There comes a time in every parent’s life when they must sit at a table and eat a meal prepared by their child.
This is not always a moment to be approached with unfettered hopefulness. At an early age, after all, your offspring might offer up what they believe is an inspired mix of uncooked pasta, chocolate and Playdough. Talk your way out of that one.
On Sunday evening, the family dinner was cooked for the first time by our 22-year-old daughter. It was a recipe experimented with and, she assured us, perfected during her time at university. Given she had previously shown no interest whatsoever in the culinary arts, and to my sure knowledge had spent most of her four years in higher education eating out at restaurants that neither she nor, frankly, I could afford, it was hard to know what to expect.
There was further cause for concern, namely genetic. I remember vividly how I laughed when my first flatmate placed some peeled potatoes into a pot of water. “What’s that supposed to do?” I giggled. “Um, that’s how you boil potatoes,” he responded. I looked at him as if he was mad. “Don’t be ridiculous, that’s not… Wait, is it? You just heat them up in water? That’s incredible.”
In my early 20s, I knew nothing about food, other than it had to be eaten, and cared less. It was a thing to be squeezed in between bouts of drinking. My own very occasional attempts at pushing the boat out lacked a certain finesse.
Having invited a new girlfriend to dinner at my flat for the first time, promising to make her my specialty, I served what I had accurately described as a plate of pasta, meat and sauce. I set the table (napkins included), successfully boiled the pasta, heated up a jar of Dolmio in the microwave, and then painstakingly layered a few slices of Tesco’s finest corned beef on top. Somehow, that girlfriend is now my wife – partly, I think, so she can continue to remind me of that sorry event.
Passing on kitchen-based ‘talents’ to the next generation
I’ve moved on a bit, but am largely known for meat that comes out too raw or that might have burned through the atmosphere from outer space. Where possible, I will always involve something pre-prepared and wrapped in plastic in whatever I’m making. Ready meals – why try to better the experts? That’s my argument. I’m not asked to cook too often, for whatever reason.
My wife is a fine hand. However, the Deerin genes are proving powerful indeed. Some children inherit their parents’ intellect, others their sporting prowess, others their big ears. Ours have been granted my kitchen-based “talents”.
Youngest daughter has recently started returning from home economics (now called “hospitality”, I’m informed – is nothing sacred?) beaming proudly, carrying something suspiciously lumpen in a paper bag. Last week, she brought back a Swiss roll and, as we gamely chewed through it, informed us that, actually, she had dropped the cake mix on the floor and stepped in it, but had scooped it up and cracked on without the teacher noticing.
Her scones were a challenge to ageing molars. Her cupcakes lacked the arguably essential ingredient of sugar. And, yes, I have noticed that hospitality seems largely to consist of making cakes. This is Scotland, after all.
Middle daughter has just begun university. She is a more frugal sort than her big sister and prefers to eat in. From the photos being sent home, she has very much adopted her father’s template – microwaved ready meals a-go-go. I’m quite proud of this, though my wife has begun dispatching parcels of unnecessary items such as fruit and vegetables. So far, no photos of crisply cooked broccoli or ripe tomatoes have arrived.
A new star chef in the family
And, so, to Sunday night. As I passed by the kitchen door, I noted with curiosity that eldest daughter was wearing the kind of hat favoured by the hurdy-gurdying Swedish Chef from The Muppets. I don’t even know where you’d buy something like that, but she was wearing it. She was also red-faced and surrounded by steam. There were fairly regular yelps and the odd bit of swearing. When I offered to help (ha) I was told to GET OUT.
Eventually summoned to the dining table, we approached with a spirit of optimism that was not untempered by existential dread. I had the takeaway menu for the local Chinese ready on my phone, just in case.
“This,” we were told with a flourish of the hand and a lifted chin, “is my Cajun pasta. Peppers, mushrooms, garlic, Cajun spice – obviously – and a little cream. You will enjoy it.”
My wife is thrilled at the prospect of future meals that don’t require her to be anywhere near the cooker
Reader, we did. If I can come over all Gregg Wallace for a moment, the peppers and mushrooms were cooked to perfection, the garlic rich and deep, the Cajun spice adding just the right amount of heat without overdoing things. The cream elevated the whole dish into something luxuriant and tender.
I’m still slightly dazed by the experience. My wife is thrilled at the prospect of future meals that don’t require her to be anywhere near the cooker, and, as I write, is in town buying the present of a recipe book. Our poor daughter is about to discover the hard truth that, sometimes, if you dare go beyond pasta, meat and sauce, you can be the victim of your own success.
Chris Deerin is a leading journalist and commentator who heads independent, non-party think tank, Reform Scotland