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May 11, 2016
From Zero To Hero: The Travails Of Teaching Yourself To Cook At University
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My mum was pretty worried about me heading off to university, and rightly so. Not only was there a cocktail of drink and drugs on offer for the avid partygoer, but I couldn’t cook to save my life. When I say this, I’m not exaggerating at all. My culinary repertoire simply consisted of bowls of cereal and anything frozen – Heston Blumenthal I was not.
So concerned was my mother for my health that she lovingly prepared me a folder of recipes with step-by-step instructions of how to cook my favourite dinners. Yes, she could have bought me a cookbook, but that’s too simple for my mum.
Armed with my trusty folder and cupboards full of food, I started on my long and arduous road to becoming a competent cook.
A stark warning to anyone learning to cook at university, the process is akin to being a Disney princess – you will kiss a lot of frogs before you meet Prince Charming. In short, you will put a lot of inedible garbage in your mouth before you reach your end goal (mine was cooking a meal for a smoking hot girl on my course).
To give you an idea of just how bad I was, here are two meals that still haunt me till this day. Remember not to judge me too harshly, I was young and inept in the kitchen. Chapter One: Chicken Korma Cheese-On-Toast
This was the lowest I ever got during my culinary journey, and believe me when I say I nearly wept while I ate this meal (I use the word “meal” very loosely). The curry came from a cheap tin, so the quality was amazingly poor. To try and disguise the taste I threw all the cheddar cheese I had left on top. While fusion food is all the rage right now, what I was left with was a foodie abomination of epic proportions. The combination of flavours was truly awful and I only succeeded in stomaching a few bites before I lost the plot. Chapter Two: Ravioli, Rice and Lemon Juice
Another one of my foodie nightmares to stem from a tin, this was another meal that ended up in the bin. Rifling through my empty cupboards I found an old tin of ravioli which I decided to combine with the only other carb in the house – basmati rice. With nothing to flavour my depressing looking dinner, I searched high and low, eventually stumbling across the lemon juice my housemate had bought for pancake day. Smothered in bitter lemon juice, somehow the food was even more disgusting than before.
This article came into being not just because of my memories of being a terrible cook, but also because of a video I’d seen on YouTube. The video shows some of the awful meals that university – and a lack of skill -thrust upon people. Really it’s like watching Epic Meal Time but with a bout of depression.
Tell me that this doesn’t make you feel sad…
Thankfully, now I’m a semi-decent cook and I can knock up a variety of tasty dishes, but I often recall my dark days when even boiling pasta was a struggle. Another thing that inspired me to pen my student cooking fiascos is the fact that my younger sister is currently a university student. While I was hopeless in the kitchen, my sister is a really good cook – so much so that her Instagram account is always showcasing her latest home-cooked meal.
This got me thinking though… do students still make terrible food, or has the youth of today evolved from the Neanderthal cooking style I used to inflict on my poor student kitchen? I took to Twitter and searched the hashtag #studentmeals in order to get some idea what the kids are cooking these days.
It’s safe to say the results made me feel a little better about my own failings. This is not a meal An old staple, the kids are still tucking into cereal for dinner If in doubt, just eat Alphabetti… Haribo does not constitute a food group Now this is rivalling some of my own sad creations What is this monstrosity? Burning things was one of my party tricks back in the day Chucking things in a wrap is the last resort of the helpless chef I genuinely feel bad for Ryan having to eat this Questionable to say the least
After discovering that the kids of today still can’t cook, I immediately felt better about my own misadventures in the kitchen. This brief feeling of euphoria brought my mind back to one of my triumphs at university – cooking a pretty tasty curry for the hot girl on my course. I’m not ashamed to admit that at the time I was pretty smitten, so this was a massive deal for me. I’d spent months mastering the timing and preparation that cooking demands, and now I was ready to try and impress. The Final Chapter: Thai Green Curry for the hot girl on my course
It’s worth starting this final chapter by mentioning that the girl in question was also a terrible cook (she once put oil in a pan and tried to fry dry spaghetti), so her university food standards were not particularly high. Regardless of that though, my Thai Green Curry was a roaring success. After months of slowly honing my skills I managed to cook a meal that not only tasted good, but got me a little action to boot.
So for all you hapless cooks who are wondering if they’ll ever dominate the kitchen like a pro, there is light at the end of the tunnel. My advice; start with basic meals like spaghetti bolognese and perfect them before you move onto more adventurous projects – veal and dauphinois potatoes is a little ambitious for a beginner.
Once you’ve cracked the timing and flavour elements of cooking though, you’ll be steaming fish in banana leaves quicker than Usain Bolt runs to the supermarket.
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