Men make better cooks
Men cook with their hearts; women do with their hands
"If you were not a writer, what would you become?" my daughter has posed this question to me countless times.
And every time, I've lied. "A doctor," I'd say, in the hopes of inspiring her to become a good physician.
"Why do you always cook up the same lie?" she would confront me with a stare.
Cooking dinner the other day for visiting novelist Sreelatha, Vava raised the issue again. Throwing a couple of curry leaves and slit green chillies into the shrimp roast I was cooking, she added a new flavour to the old question: "So, a doctor or a chef?"
"A chef." This time, I was upfront.
"I thought as much. But why?"
"I have tried my hands at myriad things - from photography and painting to music - but I found cooking to be the most versatile and original art form. Photography was a passion I chased in my early life but gave up after several awards and when technology stole the fun out of it. Learning oil under a British teacher, I realised I did not have much spare time to spend on a canvas, though I did an exhibition in Singapore. And I wasn't patient enough to be a devoted sitar student."
"Dad, don't you think you had your finger in too many pies?"
"A profession is to fill your stomach, but a passion fills your soul. You achieve contentment when you balance both."
"Can I add that chopped tomato now?"
"Yes, please. In fact, life is like a culinary affair. Like a philosophical journey. You experiment with different flavours until it becomes a perfect dish that engages all your senses."
"Time to add the shrimps?"
"No, not yet. There's a time for everything, baby. Obviously, you can't chase your passion when you are doing a professional course. So, you need to prioritise things. That doesn't mean you should give up your dreams forever. Look at the pan now. The onion is sautéed to golden brown, the curry leaves and chillis are still green, and the tomato is almost in puree form. Add a pinch of salt, turmeric and coriander powder and stir well."
"Dad, are you cooking or preaching?"
"Both, baby. Multitasking is a key to professional cooking. Have you noticed that the culinary world is male-dominated? Although women in the US graduate from culinary programmes at a rate of 5 to 4 over men, only 19 per cent of chefs in the F&B business are females. Have you thought about it? Can you add the shrimps now? Keep stirring."
"Because it's a monotonous job?"
"It's highly debatable with lots of grey areas. Longer working hours stretching up to 14 hours on your feet, family commitments and a male kitchen culture are cited as major reasons. But shall I tell you something? Don't call me gender-biased."
"Tell me, dad."
"OK, now pour half a cup of water and stir well. The point is men make better cooks. Everyone craves for mama's food but secretly fancy and admire dad's cooking. You know why?"
"True, big brother and I still die for your good old butter chicken. It was so luscious... But go on - tell me why."
"Because we men cook with our hearts; women do with their hands. We marinate things in passion; they marinate in familial commitments."
"You are lucky Amma has gone out to get coriander leaves."
"Now cover the pan and bring to a simmer. What I hate is women make a big deal out of it. Food is a universal necessity, so people rise to the occasion for the sake of sustenance. It's true that I used to watch my mother cook, but she never let me do it because I am the only son and we grew up in a patriarchal system. But my life changed at the age of 22."
"What was the turning point?"
"When I went to Mumbai looking for work, I lived in a bachelors' den, where two unemployed youths cooked for nearly 15 others. Since they all left for work before 7am, the so-called cooks woke up at four to make breakfast and fill lunch boxes. I joined them for a week, rolling chapattis for four hours a day, after which I graduated to cooking lunch and dinner."
"The same with me, dad. No one taught me. I learned cooking during my seven years of solitude in India."
"Now taste the gravy for salt and spices. You can add chopped coriander leaves now."
"I am adding a little more salt; otherwise, it's perfect. By the way, what did you add when I turned to clean the table?"
"It's a secret every chef holds to his heart and won't let go of easily. Did you notice men finish cooking with an empty sink?"
Sreelatha came for dinner at the end of which her son asked at the door: "The shrimp roast was too good. Who was behind it?"
"We did it." A female chorus rose from behind my back. That's the icing on the cake for any male cook.