A Generation of Innovative Cooks


Hi Everyone,  Are we in the last age of a particular generation of grandmothers’ cooking? I’m referring to the grandmothers that had few resources but created meals out of simple fare to feed their families, grandmothers that cooked from instinct rather than a written recipe. The grandmothers to whom well-established chefs (never having seen the doorway of a culinary school) boast of learning from and perfecting their trade.

When a chef or cook says they learnt to cook from their grandmother, there is a certain degree of added respect. There’s a swagger in their step… A note of authenticity seems to be naturally ingrained in the food they make; food that feeds the soul and not just the taste buds.

A grandmother’s teaching about food and cooking is not about a list of ingredients, rather it is about an understanding of what is being created, 20140607cynthia nelsonand the whys of what you are doing. A grandmother’s teaching is beyond a recipe. Having grown up in an era where things were done the long way (and mostlyby hand), there is a connection and inbuilt knowledge of ingredients and food that cannot necessarily be learnt in a structured classroom. Learning in a grandmother’s kitchen is about history and food culture.

These days it is easy to forget that what we are doing now is not new. Grandmothers of my mother and mother’s generation have been buying and eating local long before it became fashionable and hip to do so. Consuming only organic produce, meat and poultry was a way of life, not an option. With the wealth of information they know with every fiber of their being, coupled with what has been handed down to them by our fore parents, Grandmothers are the vanguard of heritage food. It is no wonder then that cooks that learnt to cook from their grandmothers have a certain cache of expertise.

Both of my grandmothers passed away when I was a wee little one, however, I was fortunate to be surround by women who learnt well from their own mothers. Bereft of electrical blenders, grinders and other type of kitchen tools and equipment that makes cooking easy for today’s cook, slow food was the only food back then. Today, slow food is a movement!

Slow food -Cornmeal Cou-cou Photo by Cynthia Nelson
Slow food -Cornmeal Cou-cou Photo by Cynthia Nelson

So many things have shifted and changed when it comes to shopping for food, cooking and eating. A baby boomer grandmother can now teach us how to make things with modern appliances. Shopping can be split between a market, supermarket or mega market. Food (produce and meat) comes packaged and in some cases pre-cut. We no longer have to guess the doneness of certain foods or learn to check it by the sense of touch, thermometers are there to probe and tell us when the food’s done. Some appliances even have coded cooking times whereby we just put in the food, press a button and voila, it’s done! With so much convenience and the ability to get things done quickly, some of that old fashioned grandmother’s cooking knowledge seems unnecessary. One can easily ask: why squeeze fresh coconut milk when I can buy it in a can? Why make pastry dough from scratch when I can buy a packet in the frozen section of my supermarket? Why cream butter and sugar to make a cake when I can buy a box of cake mix and just add oil and mix it together? Why learn to make roti when I can buy it at the corner shop? Why, why, why…

We are in the age of everything being fast, not just food (fast food here refers to food being bought easily and conveniently and being cooked quickly thanks to modern day tools and equipment). Given the way that things have changed, does the baby boomer grandmother’s teaching of food and cooking carry the same degree of authority and weight of history as the grandmothers’ of old?

I often get asked – with a heaping dose of skepticism – how I know to cook. The question resounds with distrust and yet, at the same time, it is partly a compliment. With words chosen carefully, it is never about how I learnt to cook, rather, how I know to cook. Here is the difference: if they asked how I learnt to cook, they perceive that I got my tutelage through books and television or perhaps some sort of formal cooking school. However, when they ask how I know to cook, there is already an acknowledgment that I have some skill, but more importantly some inbuilt knowledge that can only be had intuitively with skill that could only have been nurtured with a grandmother’s type of teaching. When my answer comes up grandmother-less, other questions ensue. Detailed, probing questions that seek to validate that I know anything at all about food or cooking.

So what do you think? Are we in the last age of a particular generation of grandmothers’ cooking? Does it matter?






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