Are you (not) cooking?

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on: Nov 02, 2018
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Videos and online advice for the bad and the no-cook range from the sage to the surreal, from the thoughtful to the tongue-in-cheek

It’s one of the great dinner-party-disasters in literature. A stunningly hideous meal that features a blue soup that tastes like a bowl of boiled cream; rock-hard potatoes that are eventually mashed into an omelette; tomato purée enhanced with dishwashing liquid; mysteriously missing tuna steaks; and an orange confit that’s little more than marmalade. Clearly, Bridget Jones cannot cook. Not even with the aid of a “marvelous new book by Marco Pierre White”; a grocery haul that includes 20 heads of garlic, a tin of goose fat and four vanilla pods at £1.39 each; and oodles of enthusiasm.


The big question is — could she have cooked 20 years later? Would she have been able to produce the perfect velouté of celery with the able assistance of online food videos on Look and Cook, You Suck at Cooking, or The One Pot Chef ? Or with the many gigabytes of tips and videos on food websites, YouTube channels and patronising bloggers — aimed specifically at the sorry souls who just cannot boil an egg or butter a slice of bread?

Jones lived in unenlightened times. We don’t have that excuse. After all, the internet has provided us with a bewildering array of videos, support groups and three-ingredient recipes. These are not for those already in touch with their inner Nigella Lawson. They are meant for the blue soup brigade — all those people out there who tremble when they come within 20 feet of a gas lighter; and who desperately Google the symptoms of chikungunya the minute they’re invited to a pot luck party.

Today, there’s advice for bachelors with empty fridges; for beginners who’ve met a spatula and sheet pan for the first time; for bewildered dads who realise that they have to rustle up a quick meal for the kids; and for party girls who possess just one pot and a blunt knife. And, of course, for nervous cooks who are prone to setting fires, slicing fingers and collapsing into a howling heap when confronted with a mixer-grinder.

The videos and advice online range from the sage to the downright surreal; from the thoughtful to the tongue-in-cheek.

You have trouble cutting a cake? No problem. Just go at it with dental floss (20 cooking hacks for people who can’t cook).

You never manage to get your pizza slices neat? Easy peasy. Attack the pizza pie with a pair of scissors ( The Kitchn ).

You’re jumpy about chopping an onion with a sharp knife? Try a karate chop instead. Or just chuck it at the wall (courtesy You Suck at Cooking ).

You’re a minimalist when it comes to pots and pans? Just toss it all into “a pot together and make it cook together until it’s perfect. That’s why Jesus gave us casseroles.” ( One Pot Chef )

You’re prone to kitchen catastrophes and your birthday is coming up? You can expect a clear-view toaster, an egg boiler for four eggs and The Can’t Cook Book: Recipes for the Absolutely Terrified (Nine gifts for the person who can’t cook — MyRecipes).

You’re a bachelor who’s decided to change his lifestyle? Look no further than an article carried by The Huffington Post some years ago when Maggi noodles went off the shelves of the local bania stores — and many an Indian male was in danger of starvation. In the article, Chef Saransh Goila supplies 10 truly basic tips — starting with “simply stand in front of the stove, (Well, obviously, if you don’t have one, you have to start by buying one)”. He then goes on to suggest simple egg dishes, reinvented leftovers and useful kitchen gadgets.

Bachelor Cooking goes one step further. It provides easy recipes, yummy photographs and precise cooking times — so the bachelor who has to dash to the gym in 15 minutes knows that he should stick to roasted plum and honey goat cheese toast (12 minutes) rather than jambalaya (40 minutes).

For those who need even more handholding, there are sites that provide detailed how-to videos. For example, the Cooking Basics by Hilah Cooking tackles virtually every question a new cook might have. How to boil eggs? How to spatchcock a chicken? How to make Brigadeiro Brazilian candy?

Similarly, Look and Cook has put up videos for many Indian dishes. So if you’re making Hyderabadi chicken biryani for the very first time, it helps to see exactly how brown the onions should get (after all, there are browns and browns, right?). And when you’re making paneer butter masala, you can see finally what the cookbook writers mean when they say, “fry till the oil separates from the masala”.

And for those who want spicy Pakistani food and plenty of details, head to AAmna’s Kitchen . AAmna adopts the style of your average middle-school geography teacher to point out half-teaspoon jeera powder and one teaspoon of dhania powder, to show the viewers how to mash potatoes and even how to pour half a cup of water into a bowl of dahi.

If even AAmna and her precise instructions can’t help you get your act and your potato sandwich together, you probably are a hopeless cause in the kitchen. Don’t despair — you can gain solace from watching ‘Daily struggles of a girl who can’t cook’ or binge on ‘Cooking gone Wrong’ and ‘Cooking Fail’, and feel comforted that it’s not just you.

Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and food writer

Published on November 02, 2018

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