People (men, kids, etc.) can learn to cook

My DH is a crazy accomplished chef.  He cooks amazing desserts.  He’s been playing with making his own pasta.  He’s mastered sourdough from a levain.  He’s got the best all-butter pie crusts around.  He can do pretty much anything. He’s done in depth studies about what makes the best chocolate chip cookies using lab notebook techniques. If there’s a recipe, he’s game to try it.

It wasn’t always this way.  When we got married, he could make bread using the breadmaker that his grandma had gotten him when we went to college and that was about it.  He’d also made pizza (using dough from the bread maker) a few times in college.  He mostly lived on day old bagels and I’m not sure what else.

One day during our first year of graduate school and married life, DH asked if I could make my chili for dinner and I suddenly realized that he needed to learn how to cook.  Otherwise I would be in charge of all the meal stuff every day for the rest of our lives.  Or maybe until I got one of our future children to take over (I did a lot of the cooking at my parents’, especially during summers).

So I showed him how to make chili.  And how to make spaghetti, which is pretty similar.  And various egg dishes.

Then he started getting into recipes.  He wasn’t very good at substitutions and his knife skills drove me crazy because he was SO SLOW getting perfectly even cubes instead of just doing a rough cut.  But we managed.

Three years after getting real jobs, I sent him to a semester-long cooking class and that really improved his knife skills.  He can take down a raw chicken with ease.  And carrots get diced quickly and imperfectly with no second-guessing.  He can even cut an orange so it looks fancy!

He’s now been cooking for nearly 20 years and can make substitutions on the fly.  He can adjust recipes for weather conditions or flavor preferences (DC2 isn’t into spicy, I hate goat cheese, etc.)    It didn’t take 20 years to get to this point.  The cooking class was only really necessary to get his knife skills up to speed (honestly, I don’t know what the hangup there was).

My little sister also didn’t know how to cook until she was well into adult-hood.  She hated doing it growing up and my parents had me, so there didn’t seem to be any reason to force her.  They already had someone to chop potatoes.  (In fairness, my sister’s existence meant I never had to mow a lawn since my mom assumed my sensitivity to heat and general clumsiness would result in me mangling a foot or two if I tried.  I do have faded cooking-related scars on my hands and arms, but I never actually lost a limb doing it.)  Since hitting her 30s, she’s been learning a lot more about cooking– most of the Christmas and Birthday presents she’s been requesting have been cooking related for the past 10 years or so.  She’s currently really into Ottonleigh’s Simple book* and in the Before Times was baking breakfast things for early morning meetings for her Team once a month or so.

DC1 has also been upping hir cooking skills– zie made a few complicated dishes from a fancy sushi cookbook without complaint.  Though, due to the lack of ability to get sushi-grade fish, zie has switched over to the Help! My apartment has a kitchen! cookbook and has started mastering simpler things like garlic bread and shrimp cocktail.  Zie is currently on the “make one dinner a week for the family” plan.  Both kids are in charge of their own breakfasts (cereal, fruit, leftover baked goods) and lunches (leftovers, quesadillas, sandwiches or cheese and crackers/rice cakes).

Who does the cooking in your place?  When did you learn how to cook?

*Disclaimer:  We got a copy of this book and Ottonleigh has six definitions of “simple” (one for each letter in the word Simple, get it?) and it is debatable how many of the recipes are anything like “quick and easy”, though they are labeled with what kind of simple they are.  Also they’ve all been delicious.  But we haven’t noticed them being any simpler in range than the ones in the Jerusalem cookbook which we would recommend over Simple.

31 Responses to “People (men, kids, etc.) can learn to cook”

  1. Michael Nitabach Says:

    I do the cooking & Heather does the baking. I learned to cook (self taught) in grad school when I figured out it was a good way to get with the ladies! 😹😹😹 I enjoy the loose kind of recipes provide suggestions, build up flavors improvisationally kind of cooking, not the precise measurements if you are off a little the shittio is inedible kind.

  2. Ally Says:

    Yes! I knew a woman at my first job that, if she was going to go out to dinner with us ladies, “had” to go home and cook for her husband!

    My dad has not always been the cooking guru he is now. (If I want to know how to make one of the traditional dishes I grew up on as made by my maternal grandmother, I ask my mom, who did most of the cooking back then. Most of my other questions go to dad, who has done more of their cooking in the last 20 years. My mom says it’s only fair after she did the majority for the first 20 years.) But even in my youngest days, my dad could fend for himself when needed, even if it meant him stinking the house up with his beloved chili mac. (To this day I still don’t know how chili Mac can stink as much as it does, but it does!)

