On Why You Can’t Cook (Spoiler – You Can!)

I love sharing my cooking and baking bounty with others. It allows me to do something I enjoy, without having to consume all of it because I all ready probably eat more than I should. My cooking and baking in my mind isn’t that special. I am not a chef, I don’t generally create new recipes. On occasion, I end up creating something new out of necessity, like I forgot to pick up an ingredient or I am trying to clear some leftovers out of the fridge. Otherwise, my creations are just the implementation of another’s idea. And I am fine to be a paint-by-numbers artist when it comes to cooking and baking. Through my experience I am slowly building up my knowledge so on occasion I can substitute and not ruin a meal. Yet I can whip up something and someone will tell me how they wish they could cook like me or that they can’t cook at all. While I understand it comes from a place of flattery, I think people are too hard on themselves. I strongly believe everyone can cook.

Here are the reasons I have concluded that people believe they can’t cook:

1.              Negative reinforcement: You tried to cook and royally messed something up. It could be that you mixed up a trifle recipe with a Shepard’s Pie recipe. From that attempt or so on, your family and friends talked about your mistake and what a bad cook you are. At first you probably felt bad, but eventually you accepted their negative comments as true, you would never be a good cook. However, their comments are not true. You just haven’t found your dish to wow with yet. I bet even Mario Batali made some dishes that tasted like feet in his life. If you want to cook, just pick yourself up, ignore all the people who say “but you can’t cook” and give it another go.  Good cooking takes trial and error and practice.

2.              High Standards: You don’t believe you can be a cook unless you can pull off the most complicated dishes flawlessly. I have seen people talk down the pie they made because the crust wasn’t perfectly crimped. Sure, your dessert might not make it on to the cover of Martha Stewart Living but most food can’t look as nice as in the magazines. Just like models on the cover of Vogue, food is “modified” to look that tasty. And even food that is rolled out in restaurants looks good because those people are making 400 of the same thing that night and they have lots and lots of practice. If you made 400 pies, you’d probably get pretty good at crimping too. So forget your high standards. If it tastes good to you and your loved ones, it’s a success, end of story.

3.              Fear: Some people I know who say they wish they could cook have never moved past making sandwiches. They are scared to even try and fail. Probably concerned about getting into the negative reinforcement loop. But its too late because they already believe they are bad cooks. I had this fear for a long time with baking. I had a lot of baking failures and thought I was bad at baking. I complained about the “science” of baking (well I still do sometimes). But in the end I needed to more practice and knowledge and it turned out I could be just as good at baking as cooking. Just do. Overcome your fears and the rest is easy.

You only need a few things to overcome your “bad cooking.” First, you need some time. The time to get your confidence back is not dinner after a long hard day at work or a holiday meal when 50 of your nit picky relatives are coming over. Select a peaceful Sunday afternoon, this is usually when I try new recipes, because if they flop, you have time to head out for pizza and not feel like you’ve lost anything. Then you need some recipes that are easy to understand and don’t require a lot of strange ingredients. I recommend Real Simple Magazine. They have everything from cookies to main courses that are tasty and don’t require a passport for your shopping list. Lastly, you need a supportive taste tester. My husband is my taste tester. He is honest but supportive. For example, the time I turned brisket into a football, he kindly told me the meat was inedible and took me out of Mexican. But he still agrees to try other things and even encourages me to revisit my failures.

With these three things, you can become the cook you want to be. Whether it is just being a occasional guest cook or your own chef in residence, you can do it, you just have to overcome the voice inside that says you can’t cook.

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