Kitchen reflections



We all have to eat at some point. 

It's the way in which we chose to fuel our bodies that can make a difference.  

In some circles - like some of the construction crews I work with who will frequently default to take out or pre-packaged "microwave and serve" lunchtime meals - that is often not thought about.

A healthy diet, health authorities tell us, is especially important during these pandemic times. Poor nutrition can lead to a litany of problems that can add up in a body and make it more susceptible to attacks from the exterior environment.

"A healthy diet is important to keep your immune system working at its best," Alberta Health Services said in an early-in-the-pandemic COVID release. 

Of course, there is no single nutrient - no vitamins, minerals or natural health products that target and fight COVID-19 - healthy eating and staying hydrated is important to protect against illness at any age.

But still, all to regularly there are many among us who are either too busy or to lazy to prepare food for the work week.

Sure, it's a fact that ordering from restaurants or bopping through the drive thru is easier than making a list (checking it twice) and spending time in the grocery store deciding which avocado is naughty and which tomato is nice.

It doesn't help that there's just so many ways to avoid the kitchen and deep fry or cold cut your cold hard cash, throwing it into that easy to fall into cash-hole of satisfaction that comes from knowing that you don't have to cook for that night. Better yet, no dishes.

Some will argue that you are spending the extra money for the sake of convenience. But the smart ones among us know that what you pay for that convenience adds up real quick, and the bad habits that form as a result can lead to a treadmill effect of eating out more than you use your own kitchen.

Yet, it's not as though eating out is a bad thing, necessarily. 

It's only when that undemanding default defeats the alternative of spending some time in your kitchen, that you might have a real problem on your hands.

If that's you, don't fret. You're not abnormal.

Joe's Diner in Fredericton, New Brunswick. A popular spot to eat a hangover meal. Just like I was doing when I took this picture.


According to a 2017 article for the Harvard Business Review by Eddie Yoon, an increasing number of people just don't like to cook.

Although his work is a couple years old now and the picture in 2020 is drastically different given that a global pandemic has caused a spike in new homegrown chefs, Yoon provides insight into the way the use of our kitchens was trending downward in the "before times" - a slope we could return to, after the COVID era has ended.

Yoon spent two decades consulting for consumer packaged goods companies. His research over that span suggests that grocery shopping and cooking in America was on a long-term decline up to 2017, shifting from a large category of people doing these activities daily, to what he describes as a "niche activity that a few people do only some of the time."

Puzzlingly during this time and up until today, our appetite for cooking shows and baking competitions has proven insatiable, as ratings for the major TV networks that carry these programs will show you.

According to a report in Forbes last year,Cookbook sales were even going up. "Readers, it seems, want physical cookbooks. If they don't actually use them in their kitchens, they use them as reference tools and simply for reading enjoyment," the report said.

We're more interested now - than possibly ever - in watching people prepare meals for enjoyment, education or competition. We stare at pictures of beautifully crisped, clean-cut racks of lamb and other dishes, but for most of us, that's just not enough to get us cracking out the pots and pans.

And then all thing changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

First time cooks were popping up all over the country.

And now they're finding out that the fact is this: cooking is like anything else you're interested in but haven't had the guts to do: the more you give it a go, the easier it becomes. People are developing their own skills in the kitchen simply by using it more often, saving stacks of cash for their bank accounts and maybe even having a little fun while doing it.

Chop chop. Here is a random shot of our kitchen, using up the tomatoes we grew this summer.


So what's the bottom line here? Those who cook regularly, know that heating it up in the kitchen keeps the fire out of your wallet.

I'd like to encourage anyone currently reading this to share with me your cooking experiences. In exchange, I'll give you this: Edmonton Executive Chef Jiju Paul's reflections on how cooking has impacted and ultimately guided his life.

Perhaps you're one of those new COVID chef's who was a neophyte back in March. Or maybe you've always enjoyed cooking and look to the internet and other places for inspiration. Either way, like you, Chef Paul has made some memories in the kitchen that accompany his years of experience cooking in five-star restaurants.

A former Executive Sous Chef at the Edmonton Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, Paul climbed his way through the ranks to Executive Chef and took his talents abroad to cook in five-star restaurants in India and the United Arab Emirates.

While at the Hotel MacDonald, Paul led their Urban Beekeeping program and since then, he has shown a commitment to sharing food smarts within the community, appearing at many local High Schools in an attempt to develop the next generation of Chefs. 

Paul has also worked to develop a farm-to-table concept within the city in conjunction with local growers and has promoted culinary culture with the Canadian Culinary Federation Edmonton Chapter and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), where he has served as an examiner and judge for the school's Certified Chef de Cuisine program.

He says the top benefits to cooking at home, in no particular order, are: using fresh (no preservatives added) ingredients, saving money and last but not least: being as creative as you would like with your masterpieces.

On that first point, he says: "I like going to farmer's markets to get fresh products," Chef Paul says. He uses these trips to the store as a family outing. 

"When I go shopping, I take my daughters with me as I want them to have the experience of looking and choosing ingredients that would be good to prepare at home. I also involve them in cooking. It is always fun to have my kids in the kitchen."