    So I kind of grew up with the idea that everyone needs to know how to fend for themselves, if not how to cook. (I have another relative that generally eats out or puts together prepared stuff. Still means fending for ones self. Not ideal but it’s not my business if it works for them.)

    My husband came across as knowing how to cook more than he actually did, I think. I didn’t realize the supremely basic Italian dish he would make for the week was about the extent of things beyond drying out a chicken breast beyond recognition on a George Foreman grill, but he was at least cooking at home vs eating out all the time before we met. (The condition of his cookware was another story, but…)

    I generally do the cooking because I enjoy it, and because he’s willing to do the dishes, which I do not enjoy, but when I’ve been unwell, he’s supremely willing to follow my instructions and do the cooking. And he’s really getting interested in baking.

    I’m not sure there was one exact time I learned to cook. I helped and picked up things here and there. My grandmother taught me some recipes from our ancestors when I was in high school, and for a while I could fix some pretty complicated stuff, but didn’t know how to do the basics. Then I had a notebook of recipes from both my parents, but again, not really how to cook in general beyond those recipes.

    Then I tended to survive on stirfry and other really basic easy clean up recipes (sheet pan dinners, baked chicken plus a microwaveable veggie and a baked potato) as a single woman. I could do more and did with recipes when I wanted, and had quite a collection of cookbooks, but never really put much of it to use, because I hate to clean up so badly.

    So I would say it wasn’t really until I got married and finally had someone else to cook for (so dirtying multiple pans didn’t feel like overkill) AND had a willing person to do the dishes for me, that I finally “learned” to cook. But I kind of apparently had all the skills already I just didn’t know I did. It only took a few weeks of following recipes before I was creating my own.

  3. chelseamcatmath Says:

    My DH does most of the cooking at our house (at least right now when he’s not working evenings out of the house). Which is interesting because he came from a “Mom cooks everything, Dad can’t be trusted to heat frozen pizza” family and I can from a much more egalitarian family where both my parents cooked. Actually I saw my dad cook a lot (and he still does) so in some ways it’s *more* normal to me for the DH to cook. For my mom, there was no joy in cooking. It was just about putting food on the same way, and honestly, I feel the same. I get that there are some people who like it, but to me it is on joy level: vacuuming.

    Honestly I think DH learned from the Food Network. We came of age when most of the shows were actually about cooking (Good Eats, etc.) and he decided he wanted to learn. He also seems to like seasoning things. I probably learned from him.

  4. bogart Says:

    DH does most of the cooking @ our house, which makes sense in that he is not in the paid workforce and I am, but that reality has been slow in the making. Interestingly at the margins I think the pandemic has improved this (he is doing more of the cooking), perhaps because he sees I am … actually … spending … the … days … working whereas — I guess? — when I leave the house and go to the office, he doesn’t (?!).

    We have fairly different food preferences, which is also part of it. He’s pretty much a “stereotypical American family” diet kind of guy — meat-centered meals, lots of stuff fried (plus chili, meatloaf, steaks, burgers, spaghetti with meat sauce, and pizza), canned veggies are fine. He more or less won’t, for example, eat fish unless it’s fried, doesn’t like my yummy shrimp pasta dishes (or my delicious baked salmon), will eat but doesn’t embrace brown rice (preferred rice dish: rice-a-roni).

    I think we both learned to cook as young-ish adults who needed to eat. Thinking back I think the same is true for his now adult kids, and our son doesn’t cook much, though we occasionally rope him into helping with something, and he does like to bake (desserts).

  5. Steph Says:

    I learned to cook some basic things as a kid, like scrambled eggs and pancakes. We ate a lot of restaurant and convenience food growing up, though very occasionally my parents cooked from scratch. My mom is a pretty good cook, but she doesn’t follow recipes and was never willing to teach me when she did actually cook. I learned more at the end of college/early grad school – a summer roommate got me started, and I picked up a “Beginner” cookbook that wasn’t, really, but it had a few good things in it. I’ve progressed slowly from there.

    I like to say I can cook to keep myself alive – I don’t generally make anything fancy and I don’t think I do very well with flavors, but I like what I make and I can manage not to give myself food poisoning. I did buy “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” last year, so at least now I salt my pasta water.

  6. delagar Says:

    Dr. Skull *used* to do the cooking in the delagar household, and he still cooks for fancy meals and holidays. But he’s been doing the Keto diet for what seems like forever (the kid and I call it his food cult), so now everyone cooks for themselves.

    Though when the kid was here, isolating from the virus, for about two months, he did get me to cook all his favorite foods, the ones I made when he was a kid — tuna casserole, Dutch babies, and so on.

