Every time I watched Sanjeev Kapoor dishing out the delicacies in the age old Khana Khazana on ZEE TV with my mom, I remember one of my aunt’s commenting, “He has made cooking a fashionable profession”. Well, though I frowned at the comment and considered it my moral responsibility to defend my Master Chef who taught me how to make pasta from the scratch and introduced me to Rajasthani food I could not believe how could my aunt did not appreciate cooking as a profession. What is it about “cooking” that divides the public and the private? What it is about “cooking” that makes it an optional choice and not a natural choice of profession to be taken up even after the seven fantastic schools and a centralised exam by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. With the mushrooming of hotel management institutes across the country with a boom in tourism we need trained professionals for service and cooking. The entire discipline of hospitality management among in middle class households of mine remains a second option and not a first option. Why do we always want our kids to be engineers, doctors and teachers?
The social norms of inclusion and exclusion in professional sector are premised on a gendered notion of “masculine” and “feminine” attributes. Though we have a number of successful female engineers it remains a distant dream or far- fetched to see a group of women working in technology factories. While on one hand the social rules of exclusion of women is based on jobs that are feminine, basically jobs that do not require you to flex your muscles. Similarly for men the social pressure is to join profession that requires flexing of muscles and most importantly professions that embodies “masculine” performances. Hence the photos of industrialisation always show mining engineers with the caps standing in a row. The gendered socialisation and preference for men to take on “public” responsibilities have left them spoilt for choices to do public service so men who can cook, wash and clean are an exception to that said norm. So we constantly come up with appreciative gestures for men who can cook “Gosh… he knows how to cook”, “How sweet of him to cook for you”, “He actually knows to cook biryani”.
Born and brought up in a family where my father made the morning tea I did not realise the gendered socialisation till I encountered men who would eat out rather than make arrangements for cooking in home. While men have occupied public spaces in cooking it still remains a far fetched dream and aspiration for many working women to see their husbands come back and join them shoulder to shoulder in chopping vegetables, cooking them and even sharing the washing. Some of course are rare exceptions like my father who never expected that his wife should be at the beck and call whenever he was hungry. He dished out some of the amazing chicken and spicy ladies finger. He cribbed about the fact in public that he could not make Roti/Chapatti. On a similar note when I see one of my brothers in law helping out my cousin in cooking responsibilities I wonder with pride that these men know to respect the space of “kitchen”. They have no frills of making that afternoon tea to wake you up or washing the bowl of the dirty mixer. Even after being socialised to think that they will have food on their table cooked by women they have learned to cook for themselves and their family. My father taught me to appreciate food to satiate my appetite. He told me it is a sin to go hungry because you cant cook and cooking will not make you less of a man and woman. It is a creative art. It can be taken up as a hobby, passion.
Strangely, my father taught me to cook for myself a lovely chicken recipe and a mix veg omelette in my first cooking lesson which I have recreated over the years and now have my own version. Here it goes.
S.D’s special chicken
You can take 500 gms of chicken pieces and marinate them in 150 gms of curd, a pinch of salt, half a spoon of pepper powder, 1 table spoon of ginger garlic paste and some freshly grounded roasted cardamom for thirty minutes. After that slice onions (say of 200 gms ) finely and fry them in a wok with a generous amount of mustard oil with some roasted and crushed cinnamon till the onions turn golden but not crisp. Spread out the onions to a plate and let it cool for 5 min and add the onions to the marinated chicken and keep in for another ten minutes. After allowing it to marinate for ten minutes add the entire marinated chicken to the oil after tempering it with whole garam masala ( if possible avoid cloves). Stir it gently till the oil separates and the chicken become tender. If you want the chicken dish to have a red colour add a pinch of sugar and let it caramelise to which you can add kashmiri mirch powder for the fiery colour. When the oil separates you can add poppy seed paste (always ground poppy seeds by adding green chillies and pinch of salt) to the dish and boil for five minutes. Empty it to a bowl and finish off with freshly chopped coriander leaves and slices if ginger.
Omlette for Sunday Brunch
Take two eggs. Chop one medium sized tomato, half of a medium sized onion, green chillies, one capsicum. Whisk the eggs with a half a spoon of milk, salt and pepper. Add one table spoon of oil to the frying pan and spread out half of the egg spread and when it is half cooked add the veggies . To this you can add cheese( grated); this dish tastes best with bandel cheese( a locally produced cheese available in new market, Kolkata. Please remember to add pinch of salt as the cheese has salty taste. Add the remaining egg spread and cook it for 1 min. Slice the omlette and you will have a gooey mix of veggies and cheese egg omelette, a perfect way to enjoy a late Sunday breakfast with your Sunday news paper. Do not forget to have the omlette with your freshly brewed coffee/ tea.