If your answer is yes than you’re luckier than I was.
As youngest of four siblings, I arrived to my family unplanned, in the middle of DIY project building the family house. What a mess! I don’t recall my parents giving us any special attention. They were not going out of their way to plan their life around ours, so we have more fun, activities or stimulation. No, both my parents worked long hours, and when home, they worked on the construction site, where our home will be. We were required to help home, do our homework, bring good grades from school and stay out of the trouble.
We were supposed to watch over each other. Having no school buses, we were required to walk from school straight home, change cloths and seek what we can help with at home. I don’t remember ever to be allowed to have friends over or go to my friend’s house. Sleepovers? In my dreams! I grew up in the small village, where everybody knew everybody, and the closest neighbors were also our friends.
My mom was always quite neurotic, but when it came to kitchen, she was the worse. Enter that space on your own risk. It was full of yelling, impatience, pots slamming. I didn’t want to be around her in the kitchen, I would much rather go to the garage to help my father with whatever he was fixing. My dad was a handyman, capable of anything. He would fix your car, roof, shutters, pots, engine, tools, anything. Garage was his safe haven and all neighbors were coming with anything possible for him to fix. It was so much fun to be there. But my mom insisted that we help her.
The helping her part looked something like this: “ Bring the potatoes from the basement! Why just five? Are you nuts? Is that supposed to be enough? Use your brain! Peel this! Not like this!!!! Don’t you remember how I showed you last time? Jeeez I have the dumbest children ever. You can’t let them do anything. Stir that sauce! Can’t you do one thing right?! OMG, what are you doing now? Not with THAT spoon! Don’t splash it all over the stove!!!! I don’t believe it…!” You can imagine that I did everything in my power to stay out of her way and out of the kitchen. Unfortunately, my mom was quite demanding. And I was the youngest, so when my older sisters smartly disappeared, I couldn’t escape.
If it was up to my mom, I would never end up cooking for living. It was thanks to grandma (who was just the opposite of my mom), who had the patience to show me certain things, to get me involved in the process –which is different than just ‘bring me that, stir this’… Unlike my mother, my grandma enjoyed cooking. Even though we didn’t have enough money, she was always able to create something delicious out of nothing. And took a great pleasure doing it.
I remember one day grandma came downstairs (she lived with us in the house), with something breaded and fried on the plate. She had this smile on her face and asked me: “See if you can guess what this is”. We used to fry all kinds of zucchinis, cauliflower, slices of large mushrooms, cheese, even flowers of a certain bush that blossomed once a year and grandma would go, pick them up and fry them in the dough. We loved it. I still remember that specific taste.
But this was nothing like that. It had an oval shape, and when I tasted it, I can’t just put my finger on it. Hmm, it was soft, but it wasn’t a cheese. Some kind of vegetable, but what? I liked it, but couldn’t guess it. Then my grandma smiled and said: “It’s a potato!” What??? She cooked large potato to “al-dente” then carefully sliced it into thicker slices, sprinkled it with salt, covered it in the flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs and fried it. The result was unbelievable!
When I got married and moved out of the house, I can’t say I knew how to cook. I knew some basics and could prepare some ordinary dishes. But it was that time, on my own when I first tried certain recipes and took a pleasure in cooking and developing new flavors. Suddenly, I was “allowed” to experiment on my own, create my own recipes and doing things my way. When my mom first visited me in the big city (I moved out of our little village to a capitol city of Prague), I wanted to show off and prepare some quite difficult dish. And how it usually goes, when you try to impress, something goes very, very wrong. Not only was it over-salted, I burned it a little too.
“Oh no, I am not going to give my mom a reason for sarcasm, so she can have fun at my expense!” I thought to myself. I remember standing in the kitchen, panicking how I can fix that. First I poured the creamy sauce into a new pot, leaving most of the burned part on the bottom of the burned pot. You can still taste the burn flavor a little, but it was much better than before. But what do I do with the salty problem?
The old trick was to peel a potato and add it into the dish. Supposedly the potato will soak the salty flavors and you then fish it out. It didn’t work. Then I thought: OK, what’s the opposite of salt? Sugar! Perhaps if I added a sugar, it may neutralize the salty taste. The other chance was ruining the dish even more. I took the risk and added sugar to the sauce. Little by little – and it worked!!!! OMG, it really worked! It tasted slightly different than I was used to, but it was fixed and good!