    The kid *can* cook, and when he’s at his own place, he and his roommate cook for each other.

  7. rose Says:

    Growing up before grade 6 each child was fully capable of independently providing their own breakfasts, lunches and following recipes for simple cakes, cookies, snacks. We then learned more about ‘dinners’ and holiday foods, by senior year of high school was routinely doing dinner for 5 (mother seriously ill). It was always a simple progression like learning to walk or multiplying fractions. Genderless requirement. Life skill like sewing on a button, grocery shop, basic plumbing, garden upkeep, dealing with laundry, paying bills, balancing checkbook/budget, car washing.
    I am always fascinated by the idea of not raising a child to be capable and an independent adult. Start young, make it fun, raise competent humans.

  8. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I learned to cook when we moved in together. It turns out when you give me a clean kitchen where 3 other people aren’t constantly generating messes they don’t clean, and in fact the other adults clean up after themselves, I love being in the kitchen. I do most of the cooking because I like experimenting with flavors and I liked controlling the food that I eat (meaning I like to cook for my cravings, not to anyone else’s, though I *will* take requests). Now I have to do most of my cooking because I’m still working on figuring out exactly how much of what I can eat before my body quits. Plus they will almost always eat everything I cook, how I cook it, when I cook it. I am not nearly so flexible.

    PiC has always known how to cook but between my enjoying it more and random cravings, and his disliking new recipes, and my general better availability, it’s mostly my job by default. But he does meal prep on the weekends and he does almost all the leftovers management. I come up with the new stuff and he figures out the reheat and serving up leftovers and eating them when I don’t want them so there’s no waste. Feels fair.

    He’s been teaching JB how to prepare simple things like rice and sandwiches, so that’s cool.

  9. First Gen American Says:

    I am the primary cook but since I normally travel so much for work, my husband has learned quite a lot over the years. I had my own interest in cooking and started to learn in high school Without prompting but I also didn’t like a lot of the stuff my mom made so took matters in my own hands. (My mom is an amazing scratch cook but she made too many heavy meat laden polish dishes). I also worked in restaurants and cooked there so that helped as well. Last but not least, garden over-abundance often forced creative uses for excess perishable food. What to do with too many zucchini’s or tomato’s, pears, etc.

    Maybe not ideal, but I started to get my kids into cooking by telling them I refuse to cook junk food for them (mac n cheese, ramen). My younger kid has had a lot more interest in cooking than the older one during lockdown and he’s getting decent at it.

  10. xykademiqz Says:

    Sadly, I do 100% of cooking in our household. I am sure DH would be great if he wanted to do it, but he has no interest and I don’t have to energy to try and change that now; I missed the boat when we were first married on account of being young and stupid and too hung-up on patriarchal upbringing. Of my kids, the middle one (13) sometimes helps me in the kitchen; he has the best dexterity of the three (he’s also the most athletic and the only right-handed one among the brood). The oldest is 20, always been a bit clumsy, but now that he’s in college he’s showing interest in cooking for himself, so I text with him a lot in terms what he can do with different he has in the fridge and some dos and don’ts. (It drives me bananas the number of recipes that tell people to fry or bake stuff in olive oil, which has a low boiling point and will start smoking in the over or a hot skillet.) I bought him a cookbook that a chef wrote for his son when he went to college, but even that was full of cooking snobbery and blatant lack of pragmatism (“Thou shall never use dry herbs! Only ever fresh herbs!” like a college student has the time, money, or will to hunt for fresh thyme most of which will go bad by the next time it’s needed). We need more cookbooks for people who don’t care about cooking but want to not die of scurvy or, you know, just want to be able to make themselves a soup or roast some chicken and veggies.

    I learned how to cook in college, especially while I lived with a guy whom I dated for years but never married. (Yes, I cooked most stuff even then, but he cooked some, too.) I can cook anything, substitute on the fly, etc. Recipes as just suggestions; you have to understand what each ingredient does. Most fancy recipes have a small number of really key ingredients and a bunch that are totally optional; IMHO, knowing what you can drop or swap is, in fact, the mark of being able to cook (rather than follow instructions, which most people can).

    However, since I’ve been the one cooking for the past 20+ years, I am so fucking over it. A couple of years ago, some students asked me what my favorite dish was, expecting an ethnic dish in response, to which I said, “Anything that I didn’t have to cook.” The pandemic has me on non-stop kitchen duty as DH isn’t comfortable with takeout, so I am completely sick and tired of being the resident chef.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Strongly suggest the Help! series of cookbooks by Kevin and Nancy Mills as what you might be looking for in a beginner cookbook.

