When I was younger, I loved watching the cooking shows on Indian TV. I never had the good fortune to be present in a cooking scene and hence watching telecasts was all I had to contend myself with.
The cooking episodes were diverse. Always a plump homely woman, with the spatula and the knife appeared behind a wooden kitchen top. The ingredients were ready, chopped, cut, minced, diced as required. The spices, the salts, the condiments were placed in small glass containers in an orderly fashion. A well attired host sidled up to the cook holding a microphone.
"So what's cooking today?"
"It is a very fancy dish which my grandmother handed me down. I am going to re-create it for the benefit of our viewers."
The cook then rattled off an exotic name and the television screen became blue as a slide show presentation started. The dish, its name, its ingredients were written there. The slide lasted less than three seconds before it was removed - anyone without the pen and the parchment ready couldn't possibly have the time to move his or her rear end fast enough to grab one and note down all the ingredients.
The camera then panned the face of the plump cook who pursed her lips in an imitation of smile behind the fumes rising from her frying pan. The host, letting go of the microphone and donning an apron, stood beside her - nostrils extended.
"Ahhh..smells heavenly...this is oh so good!"
The plumpie smiled a little more.
Finally the grandmother's dish came to life after thirty minutes of air time. Throughout the process, the host never volunteered to help, only making inane comments near the stove, the wok or the condiments. However, as soon as the dish got ready, the first spoon that went to scoop up a hefty mouthful belonged to the host. The cook stood by for the final verdict. The host then took her own sweet time, munching through it, savoring every last bite. Finally the viewers got to hear,
"It's simply delicious!"
As I watched the proceedings, ogling the dish that stood just a few feet away from me, I wished for the "Push-Button". A miraculous button that would pause the host right before she dived her spoon, pause the cook right after she lifted her dish and leaned and pause the camera right at the hot savory freshly made dish - while I would "push-my-button" to get the dish come right out of my TV!
Unfortunately that much needed button hasn't still been invented.
It was a Thursday evening when I landed at the scene of my culinary cameo. It was the first time in my bong history that I was going to watch a live cook-and-teach session. Very like the ones I had watched in childhood. (Here I am ignoring all those times in mother's kitchen when she asked me help her and I smugly walked off to watch the latest episode of some K-serial)
As I reached my destination, I noticed my classmates. We were all students in this cooking class. I was the only Indian woman with the zeal to learn "Caravan to Marrakesh Saykout Cous Cous with Dates Lamb Tangine Chicken Pastilla with Vegetables and Almonds". Everyone else was retired American couples. I sat down slowly while uncle and auntys gazed at me. The cook started out with handout distribution, exactly how my professors at UCLA used to do. I stared at the sheet. Ingredients unknown to me were listed out. I stared back at the cook.
She was a very casual, smiling young American woman. In fact she wasn't the plump sort I expected a cook-type to be. She had her girth under control. It made me wonder. Did she not eat what she cooked? Doesn't that adversely speak for her culinary skill set?
As she went into the cooking process, I noticed a few things that were different. There weren't any ready to use, minced, diced, mashed ingredients. There was no order or cleanliness.
I understood that television sets were way cleaner than a real kitchen. The cook asked for volunteers. Two old men and one reluctant old woman got up. They had been sitting and chatting with their neighbors over their wine glasses. I noticed that the students didn't pay much attention to the teacher. Everyone had something to share, unrelated to the dish being made. I was the only person hastily jotting down notes on the handout. I heard my neighbor chuckle as I wrote down, "Cut long slices of onions for fifteen minutes"
The cook tried cracking some culinary jokes which were lost in the multitude of distracted pupils. I would have laughed but then I didn't quite get the joke...
The cook asked for more volunteers. This time she wanted to grill something outdoors. No one budged. It was chilly and clammy outside and moving out of the cozy comfort of the kitchen was too much for most of the septuagenarians. I raised my hand to save the distraught cook. She smiled, dumped the pineapples, the vegetables and the chicken on me and set out towards the grill.
When I returned, frozen and numb, others had been making merry. The two old men and the reluctant old woman had finished baking their dish rather quickly and were happily gobbling it up with those present in the room.
It was the first time I was present live on the scene of a cooking session. First time that a miraculous "push-button" was not required. First time that I realized that cooking classes doubled up as eating classes. To see all my hopes dashed was too much for me. I dashed away from the cook and joined in the gobbling process. I must admit eating it was much more fun than cooking it.
Surprisingly the cook didn't eat any of her preparations. The food had turned out amazingly well despite all her reluctant helpers. I was amazed to be a part of the action, live and actually savoring the delicacies. I felt like the host. I realized that my anger towards the bygone host had been misguided. After all, it wasn't her fault that her face registered heavenly delight when mine looked woebegone watching her on television.
As I helped myself to yet another bite, I gently shut my eyes, puckered my nostrils, held my left hand in mid air, held my right hand with the spoon and paused - there was no need for the button, the food was already there with me!