I am decent cook and took to cooking very naturally, thanks to my parents – both of whom are excellent cooks. But I had always wondered how a person who has never been too inclined to step into the kitchen would react to a situation where he/she has to cook a meal. So when Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal invited me for her ravioli making class, I asked my friend, an auto-tech journalist by profession and ‘a fish out of water in the kitchen’, Shouvik to accompany me for the class.
Now, the idea was to see him dealing with the tasks of learning and managing in a kitchen studio and then write an account about the same, for my blog. But, my extremely overwhelmed friend requested if I’d allow him to do a guest post for the blog and write a first person account of his first cooking class experience.
So here’s what Shouvik Das had to say:
It takes magic, skill and two post-doctoral research degrees to be a chef, and I am now convinced of it.
I’ve always been fond of eating. My love for the culinary arts and sciences stem from the culture I’ve been brought up in – you see, food is a matter of pride and debate in Kolkata, and my parents have always taken great, meticulous care in choosing what would be for dinner, even on weekdays. Somehow, I never took to cooking. It always seemed like a tedious, hefty affair filled with mind boggling calculations and measurements in a hot, hostile atmosphere – the kitchen. Over time, I’ve often pondered over entering the kitchen and making something for myself, particularly since I started fending for myself. But, the probable consequences of attempting to make rice and ending up with puddles of sticky white cereals (yep, I’ve tried that) have kept me away from the kitchen.
So, when Vernika invited me for a cooking session at the APB Cook Studio, I was surprised to find myself rather eager towards it. My greatest creation in the kitchen till date has been Maggi topped with cheese, and a solitary omelette with diced onions (taught to me over a video call!). Naturally, it seemed incredibly laughable that I, the great cook, would make my cooking debut by attempting to make ravioli – an incredibly complicated dish with millions of tiny elements, loads of precision and a whole lot more to sweat upon.
“Shouvik is a cook? Since when!” exclaimed one of my friends in a group chat, when it was revealed that I planned to spend a Sunday cooking ravioli. Even that couldn’t deter my undiluted determination and confidence. “Calm down, you got this,” I told myself before I headed out for the ravioli masterclass.
But, here’s the thing – you realise the calamitous gravity of the battlefield only when you take up your position in the trenches. Until then, the mightiest braveheart would ponder upon the millions of more difficult things in the world and say, “naah, this should be alright.”
And just like that, I was seated in a room of nine people, complete with multiple cooktops, ingredients that I didn’t even know existed (I still don’t know what some of them are), and listening and fervently nodding to the seemingly simple process of making your own pasta. “Couldn’t we have bought a Rs. 10 packet of do-it-yourself instant pasta from the store below?” my very smart mind chipped up. Obviously not, you fool, said I. This is a grand orchestra of the skilled, not your everyday bathroom gig. Pay attention.
And pay attention, we did. We began by kneading the dough, deliberating over how using eggs in the batter would have been a far superior option. Everyone unanimously agreed. Apart from the fact that I love sunny-side-up every weekend, I couldn’t see why. Nevertheless, eggs can never be a bad idea, and I agreed too. Then came the tricky bit – getting the dough right. Shekhar, our very affable mentor possessing great baking skills and subtle humour, rolled out the perfect dough, showing everyone exactly how much moisture the dough has, and how that’ll help in getting the perfect thinness later on.
Thinness of what? How’ll the moisture help? Why didn’t we use eggs? Use eggs! My mind couldn’t stop with the questions so I decided to shut it off for a bit and instead choose to videograph the entire process. If you can’t remember ‘em, record ‘em, said my university professor when he had explained the importance of evidence in an investigative journalism class. His words have never resonated more than at this very moment, where I understood exactly as much as our pet Labrador did when I tried teaching him the virtue of patience. But, there were good signs – everyone seemed to agree with the process, and Rushina and Shekhar – our mentors, appeared highly skilled and proficient. No need to panic, you’ll come of use somewhere, I convinced myself.
By now, my apparent lack of culinary skills had become too apparent for my apron to hide (of course I wore an apron, this was my one chance to do it!) and many doled out condolences, stating that there’s nothing to worry. Everyone starts out small, you just need some time of your own in the kitchen, I was told. Rushina was even sweet enough to offer to teach me quick, easy meals that could be made in a microwave oven. That seemed like a more plausible idea, but here we got back to more pressing matters at hand – round two.
This involved making five (WHAT!) different fillings for the ravioli, varying in contents (meat or vegetables), spices (timid hearted or Iron Man) and smell (everything was divine). We learnt how to give each of them their right time to be cooked (how do you figure that!), followed by innovating with the ingredients outside of a set recipe, getting the right balance of salt and flavours, and so on. By now, I had given up – this was only a little less difficult than making your own shuttle and setting off for Jupiter. The advent of round three – making the sauces, brought as much admiration as it raised self doubt and a feeling of having achieved nothing in life. Everything they were doing was so effortless, and here I was, standing right in front of the counter, still affronted at not having used eggs in the dough.
But, I strangely began enjoying myself. I slowly started getting why people loved cooking – it’s like your own sketch canvas, your own loop of instrument tracks, where you take a bunch of basic ingredients, put together in a precarious mixture of heat, flavour, time and quantities, and craft a dish that looks painstakingly difficult to shred apart while eating. There’s just so much love, passion and effort put into all of this that after a certain point, it’s overwhelming. It is at this moment that I couldn’t stop myself from severely appreciating my mother’s constant, unwavering loyalty to her kitchen. I love you mom, I texted her while sitting, overcome with admiration for cooks all over the world. Kuchh chahiye beta?, she responded.
It is also at this moment that I discovered a fun game – making thin strips out of the kneaded dough. Shekhar introduced us to a wondrous machine, which had automated mechanical levers and rollers. You simply take a dollop of the dough, fold it rectangularly, and put it through the paces until it becomes super thin. This, I got addicted to. Finally something that I CAN do!, I thought to myself, and I even fought for my right to be allowed to do this!
I eventually ended up picking up a ravioli tray, put in the fillings, and even tried some neat handiwork of shaping them properly and putting striated patterns on their edges with a fork. About five minutes later, they were ready to be eaten – Rushina put them through their last touches of being boiled in water and smeared with sauce. On overall, I just spent nearly three hours being mesmerised, confused, stunned, inspired, and confused again. The entire process of making the ravioli, all steps included, took that much time. And I finished off my portion in two minutes!
We hung around for a bit more, savouring some awesome cake and sangria that were also made by Shekhar and Rushina (all hail ye magicians!).
As I headed out, I couldn’t help thinking that my first real tryst with a kitchen was indeed a very interesting day out. For someone who had no idea how to cook (and still has very little of it), all I could be at best was a mute spectator. But, the entire process answered a lot of questions for me – why do people love to cook, how are they even okay with staying in so much discomfort for so long, how do they figure out what goes where!
Actually, I’m still figuring out the last bit.
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