Monday, July 18, 2011

Keep it simple, silly

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By: Shefali Tripathi Mehta

A sampling of celebrity cooking: Recipe of Thai green curry. Ingredients: One packet of Thai green curry paste... Aow! Darlings, I’m Master Chef Australia! I can prepare vegemite. Preparation time: two hours.

Just pick one medium-sized jar of vegemite from the supermarket shelf. Brand not important. Every brand of axle grease tastes the same. NB: Check expiry date. Axle grease spoils too. Why the preparation time, you ask? That’s how long it may take for you to get to the supermarket and back. Accounting also for the time you’ll need to pick the 13 other things that you have been meaning to for the last 13 days.

So, on to writing cooks and cookery show hosts. Who is their target? I lap up all cookery shows and know my Aditya Bals from my Gordon Ramsays. Have graduated from the moustachioed Sanjeev Kapoor to the one without, who makes desperate attempts at humour and cooks less, to the take-home, keep-home Curtis Stone who can have me believe that the sand at Bondi beach drizzled with some olive oil and vanilla extract served super jiffy is ambrosia. I have returned to chiding auntie Tarla Dalal with a paid subscription website of recipes, which are available free on 143 other websites after sampling the fare favoured by Kunal Foodie Vijaykar whose mouth is in a perpetual whistling position. I have tried a fair bit(e) of Antony Bourdain’s street food to the well-licked desserts of Nigella. Yet, I cannot decide what to make of Padma Lakshmi’s Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet. Is it a cookbook or an autobiography?

Cookery writing has a broad-spectrum target, assuming that everyone who eats may need/want to cook sometime. The two broad target groups would be, the amateurs or Maggi-5-minute cookers and the pros, the standing-soufflé cookers.

Both have the same demands of your recipe. Both will need to know just how many grains of jeera go into the heated oil. While amateurs may get into a tizzy worrying if one spoonful of chilli powder is one teaspoon, tablespoon, or serving spoon; amateurs will wonder if it is a level or a heaped teaspoon (dear alarmed amateurs, a level spoon is just the heap of the heaped spoon flicked off it). While pros may not need to know what a spatula is, amateurs may confuse it with a spittoon that was.

Cooking food raises many questions and you must answer them all. Why ginger juliennes are not the same as ginger chopped fine, why grating onion is not the same as running it into a blender, why a paste is a paste and not batter or puree. It demands that one know that paring potatoes is not putting potatoes into pairs as Google images may mistakenly show you, but merely peeling.

Eventually, amateurs must learn that ‘frying to a pink’ must be taken with a pinch of salt. No food turns that colour, only cooks know. By and by they must learn that a dish does not ‘begin to leave the bottom’. A dish that sticks to the bottom, never leaves it. The ‘serve crisp’ remains crisp till just before serving and the roughly chopped tomatoes for the salsa have a tendency to look like spat-out tomatoes. But a cookery writer must stoop to conquer. If you described a recipe in extreme detail, specifying the 10 centimetres diameter copper bottom, one millimetre thick pan and the brand of salt but have forgotten to add ‘turn the flame on’, be ready for hate mail by a thousand and maybe a courier or two of that uncooked mishmash you wrote about. But, if some wait for the ‘season with salt and pepper’ to come so they may serve, it’s really not your fault.