From an aspiring pastry chef to a happy home cook

I have a complicated relationship with cooking.

It all started when I was 11 and signed up for a baking workshop at school. After two days of being buried in cookies and brownies in our school’s Science Activity Centre (or SAC lab, as we called it), I spent that winter break trying all the recipes again.

Everyone in my family has a sweet tooth, so there was never a problem with finding takers for all that I made. We are known to be a little stingy with praise, so when everyone said they enjoyed the desserts, I thought there was no reason to stop. So I continued to bake.

Masterchef Australia came along and added fuel to the fire. And at around 13, I decided that I would grow up and become a pastry chef. The dream was to go to Cordon Bleu and study pastry.

When it was time to go to college, my mother threw a curveball at me. Studying pastry at Cordon Bleu was a 9-month diploma course. “That isn’t an education,” my mother said. She said I could go study pastry but after I had a degree. And that was that. I enrolled in Delhi University and continued to cook.

 

In the winter break of my first year, I worked in the pastry kitchen of a prestigious hotel in Delhi. And to my surprise, I hated it. It was a two-week apprenticeship and on Day 10, I was in tears, saying I didn’t want to go. I did. I completed two weeks and got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

I began to realize that maybe the chef’s life wasn't for me. Being a chef meant being tired all the time, being on your feet the whole day and missing holidays and festivals with your family. It wasn’t the life I wanted. But I loved baking.

So I struggled and resisted letting go of this dream. I felt like I had failed to hold on to my passion. And I stopped cooking for almost a year.

But what is it they say about something you love? Set it free and it'll come back? Well, I set it free and my love for cooking came back. I started cooking again for friends and family. I didn't like fancy looking food (the Masterchef obsession was finally over). I liked homely almond cakes and chocolate truffle cakes that became a birthday staple for us.

When I moved out of my home last year, my relationship with cooking changed again.

I learnt to make good old dal chawal and vegetables. I got recipes from my mother and when they turned out well, I felt like I had unlocked a new level in a video game. Cooking these meals became a connection to home. Sure, getting a cab was a giant pain in the butt, but I could come back and make myself paneer that tasted exactly how it does at home. The familiarity was comforting. Now after a year of learning to cook vegetables, this year is for learning to cook meats and salads.

Maybe the chef's life isn't for me. There is no guilt of abandoning that dream because I know my love for food and my love for cooking will stay. Perhaps I’ll share it with the world someday. Till then, I continue to wear the chef’s hat (metaphorically) and cooking up a storm in my kitchen.

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