The biggest satisfaction was that my mom never even noticed I ran into a problem. While she was waiting for the dinner in our living room, being entertained by my husband, nobody was yelling, taking loud sighs or slamming pots in my kitchen. She actually complimented the dinner and asked me what I did different that it tasted so good! I just smiled, and said it was chef’s secret. If she only knew!
I would have loved to have someone in my youth showing me the way. To cook with someone who truly enjoyed it. To make me excited about the process of cooking.I could have grown traumatized by the kitchen environment. Instead, I chose to learn step by step on my own, with many mistakes along the way, and master it! Later in my life I had the pleasure to cook side by side with women who took a big pride in their cooking and taught me a lot..
When I lived in Holland, my dear friend Hennie showed me how she prepared vegetables for the dinner. Until that point, I was only used to vegetables made either from frozen or from a can (that I couldn’t stand). Although we grew some produce in our family garden, the way mom used to prepare it wasn’t really appealing to me. Mushy carrots with roux, green beans from a can in white sauce, white dill sauce, beets from can, grayish mushy root vegetables from can – I hated the flavors! And suddenly, I was witnessing how someone went to the market, picked out fresh green beans and prepared it very simple way. I didn’t want to tell Hennie that I don’t like beans, expecting that familiar, disgusting flavor and mushy consistency.
And I am glad I didn’t. Her beans were crunchy, tasty and really delicious! That was a first time I ate the whole plate. So I paid attention and cooked with her. I don’t make veggies any other way till today. And I still enjoy the memories I have standing at the stove with Hennie, preparing dinners in her apartment in Den Haag.
Another great lady, who influenced me dearly, was my friend Filomena, an Italian woman, having her own business in Connecticut, sharp like a knife! I thought I was cooking Italian cuisine until I met her. The way I used to prepare the sauce for the spaghetti, I couldn’t even tell her. She would had me killed for the insult to the Italian cuisine! Let’s just say that I used a lot of ketchup those days. But I didn’t know the difference. Aside some pizza and pasta in cheap restaurant, up to that point I wasn’t exposed to true Italian cuisine. Again, I learned so much from her, and it inspired me to go on and create my own recipes based on the techniques she showed me.
Going back in the memory lane, all the way to my childhood, I definitely wouldn’t envision myself running a successful restaurant or preparing prestigious catering events then. And starting my own business as a personal chef! Imagine that back in my stressful times in the kitchen, with my mom. Oh, how I wanted to be a fireman then, just like my dad! 🙂
Yet more great and strong women crossed my life path since- and every one of them touched me with something unique. There isn’t enough space in this blog to name them all. But I eventually will. I owe it to them, they deserve it!
So, what’s your own story cooking story? Did you learn to cook at home, or on your own? Who was your mentor? Or did you never quite grasped it?
Sometimes even good recipe isn’t detailed enough for inexperienced cooks. People constantly ask me for recipes and I like to share. But sometimes the dishes don’t come out the way it was intended to. Just like reading the instructions doesn’t teach you how to ski, it takes someone to show you the “trick” to finally get the hold of it. The same way, reading the recipe doesn’t always show you how to cook. No matter how detailed it might be.
With that in mind, I developed my One on One cooking classes with chef. And because I was always a solo player, and preferred to work or learn alone, so I can ask specific questions that are important to me, these are not group lessons. My dream is that anyone, who really wants to start cooking for their family, can do so with a pleasure and without the stress. I wish I had someone like that when I wanted to learn, who would patiently show me the way, step by step and all the secrets of great dishes.
The classes are not held in some commercial kitchen, where everything works different than in your home. I come to work with you in your own home, your kitchen, on your schedule, with your own tools, pots and pans. I will show you how to elevate the ordinary dish into extraordinary, how to get kids eat their vegetables, how to prepare your favorite restaurant dish, or how to do good planning so you don’t spend hours in the kitchen. How to master that family recipe, you couldn’t get quite right. Anything that you wish to learn or improve is covered in these private lessons. And no yelling is allowed! (In case you wondered, luckily my mother doesn’t speak English).
Have a Happy Holidays – with delicious meals, wine and great time with the family around the dining table. And I wish you wholeheartedly a stress-free kitchen!
Kudos to all cooks out there for their hard work!