The layers of soft dough rested for two hours. I gently picked it up and placed it on the worktop that was covered with clean cloth. The dough was very soft and I was sure that, once I cook it later, it would be crispy. I grabbed the long rolling pin and started to roll it on the dough to stretch them into one large piece of pastry.
Once it was done, I put down the rolling pin as I looked at my perfect, paper-thin filo pastry. There were many ideas in my head about where I should go with this pastry. Maybe I could make lamb rolls or meat cigars, but shrimp and leek tarts sounded nice too. I chose to decide it later.
While I was still toying with the ideas for the filo, I cut it into a smaller size and square shaped. That was when my mother walked in. She took a glance at my fine work and shook her head.
“Did you really have to spend hours, making this filo pastry? You could have just got a ready-made one from the store.”
I didn’t say anything but continued cutting the filo. That was just another typical comment from my mother. But she wasn’t the only one to criticize me for spending ages in the kitchen, making ingredients that most people could get in grocery stores nowadays.
My aunts questioned me before for making egg noodles because there were packaged, pre-made noodles everywhere. So did my friends when I made my own homemade white bread instead of buying one from the bakery. Most people still can’t understand the reason as to why I prefer cooking from scratch rather than using shortcuts. I make my own sauce, rather than ketchup from the bottle. I even make my own breadcrumbs. But to everyone, I’m putting an unnecessary burden on myself by making everything from the basic ingredients.
Well, not everyone. At least not my niece, nephew and my little cousins. To them, watching me working in the kitchen is equivalent to watching a cooking show. And they enjoy it very much.
I know they’re only children and still too young differentiate between amateur and professional. But still, I can’t help but feel proud every time they called me “chef.”
We are living in a plastic-wrapped world where everything is convenient. There are tons of pre-made and ready-made stuff in grocery stores – curry paste and pasta sauce in jars, packaged filo and puff pastries, and chicken and beef stocks in cartons. There’s at least one dish that comes from the box in our daily life, take cereal for example. It is so easy to find all ingredients since they’re everywhere, all we have to do it pick anything and toss it into the cart. It is even easier to cook since it’s less arduous.
Cooking from scratch is time-consuming and requires effort. Perhaps that’s the reason everyone questions my decision to make everything from the basics. Our lives have vastly improved now – we can just get a bag of bread instead of spending hours kneading doughs and making homemade bread. After all, the purpose of cooking is mostly to fill our stomachs.
But not for me. That’s not my purpose for cooking.
Cooking to me is more than just making food. I’m creating a masterpiece to be served on a plate. There’s a fine art in extracting the flavors and mixing all the ingredients together, turning them into one extraordinary dish. I love playing and experimenting with the spices, adding different textures to a new dish and so on. But it’s not enough using pre-made ingredients. I knew my abilities would be more precise once I mastered the skills of making everything from scratch.
It’s a job done when I serve dishes cooked from convenient ingredients. But serving the dishes that are cooked from scratch, that’s more than a finished task. It’s an accomplishment.
I am very passionate when it comes to cooking. But I’m not a great cook. I make a few good meals but there’s always the occasional disaster. My latest failure was when I attempted to make mille-feuille. The pastries were hard as rocks, and they weren’t puffed at all. The only success I had that day was the custard, but it was useless without the pastry.
A lot of people would probably think I’m struggling in the kitchen, working on something unnecessary and desperate to get it done. Far from that, I’m actually enjoying it. Spending hours in the kitchen is very relaxing and therapeutic for me. This is the place where I can relieve stress. It’s one spot in the house where I can find my joy while creating a flavorsome food for everyone.