• Boys in the kitchen by Kiran Manral in The Married Feminist

    The offspring has taken to cooking in a big way. I cannot explain it. I have been no role model to him of any efficiency in the kitchen, the max I have extended my ability to produce Maa Ke Haath ka khaana has been dal chawal in a pinch when the cook is on leave and even then, at times, this has been occasion to indulge in the hedonism of ordering in. In fact, I have been known to say the offspring will grow up nostalgic for Maa ke haath ka two minute noodles, so abysmal are my cooking skills.

    Kiran Manral The Married Feminist SheThePeople

    The husband is quite lost in the kitchen too. He might meander in for a bottle of water, or a drink of whatever carbonated beverage or juice he can locate in the refrigerator but beyond that he is quite at odds in that space, have grown up believing it to be a woman’s preserve and then still reconciling himself to the sad fact that he married a woman who absolutely refused to make it hers.

     A dear friend told me the other day that men who cook are “confident and sorted.” That line made me glow.

    The offspring though, took to the kitchen completely on his own, with zero encouragement from me, given I barely enter its hallowed premises myself. When he was a toddler, he would sit on the kitchen platform and offer to whip his own scrambled egg. More whipped egg landed on assorted surfaces in the kitchen than actually making it into the frying pan, but he persevered. As he grew, he forayed occasionally into the kitchen, but not too often. But last year, a switch was flicked on and he found himself in the kitchen, more often that I would have thought a teen boy would have wanted to. It began innocuously enough, by making a general nuisance of himself and coming dangerously underfoot whenever the cook was trying to whip up a meal in the limited time that she had. It then morphed to mega levels of pulling out recipes from the internet, trundling off to the stores and returning home with armloads of groceries he needed and then force feeding us his experiments.

    We weren’t complaining. He was rather good, actually. He has churned out, so far, Caramelised Apple Crepes, Chicken Biryani, Chicken Do Piaza, a Miso Soup with Tofu and Greens, Curd Rice, Chocolate Shahi Tukda and a lot more that I forget in the listing. Our praise has been lavish and extravagant to the point of being toe curlingly embarrassing if one were at the receiving end of it. He glows. A dear friend told me the other day that men who cook are “confident and sorted.” That line made me glow.

    Somewhere I thank my stars. He will feed himself if no one is around. He will grow to be a man who has no issues getting into the kitchen and whipping up a meal if he’s hungry. Because he’s cooking, he’s also taking an interest in ingredients and their freshness, and home cooked is always healthier an option, never mind his generosity when it comes to butter and ghee when he’s in full chef mode.

    It quite astounds me, given how I run the minute mile from the kitchen given half a chance, as to how he finds himself drawn to it. He spends nights browsing the internet for recipes and watching You Tube videos.

    He has sous chefs of course, yours truly at times, the cook at others. He insists on doing most of the prep himself. There have been no major disasters except one hot pan touched inadvertently, and squealing enough to pierce every unwary eardrum in the immediate vicinity.

    It quite astounds me, given how I run the minute mile from the kitchen given half a chance, as to how he finds himself drawn to it. He spends nights browsing the internet for recipes and watching You Tube videos.  That’s more earnestness than he’s shown for any school project till date.

    Why is this in a column about feminism and marriage? Simply because the boy has grown up in a home where though the masculine and feminine roles in the household are clearly defined, his mother had never subscribed to the ‘feminine’ role of cooking simply because it didn’t interest her. It came from being raised by a mother who never placed much emphasis on my needing to learn to cook, and would rather I did other things with my time. I still regret not learning to enjoy cooking, given the life skill it is. And not to forget my mother in law who was kind enough to reconcile herself to the fact that she would never be able to showcase her daughter in law’s culinary skills at social gatherings.

    That he feels confident and secure enough to experiment in the kitchen with a passion that flummoxes me, is endearing. Thankfully, he isn’t bound by the boxes of the generations past where a man who enjoys cooking isn’t considered ‘manly’. Also, as I read on pinterest, which seems to be the current font of all wisdom, “Both boys and girls need to learn to cook because neither feminism or sexism will feed you when you are hungry.”

    Cooking has moved out from being a gendered skill a long while back. It does make me wonder though, that while the daily drudgery of cooking hot meals for the family still primarily falls within the ambit of duties a woman deals with, why the majority of the famous chefs around the world are men. Despite women storming through in every other professional sphere, the domain of chefs still remains largely dominated by men. Why is this so? When women ace the home kitchen, what is it about the ‘status’ cooking done by chefs that sees the field gender skewed towards men? This couldn’t be a skill issue, women are as skilled as men in this field.  Or is it the demands of the professional kitchen, where women are still not considered physically and emotionally tough enough to handle the hurly burly of it all. Could they be trusted to not burst into tears when the situation got tough? Is it the sheer number of hours that the profession demands, often shifts that run into fourteen hours or more at a time, six to seven days are week, working through meal times and late into the night. Some reports suggest that the reason we have such a small number of women who reach head chef level is that most women drop out of the profession before they rise to that position.  Working in professional kitchens is tough no doubt, no matter what gender you are, but the glaring disparity in the number of female chefs versus male chefs at senior levels begs questioning.

    “Can I be a chef when I grow up?” he asks me.

    “You definitely can if you want to,” I reply. “But what would make me really happy is you cooking every day meals at home too.”

    Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV

    Image Credit: Huffpost UK

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