marriage, I enrolled in Heny Sison's Culinary School. My husband, not surprisingly, was very encouraging.

At the time of my enrolment (2003), Heny's school was offering two courses - The Essential Baking & Pastry Series(P65,000/22 days) and The Essential Cooking Series(P56,000/23 days). Being the dessert-lover that I am, I was most tempted to sign up for the former. But good sense prevailed so I signed up for the cooking series which offered both basic cooking and baking as opposed to baking only.

Yes, the course was expensive. But for anyone else to might be thinking if enrolling the price is worth it. I was given two sets of personalized chef's jacket and apron as well as a set of knives. (One of the first rules of the kitchen I learned was never to use other chef's knives.) The number of students was limited and the kitchens spacious so there was no fighting over ovens or stoves. The school has some of the best chefs in the Philippines (our class was handled by Chef Jill Sandique and Chef Jane Paredes). And, with the unlimited use of the facilities and equipment also came unlimited first class ingredients. The cupboards and refrigerators were well-stocked with ingredients indicated in the recipes. You can continue practicing during class hours until you got it right. And anything you made, you took home. (I think this was also the time I started to really gain weight.)

On the very first day, we were warned by Chef Jill that we would not learn to cook sinigang and adobo in class but that we would be learning French cooking. And so it was that I finall learned what a julienne meant and that bain-marie is not a biscuit. We had interesting recipes to work with every Saturday, from the simple to the complex. Egg cookery to souffles, stocks, broths. sauces, cakes, pastries. Of course, it goes without saying that my favorites involves sweets. I also enjoyed the company of my classmates, many of whom were taking the course as an entry point to being professional chefs. I guess that is why one certain chef ran her class like a military school, something I disagreed with. I enrolled to learn and to discover the joys of cooking, not to be shouted at. It was only after I watched Ratatouille that I fully appreciated that that kind of training might be essential to prepare chefs for the hustle and bustle of a hot kitchen. Buti na lang di ako nasabihan ng, if you can't stand the heat...hehehe.

On graduation day, we prepared a full course meal for our special guests. I am sorry I didn't save the menu, but we made everything from scratch - appetizers, soups, sherbet, meats, dessert. Everything was delicious and beautifully plated. As I was serving The Artist, I told him, "Huwag kang masasanay, ngayon lang ito," just in case he expected the same kind of service everyday. Mahirap na.

While I enjoyed the course, it didn't really change my mind about cooking. I still don't like it. It involves too much guess work or reliance on taste buds. You sometimes have to make adjustments to get it right. Now baking is another matter. I love it. You have to be so precise that there is no doubt that as long as you follow the recipe exactly, you will be rewarded with something great in the end.

I haven't put my apron and certificate to good use. It is only now, when the KiDS have grown enough to appreciate fine cooking and our budget for eating out has shrunk that I reached for my class notes again. And what do you know, I am beginning to enjoy cooking. I used to say after the course that I paid so much just to confirm to myself that I don't like cooking. But that might just change yet.

First photo courtesy of Au Lim, was taken during the PS-SE Mad Scrappers Party. I used my old uniform as a costume. Napagkamalan tuloy akong caterer. Grrr....

Second photo of Currant and Walnut Bread and Irish Soda Bread taken in class.

Third photo of Butter Loaves, Blueberry Muffins and Revel Bars with my Kitchen Aid and favorite cookie jar taken at home.