I have some pretty embarrassing stories in the kitchen, like the time my situationship was coming over and I needed to clean my apartment quickly, so I shoved a bunch of things in my oven, forgot about them for a couple days, and then preheated my oven with everything still in there. Or the time I decided to make my high school boyfriend hot chocolate, and it made him violently ill. For pretty much my whole life, I’ve been convinced that I’m just bad at cooking, like I don’t have the gene for following recipes or being competent enough to dice veggies into pieces that are the same size.
There are many, many other kitchen incidents I could cite as evidence. I’ve caused the smoke detectors to go off more times than you can count, overcooked chicken to the point that it’s almost jerky, and sliced off part of my thumb while using a cheese grater to make cauliflower rice. I thought I was completely hopeless in the kitchen. So instead of trying to learn, I made it my thing. I’d say, “I’m so bad at cooking” with the same inflection as a woman saying, “I don’t have any girlfriends, I just get along better with boys.” (See: Amber from Love Is Blind.)
It certainly didn’t help that my most recent ex-boyfriend was a major backseat chef, often just taking over from me—so I’ve internalized this notion that I need help in the kitchen; that I can’t simply can’t cook. This hypothesis of mine really took root a few months ago, when I decided to make dinner for the guy I was casually seeing (I know, I know, IDK why I thought that was a good idea either). I hadn’t yet mastered the art of getting cauliflower gnocchi crispy so of course that was what I decided to make. I plied him with plenty of wine beforehand, but that was the last time I ever saw him. I can’t say for sure it was the cooking, but it was not not the cooking.
But I don’t want to be bad at cooking anymore.
I came to this realization suddenly and randomly one day when I was chopping vegetables after work, Maggie Rogers playing in the background and a glass of wine ready for me to drink. My phone was down so I wasn’t distracted by texts or emails or Instagram. And it felt really nice—like a kind of meditation. I was enjoying myself. I stopped to ponder if this was an omg I’m a real adult moment, like when you get super excited to get socks as a gift.
At the end of the day, I’ve still created something that’s nourishing and good for my body—even if it’s not exactly ‘grammable.
I’d already made peace with cooking for one (because it’s actually kind of awesome), so it wasn’t that that was holding me back. It was more that mentality of, “if you don’t try then you can’t fail,” that kept me sidelined in the kitchen. I’d rather use sarcasm and jokes to deflect from a situation versus, you know, doing something to change my circumstances. But no more of that with cooking.
Determined, I set a goal for myself: Try to make at least one new recipe a week. Despite being “bad” at cooking, I still generally cook most meals at home, because money. However, since I really only knew how to do the most basic of things—and by that I mean put Everything But the Bagel seasoning or pasta sauce on everything—I was getting a little bored. One new recipe a week would be a fun challenge to expand my cooking horizons in a low-stakes environment. (No backseat chefs in sight.)
So far, it has been. I’ve made a West African peanut stew, charred broccoli with chickpea pasta (okay, it was roasted broccoli but charred sounds cooler), sweet potato and chickpea curry, and a whole host of other dishes that I never thought in a million years I would be making. And not only were these recipes delicious, I had fun making them.
Sure, there have been some mishaps still. It happens to any chef, no matter their skill level. I’m not as afraid of them anymore, because I know that at the end of the day, I’ve still created something that’s nourishing and good for my body—even if it’s not exactly ‘grammable. The best part? Being free to make mistakes has actually helped me push myself and learn new skills, which is overall making me a better chef.
I’ve officially cancelled my “I’m so bad at cooking” membership. Now if only I could apply my new mindset to washing the dishes.
Looking for a new easy recipe to try? Check out Kelly LeVeque’s plant-based, Italian-style “meatball” soup:
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