Lockdown Notes #6: my journey as a culinary novice

In true metropolitan elite style, I have sought to better myself during the lockdown. This has involved finally getting stuck in to learning how to cook…

A chicken and leek gnocchi gratin – one of my favourites so far.

It started with a conversation with a colleague in the pub after work on a Friday. I can’t recall how it came up, but he recommended a food delivery service called Gousto. It sounded interesting so I ordered my first box and suddenly four recipes arrived. I didn’t really have a clue what to do.

I hadn’t made much food from scratch before. A bolognese, a fish pie (which, while ultimately delicious, was a stressful experience) and some pasta bakes. Even the pasta bakes involved sauces from a jar. To be honest other than a pretty mean omelette (not that complicated I know, but I am proud of them), I couldn’t cook.

For clarity, I could make food: ready meals, popped and pinged, or anything that just needed heating in a microwave or oven. I’d never learnt how to cook properly. Unlike other households, where I imagine you might learn from helping a parent in the kitchen, my mum’s arthritis meant we simply didn’t have many meals cooked from scratch. It was tins and packages. This wasn’t a problem; I could work an oven and, as anybody who has seen a photo of me would attest, I was never going to starve. Beyond the simple turning of dials though, cooking was a mystery.

Chicken katsu curry – sadly some of the chicken got overdone, but still a very tasty step on the learning process!

In fact, when the first Gousto delivery arrived I realised I didn’t even have a ‘wide-based pan’ which is an almost ubiquitous requirement of Gousto (and many other) recipes). A quick trip to Tesco solved that and the lovely ‘Go Cook’ sauté pan I purchased has well and truly proven value for money.

Gousto didn’t just remove the excuse of not having the right ingredients, the recipe cards are miraculously simple to follow. It’s also fair to say that the added time available during the lockdown has been crucial. Before lockdown, I was missing a number of recipes. The ingredients were going to waste, just as in the pre-Gousto era. The lack of competition from eating out has definitely helped too.

Altogether a perfect storm of circumstances left me with no excuses and in putting the time to good use, I now have a new passion for cooking. I’ve made curries, bakes, paellas, soups, pastas and much more besides, in all kinds of styles and from all sorts of cuisines. I try to order different recipes every time, to broaden my knowledge, skills and confidence. Indeed, the learning process has been quite interesting as I’ve also been reading a lot of educational psychology during lockdown and the experience of a novice, being guided along, is one I feel familiar with.

One of my non-Gousto forays – a delicious cheese and chorizo tortilla!

The journey goes beyond throwing ingredients together though. I’ve reorganised my kitchen, I’m making extra meals from scratch using my newfound skills and I’ve invested in new pans, knives and – unsurprisingly for a bibliophile – cookbooks!

So my cooking has been my most significant lockdown life hack. Like so many of the positives I’ve been fortunate to enjoy during lockdown, the challenge will be maintaining these new habits when things go back to ‘normal’.

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