And those who can – and don’t.
Or to put it another way:
Men who can cook, do. Men who can cook, don’t. As for men who can’t cook, they don’t either. Fortunately.
With apologies to George Bernard Shaw (Man and Superman):
Bob: I’m so discouraged. My writing teacher told me my novel is hopeless.
Jane: Don’t listen to her, Bob. Remember: those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.
It’s another of those pesky quotes that has stayed with me over the years. I knew it was someone smart, which usually means Oscar Wilde, Shaw or Noel Coward.
Sadly it also influenced my youthful views of teachers, and I was determined never to become a teacher. To date I haven’t.
I was probably influenced by our appalling physics teacher who confessed in class one day that she did not want to teach at all, she had wanted to be a researcher but hadn’t been accepted. Thereby totally validating the Shaw quote in my mind.
But cooking men are interesting. Back in Sydney I had just moved out of the hostel and in with Partner to a sort of cross between a room and a flat. It was a two bed room with a kitchen section, ie a table and a two ring burner plus grill. The shower was next door in the hall, and the toilet was out in the garden. Not much fun when it was raining and you went just before bedtime. It was obviously a house at one point. The owner lived in the front room, which is why it was more like lodgings.
I came in from work one day and he’d cooked potatoes, veg and the steak. We tended to eat rump steak and lamb chops a lot as they were relatively cheap. Leeks were not. I nearly died when I worked out that two pre-packed leeks cost around a quid back in 1985. I can get three organic ones in Morrisons 27 years later for not much more.
What else we ate is lost in time, pork chops occasionally? Spaghetti bolognaise? There are seven days in a week though and we can’t have eaten the same thing all the time.
Anyway, back to the steak. It seemed it was taking a long time to cook. As we ate our rump steak rare to blue, this was unlikely. I looked at it. Suspiciously.
‘Is this rump?’ I barked.
‘Well? Looks like stewing steak to me.’
‘What was it called?’
‘It was cheap,’ he beamed. ‘Chuck steak.’
I took it out, chopped it up, threw some veg in a pan, and we waited an hour or two for the casserole.
He got his revenge though. I bought a chicken and was debating what to do with it.
(We’d moved into a real flat with an oven by then).
‘Roast it,’ he said.
‘I can’t do that.’
In fact I had never cooked a roast meal in my life. The nearest I got to it was being ordered to turn over the beef after 30 or 40 minutes and baste it when my mother had put it in the oven and then gone for a drink with my father.
But roast lamb, pork, chicken? No idea at all. Still haven’t actually.
My partner, however, along with his brothers, had learned to cook every roast under the sun because his mother
liked to be waited on had arthritis so found it difficult.
Whereupon he took charge, anointed the chicken with butter and cooked a perfect meal.
A year or so later, back in the UK and at my parents for Christmas Eve, he dished up roast pork. Equally perfect. At which point I think my mother realised what a superb gem I had discovered, as my father’s idea of cooking revolved around a boiled egg, toast and a tin of tomato soup. He did make sandwiches which invariably resembled not just doorsteps, but the walls of Gibraltar.
Some years ago, my partner was in the UK and stopped at his brother’s house. The brother has lived with the same woman for twenty something years. The two bros went off to the supermarket together to buy some veg food for Partner.
Wandering around Tesco, the two were chatting away and catching up on life.
‘Oh by the way, don’t tell L I can cook, she doesn’t know,’ said the brother. He took a jar of hot spicy sauce off the shelf and Partner bought some burgers or something.
Back at the house, he cooked his food, and they ate instant potatoes and some microwave slop. The brother took one spoon out of the chilli sauce and decided it was too hot and passed it to Partner who polished off the lot.
That story fascinates me. There is a man who can cook decent food, living with a woman who can’t, and he has no intention of starting to cook because he knows he would end up doing it all the time. Amazing. He likes an easy life, so he’s prepared to eat shit rather than do the cooking.
Speaking of more women who can’t cook, I was staying with friends from university and she was sick when I arrived. Her partner did the cooking, Coronation Chicken as I remember. It wouldn’t have been my choice. At that point, I hadn’t been to India so hadn’t really got into curry.
It was, however, beautifully presented, well made, and tasty. He did a great job. I went to stay with them some years later, and she was in hospital so he cooked our evening meal. We drank lots of red wine and had some excellent food, can’t remember what, probably due to the red wine. The next night she was better and the food promptly slumped.
One of the few decent meals she ever managed was salmon with hollandaise sauce. That was because when her boyfriend at the time arrived (different one) they cleared off for a bath for an hour or so and left me in charge of the salmon and sauce. I think she cooked the potatoes. Got to laugh at going to stay with someone and being asked to cook. I guess it was a compliment in a way.
We had a teacher friend at one point. He would cook the boys’ meals when they came in from school. Sometimes he would hold formal and informal dinner parties. She would contribute a host of ready-made goodies from Asda eg quiche, hummus, guacamole. He would poach a salmon and make a variety of fresh salads.
The last time I stayed with friends in the UK, both sets of partners shared the cooking.
I’m left wondering if there is still a class issue or an upbringing issue around this. The boring old ‘woman in the kitchen’ syndrome. Do working class men cook? If they do, do they do it occasionally as a grand gesture? Do men choose to cook if they were brought up with a woman consistently cooking good food? Do middle-class/upper-class/professional men not see it as an issue?
I normally cook. I like cooking. When we both worked, it tended to get shared a lot. Who got in first, cooked (preferably not grilling chuck steak). He works, I don’t, I cook. I collapsed in a small heap yesterday afternoon after a 24 hour turn-round journey back to Spain, and there was a casserole ready and waiting with some potatoes. I’d come back from London after business meetings, and the same thing. Always something ready.
My neighbour over the road had a stroke. Her husband said to me one day – ‘I’ve had to learn to cook!’ Apparently he was getting quite good at making soup. I’m not sure if he meant opening tins or cartons, I think he actually meant making it. He’s in his sixties.
What is strange to me, is that in the selection of random examples above, three of the men can cook better than the women and didn’t normally do so. Or in the case of the brother, ever.