I love to cook. I genuinely revel in the order of the kitchen, not only the stereotypically more manly barbecue, but also the magic of pulling off a roast with crispy potatoes and fluffy Yorkshires (okay, I do get a little help with those, Kerri makes a mean Yorkshire pudding batter) and I really love to feed my family and friends. Early in our marriage, the two of us would divide dinner party duties happily - she’d be i/c starter and pud, I’d be responsible for the mains. She preferred that alchemy of baking, me of making sure everything arrived at the table simultaneously well cooked and tasty.
We got it wrong once, if spectacularly. We served undercooked fish to Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee. She was particularly lovely about it.
Women in particular have often been surprised that I like to cook. My wife quite regularly tells teenagers that it’s a fantastic skill for them to have, even if only to woo others … I’m more than happy to smash some gender stereotypes here. I like doing an online grocery shop too. And I love shopping for food abroad - so exotic, enticing, mysterious. Well, sometimes …
As a fledgling Housemaster, over ten years ago, I bought a cookery stove and did Blue Peter style demos once a week for the boys in my boarding house, sharing the spoils around after showing them how to do it. I haven’t followed up on them of late to see if any of them kept hold of any of the recipes, or - imagine this - still/ever reproduce what I hoped they learned. I should look some of them up on LinkedIn and ask …
So it was not such a big leap of faith to think that it would be fun to lead a group of year 11 to 13 students in making an international dish for Miss Bax’s Cultural Celebration afternoon, at school. I volunteered, and suggested Tiramisu alongside a broader celebration of Italian culture. I wasn’t going to manage to get a Jamie Oliver Vespa into the classroom, but Italian operatic melodies would be playing throughout my session, in the background. I had about 12 students take up the offer.
Well, teaching English and Drama, it ain’t.
Demonstrating how to make the recipe should have been straightforward enough. I was armed with enough ingredients for me to show and them to follow and had expert technical support. Supervising their recipe making should have been easy enough too. However, by the time the last sprinkle of cocoa was topping the last tiramisu, I was more tired than I would have imagined. It was exhausting! I’ve had my children bake bread alongside me before and managed not to find that too stressful, but the capacity for error, with a class full of someone else’s sons and daughters was a different matter.
I hope that they learned how to make a jolly decent tiramisu.
For my part, I learned three things:
1. Food Tech. is no soft option. I have been aware that it’s been called a ‘soft’ subject for a number of years, but there’s nothing soft about it.
2. The joy for me, of being in the kitchen, is that it’s a solitary activity. I get to be in charge in a different way from my working life. There is something 'mindful’ about cooking, about making anything really. It’s been well documented that colouring in, knitting, sewing, chopping logs - whatever it is you prefer - can focus the mind and take away the white noise that often gets in the way up there.
3. I’m probably going to stick to teaching poetry to year 9 in the future and leave Food Tech. to the experts - explaining the rudiments of a John Donne Sonnet is an easier gig for me.