Netflix: Flavorful Origins (Chen Xiaoqing, 2020)
I have always loved cooking. Eating is followed as a close second. Both have been a big part of my life and I started ‘cooking’ at a young age.
The first time I was allowed free rein in the kitchen, it was because my mother was given a simple sandwich by my brother since he was already in the kitchen making himself one. Because I have always been a competitive person, I decided quickly that if my mother was thankful for that she should wait until she saw my creation. Looking back on it now I can only cringe at the monstrosity I made with my best friend when we were around 6 or 7, standing on top of the counter to reach the high shelves and washing a marshmallow because I once saw that washing food was healthy on a cooking channel. Our final creation was a tower of dry rusk, with marshmallows in between and a peanut butter glue holding the dangerously leaning tower together. I recall a ‘walnut shower’ as well or something of the sort, where we competed to see who could sprinkle the walnuts from the highest distance. In summary: I sometimes feel genuinely sorry for my mother.
Even though I was not that great at cooking (and I am still not the best) I do enjoy it. Half of the times that I went over to my friends we ended up baking or cooking something and since we were bored kids, deciding to put whole grapes in cupcakes seemed to be one of the fun experiments we did. We would sit in front of the oven, trying to watch the cupcakes rise through the stained oven door, while thumb wrestling or braiding each other’s hair.
My earlier years consisted mostly of a true Dutch AGV, namely potatoes, vegetables, and meat. Later on, as my mother began to experiment more and more with cooking, other cuisines other than the Dutch opened up and like a hungry kid holding a cookie jar, there was no going back. The world suddenly opened up with spices, knife techniques, and cooking methods that I had never heard of before; that’s the thing I enjoy most about cooking. I like recipes with weird elements in them that I would never have thought of myself, such as charring a bell pepper on an open flame or waiting for an aubergine to explode. The vast range of ingredients you can play with has always appealed to me and I have always loved going grocery shopping.
Our television was almost never turned on but when it was, it was either Spongebob Squarepants or a cooking show, like 24-kitchen. I remember watching Jamie Oliver slicing and dicing with such speed and finesse, that for a moment I wanted to become a chef as well. Years later, as I was making pros and cons lists for studies that I considered doing after high school, culinary school passed my mind. At this point in life I had plenty of cooking experience, due to both the side job I had secured for myself with a role in the kitchen of a restaurant and due to the rule implemented in my house that each child had to cook once a week (a rule that was torture to my brother, but a blessing to me). Because I enjoyed those supposed ‘chores’ so much and do genuinely love my side job in the restaurant, when I heard someone mentioning culinary school my interest peaked. I looked it up online and daydreamed about it for a couple of weeks and still do from time to time. In the end, I let this option go as I did many others, and went for the ‘safer route’. I have no regrets whatsoever in choosing my degree. I am glad that I am studying English and genuinely enjoy everything so far, from my classes to my friends and teachers. However, sometimes, when I see a youtube video of someone going to culinary school, that feeling rises up again; the desire to cook all day long and to know all the different spices and cuisines. But then again, for a long time I had also convinced myself I wanted to become a secret FBI agent, no regard for my despise for loud sounds, terrible poker-face and overall lack of condition.
However, even now, after I put the idea of going to culinary school behind me, cooking is still a big hobby of mine. Whether I do it on my own with music blasting or with friends or family laughing and telling stories.
A couple of weeks ago I watched the anime called Flavors of Youth. This amazing movie tells three different stories in three different cities and one of the stories was about a bowl of ramen. The story in itself didn’t have a big plot twist and it was short enough that it wasn’t that complex. But the majestic way the story revolved around that little bowl of food and the stories that were told around it, made it into a great ⅓ of the movie. It illustrated that food can tell stories, especially when it is linked to other people. Like Lauri Colwin said: “No one who cooks, cooks alone”. There is a tradition in cooking, both in the old grandmother’s recipes and the recipes you get from the internet. So, whenever I am cooking for that weekly ‘chore’ I usually try something as obscure as my limited time allows. I will scour the internet to try and find new recipes and to test them with my own twists here and there, as I am a firm believer that you do not need to measure spices. And even though I enjoy this and will continue to experiment, some winters I can’t resist the temptation of making ‘stamppot’. I will fill my plate, make a plus sign in the middle of it, fill the trenches with jus and stick a bit of ‘appelmoes met rookworst’ on top, making little islands with a jus river in the middle. Even though I do not enjoy ‘stamppot’ that much, there is a certain tradition to it that I crave around the wintertime. I remember my father teaching me how to make the islands and how to hollow out a ‘kroket’ to stuff it with fries. Sometimes the most important thing isn’t the food and how good it tastes; it is about the traditions and the people you cook and eat with.
So, now whenever I prepare a simple lunch of a rusk with some jam, I can’t help but think back on my first disaster in the kitchen. I do agree that we ‘learn from our mistakes’, but I don’t think that’s the most important takeaway from those failed attempts. Because soon I will meet up with my friends again and maybe we will bake something. And maybe we will try a weird experiment again and maybe we will sit on the floor in front of the oven again, watching our baked goods rise. And maybe we will laugh about our past failed attempts and talk about why we put grapes in our cupcakes, whether we would still put grapes in our cupcakes, and whether we will put grapes in our cupcakes next year. And maybe cooking isn’t so much about becoming a Master chef and trying the most exotic cuisines. Maybe cooking is just meant to be shared.
Written by Anouk Roest
- Sullivan, M. (2022, April 21). How to Organize, Clean and, Maintain Cookbooks [Review of How to Organize, Clean and, Maintain Cookbooks]. Wirecutter; NewYorkTimes. https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/guides/how-to-organize-clean-and-maintain-cookbooks/