      Also suggest using the pandemic to go on a cooking strike. I just went on a menu and grocery planning strike because two months straight has been too much and the rest of the family has stepped up. It’s been a bit rocky (they make mistakes, and for a while there we had 5 chicken dishes listed out of 7 meals) but they’re learning.

      • xykademiqz Says:

        I don’t have it in me to go on a strike, tbh. I do everything food-related but don’t formally plan the week (I am a list hater), just go to the store and see what’s good and kind of compose the week’s meals on the fly between what we haven’t had in a while, what looks good, the different available cuts of meat (we’re a very carnivorous family), the veggies that look nice, how energetic I feel about cooking/what I’ve got going on, etc. If there’s something special someone wants they text it to me the night before.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You don’t have to plan or not plan—they can figure that out. Maybe they’re planners or not, but that’s up to them.

        You’re obviously sick of the status quo and now is a great time for someone else to step up. Big life changes like pandemics make lifestyle changes easier.

  11. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    My parents both taught me to cook- my dad is a very good cook and my mom is a very okay cook.

    The spouse and I split it about 60/40 during the school year because I get home earlier/ because of how the childcare works. I don’t mind because I don’t wash dishes when I cook. He’s an excellent cook though! Also my mom comes once a week and brings dinner.

  12. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    STRIKE! Honestly I’m about ready to strike if I have to plan one more accursed week of meals. Why must the children eat so much?

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      Okay that was supposed to be a reply above…

    • gwinne Says:

      Doesn’t need to be dramatic as a strike. Thursday nights are “fend for yourself Thursdays” here. That generally means leftovers. The point is that I’m not involved in the decision making or the execution.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Turns out DH isn’t very good at menu planning yet– we’ve had potato pancakes (different versions) a second time and the second time came out of a cookbook that never takes less than 3 hours to make anything, so he wasn’t expecting us to be eating so late last night (I took some initiative and soaked the black-eyed peas for the thing we’re having tomorrow– I’m also boiling them this morning so that we can actually have them for dinner tonight). We also have soup on the list 3x this week and shrimp 2x. (Fortunately the grocery store was out of creamed corn so we can only actually have soup 2x.) But he’ll figure stuff out. I have faith.

  13. Debbie M Says:

    I am super picky, so my boyfriend and I each do our own cooking. I know, it’s crazy, but it works for us.

    I learned cooking at Girl Scout camp and also picked up a few things watching my mom and from a home-ec course in the eighth grade. Then I learned more from various roommates. I am all about simple things, by which I mean quick, but I do make some exceptions (cookies, pancakes, and now tortillas).

    My boyfriend learned to cook from his mom and gradually took over more and more cooking duties. His younger brother did not, but that was fine with everyone. He does not care how many ingredients, tools, dirty dishes, or minutes it takes to cook something, he just wants it to be delicious with minimal animal fat (except butter, cream, and cheese) and salt. He has a long past of appreciative people doing his dishes, so he’s infamous for messing up every dish in the house.

    We do actually like some of each other’s cooking and always give each other tastes of whatever we’re cooking. And though we’re single and have no kids, we make full four-person batches, so there’s always enough to share, if that comes up, and enough for leftovers. Sadly, he doesn’t like dessert, so he doesn’t cook it. I’ve taught him to make tortillas and better pancakes and spaghetti; he’s taught me tuna patties and pot stickers and that gravy doesn’t need fat in it to taste good.

    I did try to teach another boyfriend how to cook and realized that the language in recipes is not normal English. Also, they rarely explain why or options. So he once bought a food processor because a recipe needed one, except his blender would have worked just fine.

    My mom did all the cooking because she liked to and was picky. My dad would make sandwiches and salads and sometimes cook on the grill. My dad’s mom did all the cooking because of sexism–she hated it and wasn’t very good at it. Dad had to be taught not to order steak well done.

    My best friend in high school did all of the cooking for her family most nights. Her mom would leave detailed instructions. Her brother never cooked because of sexism.

  14. Natka Says:

    My husband and I both cook. Not sure what the split is – he does most breakfast, some lunches, and often contributes to dinners.

    Growing up, I learned a bit by watching my mom. We never had take-out (wasn’t even an option where we lived), so she cooked all the meals (I started to help when I was a kid). Dad refuses to cook (but can make eggs and a couple of other things if absolutely necessary; his father cooked a lot, but Dad is sort of mentally allergic to cooking – he does the dishes). I also really liked helping my grandmother cook and bake. I didn’t really start cooking a lot on my own until late college and then graduate school. I would frequently call my grandmother or mother to ask questions. Then I sort of figured things out. I am not a fantastic cook, but I do OK.

