The first time I attempted to cook was a disaster. I was 7 years old and living in France. My dad had a shelf full of cookbooks and I spent that Saturday afternoon browsing through them. I remember being so fascinated with the photos. The food was beautifully plated and looked so delicious that I set my eyes on trying out at least one of the recipes. That recipe was a Cold Rice Salad mixed with ham and vegetables. Why that one? It looked easy to make and I had the ingredients on hand (my Filipino mother always insisted in having kilos of rice at home all the time!). But I mustn’t have paid much attention to the recipe because, well, my Cold Rice Salad looked nothing like or even tasted like I imagined it would. The rice was undercooked. The dressing was interesting and not in a good way. I knew it was bad but it was quite fun watching my parents force themselves to finish the dish as to not disappoint me. hahaha.
I don’t know if it was because of that incident, but I don’t recall cooking much again. My mother was always busy in the kitchen and I preferred sitting in one of our kitchen stools watching her and taste-testing her finished products. She would always make delicious lumpia and pancit canton for our French neighbors and friends. They were a sure hit! My father, in his free time, also liked to cook. He was more into traditional French cuisine. Nothing adventurous, which I think has influenced me a lot. I liked helping my dad in the kitchen. But unfortunately, I was always given the job of peeling the vegetables and fruits. I longed for the day I could boil the pasta, saute the potatoes, or fry the pork cutlets. And every time I would complain he would tell me, « Wait till you’re older and you can have any job in the kitchen that you want. » It’s kinda funny thinking about it because now I make all of our meals from scratch and sometimes wished for his help!
We moved to the Philippines when I was 8 years old. Because there were more ingredients available, my mom made more Filipino dishes for me and we now had the constant presence of white rice at every meal (except breakfast, that remained strictly continental). We also had house help unlike in France, but my mom insisted that only she did our cooking. And even when she got sick, she still enjoyed cooking for my dad and I. My mother was an awesome cook and my favorite dishes were chicken liver adobo, inun-unan, utan Bisaya, and the best of the best, Pochero. I’ve never had Pochero the way my mother used to make since then. As I was growing into a teen, I don’t recall cooking in the kitchen. Maybe I was just too busy going to school, making friends, and falling in love with boys to preoccupy myself otherwise.
But I did go back. Just about the time my mother passed away. I’m not sure how it happened exactly. I started with small things, here and there. Pasta, egg, soup.Food that my dad and I could enjoy. He started to cook less. We started going out more. But I guess my instincts kind of kicked in. And of course, there were those unforgettable midnight pasta cravings my then-boyfriend (who I later married) and I had. But I learned cooking the hard way. I cried buckets from peeling onions, I cut my fingers while learning how to fast-dice vegetables, I lost my patience while attempting to peel garlic (until I learned the easy way of simply crushing the garlic first), I burned my hands with the oven, got attacked by hot oil, and gave up with my hands in the air when things didn’t go right.
Thankfully, cooking has gotten naturally easy these days.