I thought this was only a problem with men of my generation and older, but (surprisingly) I’ve heard complaints from enough young folks that I’m now convinced a fair fraction of hipster males also exhibit this…deficit.
Gentlemen, you MUST learn how to cook.
Why? Consider the following.
My father pretty much raised himself, spending his youth either being passed between a cold mother and a distant father, or in a state of complete self-reliance. He worked hard from an early age, supporting first himself, then his young family. His job as a lithographer demanded long hours and a lot of mental energy, and with his commute we kids often didn’t see him until the evening meal. My mother was a stay-at-home parent, so the domestic duties, including all the cooking, fell to her.
As a cook, Dad’s skills were rudimentary. For a long time he knew of only two cooking temperatures: Warm and Volcanic. Eventually, he learned that some foods were more palatable when cooked over heat a tad cooler than molten lava, but he never became truly proficient at the craft. Still, he regularly took time to cook for his family.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of Sunday breakfasts. While schoolday mornings were a cacophony of alarm clocks and adolescent whining, and where Saturdays dawned in a tsunami of cartoon-amped noise, our Sundays began on a distinctly quieter note.
Rising up out of a deep, youthful slumber, I would hear the kitchen radio (set to KSFO) playing the soft, relaxed music of Tony Bennett or Mel Tormé. My father, singing baritone backup, prepared for the morning meal, heating up griddles, setting out plates. Aromas drew us upstairs and, tousled and sleepy-eyed, we would sit down at the table just as batter hit the hot-plate. Within minutes, we were surrounded by sounds and smells of home cooking. Warm maple syrup sitting center-stage, the sweet perfume rising from its ceramic pitcher. Steaming stacks of pancakes, waffles, or fritters landing on the platter with a moist thump. The hiss and pop of cured meats hot from the stove. The crisp scraping of butter on toasted sourdough. Coffee percolating with a bubble and whoosh. Clear glasses singing their cool, rising notes as they were filled with juice or milk. And behind it all, melodies of a dying age played on horns and saxes, my father and the crooners weaving a velvety backdrop.
But there was one thing missing from these Sunday tableaux: Mom.
You see, Sunday breakfast was more than a mere meal. It was a gift, not only from Dad to us kids, as he prepared our made-to-order choices, but also to Mom, for whom it was an opportunity to sleep in (if she was lucky) or just loll in bed for a while, reveling in having nothing to do for an hour or so.
When I hear of men who just don’t cook and depend on—nay, expect—their partner to shoulder all the culinary chores, I just want to slap their baby-faces and tell them to grow the hell up.
There will come a time when your chosen one cannot cook for you, and you will not be able to survive too long on Top Ramen, take-out, and Lean Cuisine. At some point in your relationship, your mate will become ill—a bad cold or something more serious—and you will have to pick up more than just the cooking. You’ll have to do the laundry, clean the toilets, pay the bills. You’ll have to run all the errands, schlep the kids, walk the dogs, as well as continue to go to work to keep the household running.
But the imperative to learn how to cook is more than just a matter of self-sufficiency; it’s a matter of being an adult, and being a good and caring partner. It’s the ability to bring your mate breakfast in bed, to surprise him/her with a hot meal at the end of a bad day, or just to give them a break for no other reason than out of appreciation and love.
You can do this; it’s not rocket science. Start by learning a few simple dishes. Learn how to scramble an egg or make spaghetti in tomato sauce. Then build on that knowledge: add some cheese to the eggs, some mushrooms to the sauce, or try a side salad of fresh greens. Try, practice, fail, and learn. The worst that will happen is you screw it up and have to order a pizza.
I’m not saying you have to be Bobby Flay or Martha Stewart—hell, you don’t even have to be all that good—because cooking is one of those skills that, even when poorly executed, provides so much more than the product it creates. It provides a connection, an emotional linkage.
Cooking is caring.
Cooking is love.