Our Relationship with Food: Cooking with Others

Food is central to life’s very existence. It makes sense, then, that cooking is also central to our relationships. Cooking not only provides a way to spend time with others, but it helps us to better understand others, from their likes and dislikes, to the way they stay organized and like to run things in the kitchen. Amaan Akhtar takes us from childhood through adulthood with cooking in mind, explaining how it may change at each important stage of our lives.

The beauty of cooking is that it gives us a multitude of experiences. We can revel in the sensual pleasures of preparing a dish: from inhaling the fragrant aroma of freshly chopped garlic sizzling in a pan, or delighting in the scent of melted chocolate oozing throughout a baked dessert. Cooking can also be an opportunity to learn and perfect a household recipe. And sometimes, cooking can give us a mode of therapy to disconnect from our life problems – or to help us to reconnect with others. Whether we realise it or not, cooking is an important ritual in our lives.   

Often, our daily routine is structured to have several visits to the kitchen. And many of these are solo culinary adventures where we get to release our creative flow. But the communal experience of cooking (that we’ve all had in our lives) provides much more satisfaction and fulfillment than cooking alone. 

 In our childhood, we first witnessed this when our parents prepared feasts for the entire family: dishes stacked with pancakes covered in berries, syrup, and ice cream; English breakfasts exquisitely prepared with the fluffiest  scrambled eggs; and mouth-watering curries filled with a cultural explosion of flavours. As young children our taste buds either basked in every delicious meal put in front of us – or we nitpicked at certain vegetables from our dishes that disagreed with our palate, while our parents rolled their eyes in disappointment. We did not know it yet, but we would soon appreciate the effort and dedication that our parents went through with every meal.

When we grew up and entered our teens, some part of us also became slowly curious about the cooking process. We asked questions, observed intently from afar, and our parents noticed. And that is when we were introduced to our very first cooking lessons. Whether it was learning how to whisk a handful of eggs smoothly for an omelette with our dad, or chopping vegetables finely for a salad, or even learning how to make a base sauce for a curry with mum, we gradually built up our confidence in the kitchen. No longer were we limited to breakfast cereals and toast – we had more tools in our cooking arsenal. The culinary techniques taught to us would be a stepping stone into a world of creative experimentation. 

But not every venture would be successful. There would certainly be some kitchen disasters: such as the time when you overmixed the marble cake batter for your sister’s birthday, magically turning it into the tiniest, densest chocolate cake you’ve ever seen. Or accidentally drying out chicken in the grill pan or burning pasta bake in the oven. But that didn’t matter. Because in the end, cooking became a structure for the day. Cooking became a form of entertainment while chatting away and gossiping with the family, as you collectively prepared dinner together. Cooking became a way to bond with others. 

Then the time arrives to finally leave home. By pursuing a university education or work elsewhere, we inevitably leave the nest. But not ill-equipped. Our parents (and siblings) have taught us enough cooking skills by now to be useful in any situation. 

Now is the time to explore different cultures through food. We eventually scour the internet for inspiration, find new recipes to try, and buy exotic and wonderful ingredients that we never thought of using before. We meet like-minded people and bond through cooking, sharing cultural experiences with one another. Like the time you offered chai to friends for a revision break, or when your French-Mexican friend made crepes for everyone. And who can forget the many potluck dinners that have us anxiously looking for some unique dish to prepare? And while many may not think much of such communal gatherings, they are all indeed special moments. Opportunities to learn about others through cooking, and in turn share a fascinating insight into yourself as well.

And sometimes cooking can be an intimate moment shared with your significant other or partner. A chance for you both to bond, either by disagreeing about the best way to prepare brownies, or by working as a team and dividing the tasks between one another to make a delicious dinner. We get a glimpse into the other’s style of cooking – appreciating a new aspect of them that hadn’t occurred to us before. For both of you, cooking has evolved as a therapeutic place to alleviate stress and be mindful in the moment.  

Finally, cooking grants us an opportunity to connect with others like nothing else. It is very difficult to find anyone on this planet who doesn’t have some fondly cherished memory of food. And where there is food, there is always some sort of communal gathering. As we learn to host dinners and celebrate special occasions with groups of friends and family, the bonding never ceases. From kitchen mishaps to stressful multi-tasking and incredible feasts, cooking provides a source of entertainment in all gatherings. 

As we grow older and think about starting families of our own, we know that we will also pass on our cooking experiences and beloved memories to our children and grandchildren. Because cooking, especially with others, is a one-of-a-kind experience filled with cherished moments. Food may bring people to the dinner table, but cooking together makes us stay for the memories.

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