Edmonton Expo Centre Executive Chef Jiju Paul stresses that using your own kitchen can save you a ton of money


Having his children at his side not only provides a set of extra hands to help where they can, but including them in the food making journey has shown them the stark difference between "fresh homemade" and "store bought" - and how achieving that better tasting food is cheaper and more fun.

It's a full circle experience for a guy like Paul who as a child, spent time at his parent's heels as they scurried around the kitchen making wonderful creations with the harvests they would get from their family farm.

"Growing up as a kid I always spent time with my parents in the kitchen and I loved the smell of fresh vegetables and freshly ground spices," he said. "In those days, if you needed milk, you had to get the milk from the cows. Often, I would help my father in the farm. I enjoyed cultivating and harvesting. It brought great satisfaction to eat the food that came from our land."

It's a feeling thats hard to replicate, he admits because, "even today, nothing beats freshly made home food."

"My father is a farmer and I've grown up loving the smell and feel of fresh ingredients and spices. Growing up, every gathering in my family or among friends involved many varieties of food and people enjoyed eating as well as talking about it. My father would bring in fresh produce from the land and my Mum would make the most delicious food from it.

"I developed a passion for cooking very young as I would experiment with the different spices and food available and my family would always encourage me. I realized I was good at it and decided to pursue it as a career."

My girlfriend, Wren, loves to use our kitchen. Making food brings her so much joy.


First time?

If you're looking on how to get it started in the kitchen, find a recipe that you actually want to cook and get excited about cooking it.

If you cook regularly, you can pretty much stop reading now. 

A good way to think about making the effort you put into the meal worth it, is to cook something that you can eat more than once.

If it's a big roast, think about how you can use the leftovers in other recipes that week. If it's a stir-fry, consider doubling the recipe and using the leftovers as lunches and other meals for as long as you can make it stretch.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? It's not. In fact, the more you cook, the easier it will become to get into the habit of making the majority of your food in your own restaurant. You'll save money. Just trust in the process.

Spending $100 on groceries for a single person seems scary, but that $100 will go way farther in your kitchen than if you were to spend it eating out.

So once, you've found a recipe you like, it's time to make your grocery list.

Let's all go to the Loblaws

Check that recipe twice to make sure your grocery list has all the ingredients on it. I've been on the other end of this where I get home from the store ready to start cooking, only to find I've forgotten one of the items I needed. It sucks, trust me. And it happens to me often because my memory sucks.

When it comes to making food you and others want to eat and enjoy, you can't cheap out on the ingredients. By this, I mean don't only buy what you need because having extra ingredients in the house is not a bad thing and it might even encourage you to cook again and use those groceries up before they go bad.

You don't have to buy the most expensive groceries, in fact, you can find fresh options available often for cheap, but really think about what you are putting into your stomach.

There's not much to it. Find out what you need and buy it and don't be afraid to spend money in the grocery store. As long as it doesn't go to waste, it's an investment in health and wellness both for you and your bank account.

Let's get cracking

It's time to start making the magic happen in the kitchen. This is where you'll need to make sure you have the right equipment to make a crowd pleasing meal with ease and in as little time as possible.

In about as much time as it takes to decide what you're going to order on UberEats and wait for it to be delivered, you can create a wonderful healthy meal if you've set yourself up right.

The first step is reading the recipe from beginning to end. This will allow you to go through the steps in your head and prepare yourself for what you need to do to make them happen. It will also give you the leg up of knowing what the next step is so you can have that in mind. While you complete one task, you're mentally ready for the next one and aren't surprised that you suddenly need to find ginger or cocoa in the pantry.

Knowing what you need to do next can save you from dashing around the kitchen trying to keep up to the recipe as pots begin to boil over and oven timers go off. 

It can all have a bit of a head-spinning effect and can make the experience unpleasant. Things can go bad real fast, so be smarter than the meal and be in control. Don't let things get out of hand and become a pain. Enjoy the process.

See what kind of equipment your recipe requires and bring it all out. Arrange it nicely on the stove and counter top. Next, prepare the ingredients. If you need to chop 1/4 cup of green onions, do it before you begin following the instructions and have it waiting in the measuring cup, ready to be added to your dish. Once everything is prepped and measured, begin following the instructions.

Conversions may be necessary. For example, depending on where you live and where the recipe comes from, measurements might be in grams or ounces, but the package you bought your grocery in will be weighed out in kilograms. A kitchen scale is handy here.

Take your time, follow the instructions carefully and taste as you go.

Overtime, you'll notice that cooking methods are shared between recipes. You'll begin to recognize ways to cook spaghetti sauces, curries and other dishes can be similar. You'll begin to put your own twist on things to once you know how different ingredients play off each other and how different methods can produce rich flavour.

So give it a shot. Don't be afraid to fail. A mistake is only a mistake if you don't learn from it. Trust the process. Cook often and watch your bank balance increase. Then do some good with that new found cash.

Eating out is convenient and sometimes the best way to go, but nothing tops becoming a master of your own kitchen. Those expensive appliances in your kitchen were made to be used.

Mike Carter reporting for yeg city.
Write Mike at mikecarterwrites@gmail.com


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