People love food and trying new things more than ever but cooking is happening far less. The need to cook has massively decreased with accessibility to food via apps, down the corner and on-the-go street stalls on so many streets; In Croydon think Boxpark and the increasing number of street food vans on Surrey Street Market on top of all the restaurants.
SortedFood recently discovered that the cooking gap is not just a recent thing but that a lot of people for the last thirty years have found themselves feeling cooking is not a requirement and as a result their skills are limited or even completely non-existent. And combined with their own experiences they have decided to try and tackle the cooking gap in connection with The Co-Operative to give young people cooking skills, know how to get tasty and healthy food at a reasonable cost and to show people the general purpose and benefits of cooking your own food.
Last night I was invited to attend SortedFood’s Head Office to meet with other foodies and the SortedFood team to enjoy good food and discuss how to interact with people to get them cooking more and also to discuss what skills we think would be useful to know, wish we had known or would teach to those just starting out on their cooking journey.
I grew up in a household where the majority of food was home-cooked and takeaway was a massive treat. From a very young age I baked with my mum and then as I got older started to do it alone and also learned to chop and prepare things for proper meals. But I was lucky that I was able to be involved in the kitchen, learn things, try myself and ask questions because from the end of year nine I did not get taught cooking in school and in fact before then I had mainly done flapjack and sweet treats rather than practical skills for cooking in life. By the time I left home at 18 making a lasagna was no effort for me, I knew how to cook chicken and boil an egg (y’know all the essentials) and I had enough recipes up my sleeve to get me through a good few weeks without repeating.
But after being asked to write down something I wish I had learned at the beginning of my journey or would teach other people it got me thinking about what the top five things I wish I had known were. Whilst I was lucky enough to have people in my life that guided me on the food and cooking front there were several things that I never really appreciated until very recently:
- The importance of understanding herbs, spices and general seasoning. Even if people know herbs enhance food so many people just put a dash of mixed herbs into the dish because they are unsure what it should be specifically to go with the ingredients included. For so long I put vegetables on to boil in plain water rather than adding salt in there because that is just a waste of salt?! and I just could not get my head around the idea that it actually did anything for the flavour of the food. Roasting potatoes I just used to throw them in the over rather than adding some herbs or spices to the oil/fat in the tray because I could not imagine the difference it would make. But since I started to appreciate the importance of herbs, spices and general seasoning food has tasted so much better and better tasting food means cooking feels more worthwhile and enjoyable (because it tastes better at the end!).
- Understanding actual portion sizes and how to manage them. Ever looked on the back of a packet of spaghetti and seen the serving size in grams but not had a scale so just guessed and ended up with way too much of it? We all get shown the pie chart with how much carbs, protein etc we need in school in terms of a percentage but not how much should actually go on the plate or how big that plate should actually be. And sure as a 22-year-old that loves to cook and does it most days of the week, apart from when I palm it off on my partner, that is such a laughable statement. But when I left home I went from cooking for more than just myself to only ever requiring meals for one and trying to figure out how to divide ingredients up and then how to store them or cooked leftovers properly required a lot of adapting.
- Being able to cook something bigger than a single chicken breast. This links up to the end of the last point about knowing how to stores things properly but so many people just buy something like a chicken breast because they can divide the packet, freeze them and just grab one and cook it quickly. But if they bought a whole chicken and cooked it when they have more time, a weekend perhaps, they could get several days of leftovers from it, save time later in the week and actually save money as well. Cooking a whole chicken or a joint of meat involves time with it being in the oven and a little bit of preparation but it is generally a lot more simple than people imagine it to be.
- Knowing what type of ingredient to use for what purpose. It sounds simple but there are different types of potatoes on our shelves for a reason right? Getting all purpose potatoes is easiest and also safest for a lot of people and the amount of times I have been in a supermarket and heard somebody say “aren’t they all just the same, why are they different prices” suggests it is not just me that used to think that. But it is not just that but also people pondering about pork loin vs pork chop and whether the bone adds anything or is just a nuisance to eat. People need to understand more about the ingredients and why there are so many different varieties and only then can they get the thing that provides the most flavour and thus enjoyment for a certain meal.
- Being able to do something for lunch to either eat at home or take it with them to work/university/wherever. For so long lunch was so dull and shoving some cheese or ham between two slices of bread was all I had time for before heading out the door. I love a cheese sandwich but not five days a week for weeks on end. So many people instead purchase meal deals from one shop or another for their lunch instead of taking something with them. Having quick alternatives to make in the morning or things to make up on a night and portion up for the week is essential but it is something that often gets overlooked when it comes to teaching people to cook or be more adventurous. But now I understand making your own lunch probably costs one to two meal deals a week and it is delicious without too much pressure (and it probably takes the amount of time it takes to walk to and from the shop if you even find the time in your busy schedule)!
Getting to be inside their filming space was really cool, everybody was super friendly, the food sampled was really tasty (I might have to find the time this weekend to do some homemade pizza) and the whole event was really enjoyable and interesting. Whether you are new to cooking or know a lot about it the SortedFood Youtube channel has loads of fun and interesting discussions, recipes and challenges to watch and appreciate and if you know somebody who is just starting out but wants to ‘Level Up’ food then pointing them in the direction of the channel could be really useful.
The Co-Op also provided us with a massive box of goodies (let us not talk about me trying to hold onto the challenging handle for a 20 minute walk at both ends of the train journey home) to try and make some oat and raisin cookies which I will be sure to give my best shot on Saturday.. please pray for me as I attempt to do this as cookies and flapjack are my baking nemesis.
What do you wish you knew when you started cooking or if you are just starting out on your journey what do you think it is important to learn and understand first?