    My husband and I have our “specialties”. He hates making salads (and anything else that requires chopping vegetables). I love making and eating salads, soups, and various vegetable side dishes. I don’t go near the grill. He is excellent at making most meat dishes, except beef stew. We are both decent at making fish. I don’t touch (or eat) non-kosher sea thingies – so he makes that, on occasion, for himself and the kids.

    BTW, I always cook (and roast) with olive oil (this is in response to a comment above). Just have 2 types of live oil: 1 for salads, 1 for cooking/baking.

    All kids like to help cook (for now; they are 11, 9, and 6). The 9-year old LOVES baking, and with everyone being home (and always hungry), she’s had plenty of opportunities to try out different recipes . Kids sometimes help with making meals. The older kids know how to make sandwiches, which is great (I absolutely hate, hate, hate making sandwiches!!!). The youngest loves helping make fruit salads.

    It’s nice when everyone cooks at least a little – if things get really crazy or one of the parents goes into “overwhelmed” frenzy, the others can pick up the slack. We don’t really do meal planning, but like xykademiqz, whoever is shopping, will get stuff that looks really good/fresh along with a few staples, and then we cook whatever is in the fridge.

  15. middle_class Says:

    My DH is an excellent cook, chef level really. He does most of the cooking and I do most of the dishes. He has taught me to cook enough so that I don’t end up eating ramen and eggs only.

    I’m glad he showed me how to cook but it is not fun or relaxing for me. Also when I cook he doesn’t jump in to clean up.

    Both my parents cook. In pre-quarantine times, my mom spoiled us with my childhood favorites, which have now become favorites foe my kids.

    I always urge younger women to avoid becoming the sole cook. They rarely listen to me. However more than a few have regretted it especially after kids came along.

  16. First Gen American Says:

    PS. I went on cooking strike yesterday after a particularly unproductive day from the kids. My day was super great. Took the day off to garden and was too tired to cook dinner so I was like, you’re on your own. Lunch was fine but not dinner. It’s amazing how they couldn’t figure out they could make a sandwich or hotdog til I told them what was in the fridge. Why are children so blind when it comes to looking in the fridge. Unless it’s leftover pizza, the rest of the food is invisible.

  17. ccerebrations Says:

    I grew up in a household where my dad and mother cooked fairly evenly. My dad maybe slightly more in the sense we ate a lot of grilled food. I didn’t cook much when I lived in the house but I knew how to. I don’t remember ever really being taught, just being exposed to it and asked to help with stuff. I guess a kitchen in a nice open floor plan helps. I also started baking in 3rd grade when I got a mini muffin tin set.

    Now I live with a bf and he primarily does the cooking which I really enjoy but it has a dark side. He really enjoys cooking and finding new recipes (might be a fad) but some times I find it frustrating because I have very little say in what we eat (I’d like more veggies and less frying). And then some times it’s really frustrating because he’ll use it against me in an argument about how he does majority of the cooking and I need to pull my weight more. But I can’t because he’s a control freak! Like he will be picky what we get at the grocery store and then he will try to tell me what to cook and how to cook it. Like no sir, that is not how my turn cooking goes, if I’m gonna cook it’s going to be on my terms or else you can cook.

  18. C Says:

    I grew up in a household with both parents cooking, Dad loved it but worked all the time, Mom was fine but didn’t love it like Dad did. That said, sharing a kitchen with him is STILL a difficult experience. I do the cooking in my household – because I love cooking, I find it relaxing, and spouse does not. Spouse can follow heavily annotated instructions, but doesn’t enjoy it and gets easily frustrated. One of my great sadnesses in the pandemic is that I no longer enjoy grocery shopping because people are terrible.

    So how did I learn? Well I remember my Mom sitting me on the kitchen floor with the salad spinner when I was maybe 5? But it was really more, trying things out of family cookbooks as a kid, some family cooking projects (we’d make dim sum from scratch with all of us helping), and then just learning by doing. In college my bff and I would have occasional dinner parties where we would make fancy dishes for our friends. It wasn’t until graduate school that I had my own kitchen and it’s just been fun from there. I cook from recipes, but I also make things up, adapt easily, etc. This is important since both spouse and I have some pretty serious food issues, between allergies and autoimmune stuff. Spouse, however, grew up in a home where the men only grill, though even that has been changing over the last decade or so. I will say for spouse, though, that they recognize the work that goes into feeding us, and they make a mean cup of tea.


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