Any guest invited to dine with me is in for a treat. Maybe I’ll serve perfect xiao long bao (soup dumplings) as delicate and succulent as you can get in Shanghai. Perhaps a perfect pizza with a crust doughy enough to make a Neapolitan weep. Or maybe a perfect dal with a side of naan that’s still warm from the oven?
There’s only one catch. When you inevitably pass your compliments to the chef, I’ll have to add my own. Because if I’m responsible for the catering, anyone dining chez moi is likely to be eating takeaway.
Only the very best takeaway, mind you. Gourmet food cooked by recognised experts in a range of world cuisines. But certainly stuff I haven’t cooked myself.
While I’m a whiz with a jaffle maker and pride myself on putting ravioli in boiling water per the manufacturer’s instructions, the truth is that I’ve never managed to teach myself how to cook more than the absolute basics. I’m more of a NoviceChef than a Master. And that’s because I live in the inner city, where there really isn’t much point cooking for yourself unless it’s a special occasion.
I gave it a solid go earlier this year. Admittedly, I took advantage of one of those services that delivers a pack of ingredients and idiot-proof instructions, but I did manage to produce something resembling couscous with miscellaneous vegetables one night, and passable pasta on another.
Here’s the thing though – it took ages. Seriously, ages. The preparation alone took me at least an hour, which was double what the instructions said – pretty good going considering my skill level. Chopping veggies and combining things is trickier than it looks for TV chefs, especially when hand-eye coordination is lacking and knives are scarily sharp.
At the end, I was certainly proud of myself. But the whole process took 90 minutes, start to finish. That’s the length of a movie, or two episodes of Vikings. And all for something I could have bought readymade for little more than the cost of the ingredients. What’s more, had I not been so lazy, shopping for the ingredients would have added another 45 minutes or so to the process – longer seeing as I don’t know where the fresh produce is in my supermarket.
As I was eating that meal of my own creation, I felt in awe of anyone who comes home from work and starts cooking anything more elaborate than a frozen microwave meal. And I compared my handiwork unfavourably with the vegies stir-fried to perfection by the Thai takeaway around the corner.
None of us can be good at everything. The people around the corner are much better at making an incrediblepad see ew than me, but presumably less experienced in the art of writing faintly self-mocking pieces like this one. Isn’t it better that I pay them $10 for their expertise instead of trying to put them out of a job by vertically integrating cooking into my existing workflow? Isn’t that a win-win, in this era of outsourcing and efficiency?
I realise that cooking is pleasurable for many people. I think that I’ll probably keep trying my hand at it on weekends, when I have a bit more energy and time to compensate for the inevitable errors. I still aspire to be able to cook a few really good meals.
But when I live in a city full of the world’s best cuisines cooked by people who’ve come from all corners of the globe, I’m not going to feel guilty if I salute their expertise by asking them to look after my dinner instead of insulting them by attempting to whip up an inferior version.