That food frisson


                                 That food frisson

Sheila Kumar, 
March 13, 2016

It’s been a long time coming. Starting out as a troubled eater, when the trestle table turned, it turned with a vengeance. Suddenly I woke up to food. I started to tuck in, I started to write about food and yes, I started to read and watch food stories. Just as it takes a while for a person to know which part of the chocolate gateaux she likes best, it took me a while to realise the cherry on this icing was the food movie. 

I like going through recipe books, and if they come with extra-large glossy  photographs of artfully arranged comestibles and a personalised backstory, well, that makes it absolutely gripping reading. I love reading fiction which has food as its bedrock, which trace the crests and troughs of the protagonists in spoonfuls. But I adore food movies; I simply adore food movies. If that makes me a food porn addict, well, so be it. 

Now I watch food movies with the fixed attention of an addict. I’m a sucker for the most lame story if it is accompanied by mouth-watering (sorry, just couldn’t resist that) visuals of lemon soufflés or trout in mangosteen sauce. Throw in visuals of a sexy chef, with biceps that flex seemingly unconsciously as he reaches for the meat cleaver, and a two-day stubble constantly in frame as he tastes the raspberry reduction, and I’m hooked.

The thing is, it never quite ends with just watching these movies. I watch, then I go buy. I buy madly. I buy cunningly-shaped jars, stock pots, a slow cooker, a coriander cutter, a drop-in fryer. I buy coconut flour, sumac rubs, Za’atar and green tofu. I seriously contemplate buying a liquid nitrogen dewar; it’s the cost that deters me, not the challenge of first learning to cook molecular gastronomical food. I invest in a brace of ceramic knives but use them only once a year for fear of chipping them.

I make a whole lot of resolutions. I resolve to give up using the pressure cooker, that despicable vessel of convenience for lazy cooks. I solemnly resolve to use only stoneware and ignore the voice inside my head that goes, “Do you know how much a small Le Creuset ramekin costs?” I resolve to stock in equipment like refractometers and dehydrators; you never know when you will need them. I resolve to go every weekend to Russell Market and buy fresh produce... and not get distracted by Richards Square next door, where one can score some fascinating bric-a-brac, not all connected with the kitchen.

I say, “Ça va, ma chef!” to my cook Lalitha, who starts to eye me with a distinctly nervous look. Our relationship worsens when I try to teach her to make polenta. I mull over getting a tattoo of a halibut on my left forearm but desist only because I’m not sure what a halibut looks like.

Then I plate and serve four cauliflower florets drizzled lightly with olive oil alongside a slim cut of salami, one long flat noodle draped artistically across it all. My spouse, clearly more gourmand than gourmet, raises an eyebrow. “This is dinner?” the eyebrow asks.

And that is when reality hits. If my avid interest in all things kitchen led you, dear reader, to believe I’m a whiz with the skillet: not true. Far from being an epicure, I dislike abalones, I loathe haggis; hearts of palm leave me unmoved, fugu fish I avoid, and shame on me, I prefer Nescafé to filter coffee, would you believe it.As for what happened and invariably happens when I wield the skillet at the barbeque, suffice it to say it is not one of my finest moments.

The thing is, I come from a longish line of women who proudly proclaim that their knowledge of kitchen secrets is near nil. This sounded just fine at a time when princesses of the royal blood as well as wealthy pretenders were raised to languidly trill, mera cucumber sandwiches le aao. Now, a woman who cannot cook ? It sounds like you are admitting to a serious deficiency, a low point  between dyslexia and depression.

Oh, it’s not that I never enter the kitchen. I can sort of cook. I can turn out a decent frittata, make an occasional chili chicken, occasional being the applicable word. I enjoy occasional cooking.

Okay, I’ll admit to it: I’m an occasional cook. Which brings me to the moot point: are occasional cooks allowed their moments of culinary orgasm? Those who cannot and do not cook much really, are we entitled to our pretensions to culinary gran-

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