My mom is a chef. She makes the best food in the world. When she decides to conquer a dish, she is so persistent and so creative we always say she should have been a scientist. For her, the kitchen is like the studio for a painter. She loves her kitchen, she loves her ingredients and she loves cooking. So much so that even in the last 15 years, when only Mom and Dad were at home, she still cooked for an army division. The refrigerator is full of food. It looks like the cupboards on airplanes, where things are stored in layers and you must take everything out in a certain order to finally get to the cucumbers. She has a big freezer, so full that when you open its door, frozen things fall out. She has such a big kitchen and so many things in it you would think 15 people lived and ate there all day long.
When I tell people my mom is a chef, they look at me in respect. It is natural. As a daughter to a chef, people think you have the advantage of knowing all the trade secrets. In the old days, knowledge went from parents to children and special knowledge in cooking was a woman’s way of finding a match. My mom always said to me that the way to a man’s heart was through his belly. This worked well for her, because my dad loves her cooking. I always thought that the way to a women’s heart is through her belly…
If your mom is a chef, you must know how to cook, right? It is like you should know how to fix things when your parent is a mechanic or get the hang of science when your parent is a scientist. Well, not quite.
I thought I could follow her recipes, learn from my mistakes over time and watch her closely, and then I would be all right. Here is what happened.
Step #1: get the ingredients right
One day, I came to my mom and asked her for a cake recipe. Determined to make my first cake, I wrote everything in a special notebook I opened and decorated. To my surprise, my cake came out tasty but flat (nothing like my mom’s cakes).
Step #2: learn from your mistakes
I went to my mom and asked her what had happened.
“Did you put eggs?” she asked. I had.
“Did you put baking powder?” she asked. I had.
“Did you put water?” she asked.
I looked at the recipe. Water was not written there. I looked at it again. Maybe I had not written it down. But I did not remember her saying anything about water. I could swear I had written word by word all the things she had told me.
“Mom, you didn’t say anything about water”, I gathered the courage to say and she snapped back, “Couldn’t you see something was missing?”
Step #3: one look is worth a thousand words
So I decided to watch her while she cooked and write down what she did. I asked her to be like the chefs on TV and tell me what she was doing.
“You add the water”, she said and poured a bit of water onto a pile of flour.
“How much water?” I asked her and she said, “About a cup”.
She mixed the water and flour with her hands and added some more water. “How much water are you using now?” I asked and she said, “A bit more than a cup”.
In my special cooking notebook, I wrote, “A cup of water and a bit more”.
Suddenly, my mom added more flour without saying anything. “How much more flour are you adding?” I ask in a little bit of a panic.
“Until it feels right”, she said and I looked puzzled at the mix. How on Earth would I know what feels right? My mom did not cook with utensils, with measuring cups or with measuring spoons. She weighed things on the palm of her hand and assessed them by a feeling that she could not express.
“Mom”, I asked her, “How do you know how much is a cup when you never use a cup?”
“You can’t use cups to cook. You need to feel it,” she said to me and weighed some more flour in her hand.
After half an hour, my recipe looked like this:
- 3 cups of flour + a bit more + little bit more (use your hands as scales)
- A bit more than a cup of water (estimate!)
- 2 eggs
- Half cup of oil + more oil
- A pinch of salt + one more pinch of salt
- Mix until it feels right
You can imagine what kind of a cake came out…
It did not take long for us all to stay away from the kitchen. Every dish came out like heaven when my mom made it and a complete disaster when anyone else tried it. It is funny but all that I know how to cook today, I had to learn myself from Gal (lucky me, he loves cooking), from books, from friends and by lots of trial and error.
It has been 25 years since I left home and moved in with Gal and my mom still thinks I can barely make an omelet.
She did manage to pass on to me her love of feeding others…