My grand mom always reminded me of a feisty red chili pepper. She was sharp, never minced her words, and made her presence felt! She was meticulous, organized at all times, and confident of her cooking techniques. Her attention to detail was impeccable. She had great wit, with a pithy quote, that was just right for the occasion. With her, there was lots of laughter in the kitchen. She shared generously of all that she knew. Her philosophy was simple – knowledge if hoarded is of no good at all!
My early lessons in cooking came just from being around her and my mom. I watched the interaction of two polar opposites. My mom was subtle and quiet in her ways. My grand mom was the queen of the kitchen. And yet, she gave my mom plenty of rope, and taught her constantly. When I turned 12, I got recruited. I started on small tasks, from grating coconuts, to peeling plantains, and washing the rice. I got to watch grand mom direct the kitchen team up close. She worked really hard, and led by example.
Grand mom taught me that wasting food was never an option. “Remember there are millions of people, who have just nothing, so to waste is criminal”, she would say. There was one very tasty dish she made, but she would not tell us what was in there. Later on, I found out that she had chopped the outer peel of raw plantains (something normally thrown away) and turned it into a dish!
She was the first to teach me about an “equal opportunity” kitchen. My brother had his fair share of kitchen duties. I am now trying to do what she did, by roping in my boys, to mix a salad, put away the dishes, or make a sandwich.
Growing up, I cannot honestly say that I always understood her, and her ways. We would often clash, in our views and convictions. I never questioned her culinary skills. As time has passed, I have learnt to appreciate her more, for all that she accomplished. She taught me, that great cooking does not need a college degree or training as a chef. It is all about passion, and the willingness to learn and share a little bit every day…