I’m better at cooking alone. My sisters and I joke that we all have that trait — super difficult to work with in the kitchen, so bossy and condescending — and that we get it from our father, one who still struggles to delegate tasks without a booming “I said MINCED!” when you do something wrong.
When Marc and I moved in together, he learned that about me. He learned lots of things about me, and not all of them were beautiful or flattering, and I learned some things about me, too. I was dating a boy who didn’t know what a Pyrex was when we met, and he was dating a girl who got all the cooking trial and error out of the way over a decade ago. His idea of a weeknight dinner and mine were not always congruous; a fact that is still true today.
Marc asks a lot of questions. This drove me crazy when we first shared a living space, his inquiries often leading me to scream “LOOK IT UP” in a way not dissimilar to my dad’s “I said MINCED!”
During the early years of our courtship, Marc almost looked out of place in a kitchen, like a kid who shows up to practice having forgotten his shoes. Tears were shed, pots and pans clanged around, eyes were rolled — mainly because I was often far too hungry to explain the difference between rosemary and thyme, or give the exact measurement of salt and pepper, or tell him how long it takes to roast a chicken breast.
Marc’s mother, a woman who truly understands flavor and complexity in the incredible food she makes, unfortunately did not impart any of her wisdom on her sons, preferring to serve them rather than teach them. It didn’t help that the young Marc did not possess the curiosity or passion to pursue the skill; nor did he have the foresight to realize how important that knowledge may be later in life. In my experience, this is pretty common among boys.*
That said, having watched Marc from the beginning of his cooking journey to now, I have concluded one thing: just about anyone can cook, you just have to want it enough.
Today, he’s really great at making salmon. Like truly great at it. And he knows how to fry bacon to perfection. And everything he’s ever made me tastes impeccably seasoned. He requests that we eat outside together under the big live oak tree in the backyard. He swoons when I make something new, and I hardly care if he’s doing it genuinely or for my benefit because it feels so good.
In the movies, it’s a big deal when the guy makes dinner. The women are always so impressed (and often shocked), and the food is always comically bad (but forgivable, because what men REALLY know how to cook?). On the other hand, women are expected to possess the skill, as if the extra X chromosome somehow imparts culinary wisdom on their tiny lady selves.
I learned to cook because I was interested. And hungry. Simple as that.
Cooking is a hobby, not a human ability that we should in any way expect to possess, male or female. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t any less entertaining to watch someone you love stumble through the stereotypes and learn, albeit slowly, to do something you love.
The stereotypes will always be there, and there will always be a guy to fit into each and every one of them. There’s my dad, the seasoned perfectionist who serves Nicoise salad at his yearly July 4th gathering. There are the athletes I dated in college whose idea of sustenance was cans of pink salmon stacked high on their bedroom bookshelves. There’s my law school boyfriend, who liked making homemade donuts but obsessed over the cleanup.
There are the boys who eat microwave dinners religiously and make “pasta” when they’re feeing creative. There are the ones who never give up their chicken finger childhoods. There are the guys who instagram their oysters and implore you to try that new $300/plate spot downtown. There are the grillmasters of American suburbia, appearing on every sitcom ever made. There are the men who watched their moms and dads and grandparents make food growing up and just know, somehow, what to do in the kitchen. There are the world famous male chefs who have been crushing the atrocious stereotypes listed above for decades.
There are female equivalents of all of the above, too.
And then there’s my fiancé, the guy everyone wants to root for because he’s so damn positive, who did not confront the most basic of cooking feats until the age of 23, and who will never stop trying. And I love him for that.
*I fully blame this on the ever-present gender roles that just refuse to die in the years of child rearing. But that’s another blog post for another time.