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  • Gayle Certeza


I don’t like cooking. I find it tough and tedious. Before we got married, not cooking was one of my conditions for marital bliss. As my husband loved cooking, he did not mind.

Growing up, I had to assist my grandmother when she cooked. It was a scary affair, as most of the main ingredients were still alive and needed to be killed first before the recipe could proceed. As a kid I had to hold the feet of chicken while it was being slaughtered by my grandmother. I had to witness the clubbing of eels and the slow death of crabs by cooking. A thousand deaths to make dinner. Maybe this was why I did not like cooking. I felt there was so much tediousness and tragedy involved in every dish. House cleaning and washing dishes were Zen in comparison to cooking.

So I entered my marriage, embarked on motherhood and evaded cooking the whole way through. We carried on with this system for more than three decades. Our kasambahay or household help cooked on weekdays. My husband cooked on weekends. When the kids grew up, they cooked dishes they loved. One is a master of anything potato - French fries, hash brown, baked potatoes. The younger one loves to cook eggs, steak and buttered noodles. I stayed on the kitchen sidelines, washing dishes and whipping up emergency omelets only when absolutely necessary, like when I was alone and starving. The whole situation worked perfectly well for everyone. Like what the great chef Julia Child said, “I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” For me, up to 52, I just ate.

Halfway through the pandemic, disaster struck our household. Our help caught Covid and she was out of commission for almost a month. I sprang into action by listing all the restaurants in the area and assigning days to them. After a week, we ran out of ordering options. We got tired of eating food from boxes.

As the pandemic has brought out the MacGyver in all of us, having to make do with diminished resources, altered work structures and unli-emergencies — I thought, maybe I could give cooking a try.

Like most of us embarking on anything new from philosophy to pet care, my first stop was YouTube. I watched a lot of cooking videos. It looked doable. A lot of influencers assured me that cooking was easy. Heck, I even saw toddlers make lasagna and turkey pot pie.

So, I looked for recipes that were less than four minutes and with ingredients that were less than 10 kinds. My first attempts were Baked Cauliflower, Baked Carrot Fries and Roasted Broccoli. Encouraged by this early success, I moved to recipes that were around 6-8 minutes. This batch included Crispy Parmesan Crusted Chicken, Pan-Fried Pork Chops, Baked Fish and Spaghetti Scampi.

Emboldened by my kitchen wins, I went for further culinary complexity. I enlisted my kids as my sous chefs and went for recipes like Fully Loaded Baked Potatoes. Here they implement their own customization. One wanted a double-cheese take: parmesan, mozzarella. The other wanted egg on the baked potato. By the time we finished cooking-were were all tired and sweaty from all the chopping, mixing and baking. But it was good fun eating various versions of baked potatoes.

My husband, who is a really good cook, was inspired to up his game. Together we cooked elaborate dishes - Oven Baked Pork Belly Lechon, Pollo Loco Style Chicken served with Salsa and Pita, Lasagna with Lentils and more.

By the time our household help came back, I briefed her that our cuisine had changed. “Neth, restaurant-level na tayo.” In the weeks she was gone, we’ve changed from our decades-long staples like fried chicken, chop suey and adobo to restaurant-style cuisine as taught by Jaime Oliver or Antonio Carlucci.

Deep diving into this cooking experience, I organized our spices — labeled everything and arranged them alphabetically. I created a messenger group with me, my husband and our household help where I shared recipes. I transcribed and collated our recipes now totaling 50 pages from Baked Broccoli to Veggie Balls. From someone who did not even know how to turn on the oven a few months ago, now I even venture to give cooking instructions to my husband. “Stop stabbing the potatoes. We need the integrity of the skin for baking later.”

I am grateful that I have outgrown my distaste for cooking. From a tough and tedious chore it has become an adventure. Harriet Van Horne, a writer and food critic said, “Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” Good thing because these are all the ingredients I have — audacity, curiosity and a dash of humor.


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