Updated: Oct 6, 2020
"It was 80% brown with a few soft pieces, some hard lumps and weird stringy bits."
No, this is not a description of a new life form recently discovered in a cave somewhere, but an appraisal by my son of my attempt to make a beef stew.
"But," I argued, "it was a Jamie Oliver recipe!"
My son smirked nastily and left his riposte unsaid, which would likely have been, "Well it was a Jamie Oliver recipe - until you got hold of it."
Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on myself; he did eat most of it after all. But it made me think about the lengths some of us go to in trying to produce great food.
In my case, I do all the cooking at home. Without exception, I produce breakfast, lunch and dinner alongside regular snacks, cauldrons of tea and even the occasional pudding.
Quite how I have managed to become the sole heir to the oven is anybody's guess, because I don't like cooking. It's a chore. It's hard work. It takes up an awful lot of my time and my efforts are not always gratefully received. But still I persist, somehow having evolved into the role of chief meal producer. Which is not to say that I don't get help, of course. My family is forever peering over my shoulder whilst I am busy chopping, peeling and mixing and giving me helpful hints and advice.
It is not uncommon for me to hear pearls of wisdom like, "You need to simmer that, not boil it," or, "You need to chop that up a lot more," or, my favourite:
"Oh, you've made spaghetti carbonara/ beef wellington/ full roast dinner with all the trimmings?
I just fancied a salad."
But the thing is, despite being the archetypal anti-cook, I really want to impress. I would really like to make a meal that not only tastes divine but also looks as it is supposed to. Maybe that's a common human feature and would explain why some men and women spend hundreds of hours in hot, cramped, noisy kitchens being screamed at by a little despot in a big white hat in order to learn the art and craft of cooking - even if the result is basically a teaspoonful of prettily arranged foodstuffs that will set you back about 50 quid.
And I bet they don't have someone saying, "Oh, you've made Blanquette de Veau with a Moules Mariniers starter?
I just fancied a salad."
These cooks are so good at their job that they can, for example, serve up roasted shrimp brains on toast and not only will it taste great but it will also look like a minor work of art and I envy their abilities.
Having said that, I wouldn't have the time to construct elaborate creations. I can just imagine me tweezering the last rose petal and delicate slice of sashimi onto a glittering platter before hearing the inevitable,"That fish needs more grilling."
No, with 2 growing lads to feed, my cooking tends towards the hearty. I don't mean stodgy, but there has to be a considerable amount of it, and a scattering of brightly coloured edibles on a plate just won't do. But just once I would love to hear the words: "Dad, your presentation was a masterstroke of inventiveness and your cooking just sublime."
It is not be.
So let me take a moment to congratulate all those hard-working individuals who can take a basket of raw ingredients, do amazing things with them and render their audience speechless (as frequently do I, but for different reasons).
©2020 Nick MacIneskar