I hate the unrealistic expectations of cooking shows

Plate of gourmet food
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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Life has become a competition. And especially in the area of cooking. Now we’re expected to produce gourmet dinners after working all day. The unrealistic expectations of cooking shows is making us feel stressed and inadequate.

Reject the insanity

If you’re the cook in the house, chances are you’ll prepare 15,000-20,000 meals in your lifetime. That’s equivalent to working 8 hours a day for several years.

And you probably don’t get much thanks for it either.

Now that’s great if you love cooking. But I have a shameful confession.

I hate cooking

If I never cooked again, it would be too soon. I know I’m out of step with today’s society. Nigella’s confections or Jamie’s tray bakes send others into swoons.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less

As long as I can open a tin of lentils, I’m fine. I don’t need fancy food every day. And as for those Disney-themed birthday cakes – forget it.

I hate cooking

Yes, I even hate planning what to cook. I hate shopping beforehand. I’m stumped by the magic needed to convert raw stuff into edible stuff. And defeated by the mess at the end of it all.

Not only that, I especially hate it when 30-minute meals turn out to be 3 hours. (As if I’d ever cook anything that took 30 minutes anyway.)

That’s right. I hate cooking

And I especially hate the unrealistic expectations of cooking shows.

Always have, always will. Politically incorrect, I know. Unsophisticated even. And definitely unhelpful in climbing the social ladder.

My hatred of cooking started in first-year high school

Back then, we had Home Economics for the girls. Obviously the mysteries involved were too risky (or boring) for boys. 

We girls had to wear green pinafores with matching green caps. Our first task was to hand-embroider our names on cap and pinafore. None of us knew how to, and Mrs Lawson wasn’t about to teach us. She was a child-hating harridan who despised our lack of skill.

I spent several lunchtimes unpicking and resewing those flowing letters. The embroidery challenge was somehow meant to initiate us into the basics of cooking.

And I mean basics

One weary two-hour session was spent learning how to mix a packet cake. We spent another afternoon fiddling round with tiny cucumber sandwiches. As if we were catering for afternoon tea at the Ritz!

Our text book was printed in the 1930’s. With great fanfare, one page showed the latest invention to keep food warm.

A hay box

No wonder I can’t cook now. But perhaps I’m being unfair to Mrs Lawson. We did actually learn to make a sponge cake from scratch.

Unfortunately you were only allowed one egg each. And of course, I dropped mine on the floor.

I was terrified of Mrs Lawson’s temper. So I frantically scraped the splattered egg back into my bowl.

At the end of the lesson, I presented my creation with fear and trembling to Mrs Lawson for the grand taste test.

For once, her leathery face cracked into a smile. She pronounced it the lightest, fluffiest sponge of the day.

Aaaah! Revenge can be sweet sometimes.

Cooking is overrated

So I really don’t understand the current fuss about cooking. 

Sure, I get that in lockdown, lots of people turned to great food for comfort and pleasure.

Not me, though!

And sure, at times I’ve felt inadequate.

But not inadequate enough to do anything about it. Like go to real cooking lessons.

Not me, thanks very much

There’s no way I’ll ever try to meet the unrealistic expectations of cooking shows.

I may not have whipped up banquets fit for the gods. But I’ve still raised kids, held dinner parties, and hosted celebrations. Most of the time I winged it. I certainly never matched the glorious creations of talented friends.

Usually I was happy if I managed not to burn my Chicken Marylands to a cinder. And my fool-proof chocolate mousse cake has served me well. I trot it out whenever I can. Most of my friends have probably had it at least 20 times.

I also confess to my share of disasters

Like the pineapple and coconut flan that oozed onto the plate like lumpy vomit. Or that lasagne of baked beans, spinach and cottage cheese. My guests wanted to launch it out the door along with my health kick.

Somehow I’ve coped not knowing what harissa was, or that I should have been using vanilla bean and not imitation vanilla essence. I’m proud that I’ve never really wasted much fancy food, as I’ve never really bought all that much anyway. 

Now I’d rather starve than give a dinner party, let alone do a Heston. Why on earth would I pipe green-pea puree into the shape of green peas? 

Gourmet cooking is beyond me

Surely there are better things to do with your time. So take heart the next time you’re tossing baked beans and crushed pineapple into a saucepan with bits of fried sausage.

All the food groups are represented. Your kids will survive. So will you. It’s not the end of the world if you’re not a gourmet cook.

Stick to the basics

Stick to the tried and true, simple, hearty old faithfuls. Don’t worry about impressing others.

Anyway, they won’t thank you if you go gourmet chef on them. They’ll see it as yet another competition they have to win.

Everyone’s so worried about looking inadequate. And yet they’re all so exhausted.

Give yourselves a break. Be a little more flexible.

Drop unrealistic expectations

Not everything has to be a gourmet creation. And for heaven’s sake, don’t even think of colour-coordinating your cupcakes to your cushion covers.

Focus on being welcoming instead

If mistakes happen when you’re entertaining, so be it. Don’t apologise, don’t panic.

Simply serve it up anyway. Joke about it if you feel the need. Your guests are there to see you and enjoy the company. And don’t listen to the critics at your dinner table (i.e. your kids).

If they don’t like what you give them, let them cook for themselves.

And while we’re about it – ditch kids’ mega birthday parties

It’s all got out of hand. Again, back to basics. You don’t need to provide spectacular food and entertainment. Forget those unrealistic expectations that you’ll provide gourmet food for hundreds of kids. 

Cook a simple cake, a few savoury slices, and top up with sausage rolls and fairy bread. Forget the pony rides. Forget the face-painting lady. And forget the jewellery-making and the fancy dress competitions and the bouncy castles.

Round up half-a-dozen kids and parents for an old fashioned picnic in the park (provided COVID restrictions are over). Give them plenty of room to run around playing games. They’ll probably have much more fun.

And so will you

Make it simple.

Don’t worry about what others think. In fact, they’ll heave a sigh of relief. You’ve given them permission to make it simple as well.

Life’s too short.

Refuse to conform to the unrealistic expectations of cooking shows. Save your sanity – before it’s too late.

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