My memory of my fascination with cooking goes all the way back when I was a little girl, which is many moons ago! My grandfather was the cook in the house. I promise you I never saw my grandmother cooked. Well, she helped to prepare the ingredients but as far as I can remember, it was my grandfather who did all the cooking. My mother is a good cook. What I like about her cooking most is that she gives every traditional dish her own twist. I helped in the kitchen and I will be honest, it became less and less fun as I got older. Teen-age phase, you know? Honestly, I think it was all the washing up that I did not like. Peeling and chopping and sauteing … I enjoyed those but the washing part? Not really. Big pans, lots of utensils, chopping boards … not exactly fun. I will have to say though that I am grateful that I was “obliged” to stay, watch and help in the kitchen.
I grew up in the Philippines where food is influenced by the Malays, Chinese, Spanish and Northern American cuisine. Among those I love Spanish food the most. Paella is my mother’s signature dish during Christmas Eve. So, imagine all the chopping and the washing up after that. I am not so much into traditional Filipino dishes. I am more of a pasta and bread person. Not much of a rice eater as well, which is strange you may say because in the Philippines, rice is a staple item on the dining table. When I started experimenting in the kitchen, I did a lot of pasta dishes and desserts. I have always been into desserts and baking brownies. I remember the first time I tried my hands on baking cookies. What a disaster! My two younger brothers were excited as well and were watching me follow the recipe and shoved the trays of cookie dough into the oven. We must have looked really silly back then because we were watching the dough in the oven rise and then rise some more and then spread until there became what looked like a very huge glob! What a disaster but we ate and shared one gigantic cookie anyway.
When I went to university, the idea of becoming a chef never left my mind. It was just that back in those days, there was no venue for me to pursue a cooking course. Back then it was not just practical to shift from a Landscape Architecture course into Food Technology or even quit university and transfer to a trade school. So, I stayed with my course, finished the degree and practiced Landscape Architecture for a decade in the Philippines. Then we moved to Sydney – husband, Miggy who was four years old then and yours truly. It was here in Sydney that I was able to pursue my love for cooking. It was very timely that a month later after we moved here, I found this Commercial Cookery course offered for free to new migrants. I did the short course and got a Certificate II level, which means if I do a three-year apprenticeship, I will be a qualified chef. Sounds fantastic and perfect, right? But nope, I did not do the apprenticeship since Miggy needed a mother more than a chef at home. It was not just practical for me to work sixty hours a week for three years, not to mention that the pay will not be helpful much. But I still stayed in the food industry. I was thankful that right after finishing the course, I landed a job as a kitchen hand at the local cafe. It was fun and I really enjoyed working there. I then replied to an ad by the local daycare center looking for a part-time cook, a shared job. I got the job and worked at the daycare center for fifteen months. While working at the center, I took up a nutrition course to equip myself with the basic knowledge on what to prepare and cook for children aged 0-5. I learned a lot from that job. I was cooking for forty children for two days in a week plus the staff. The fun part about the job was I can cook anything as long as they are healthy and meet the dietary requirements of some children. Now that was the challenge there. On some days there will be a child who cannot have eggs, another child who would be under a gluten-free/dairy-free diet and of course, I had to keep in mind the babies in the nursery. What organisational skills I have learned from that job!
The whole time I worked at the daycare center, Miggy would always watch me prepare the menu. He would see me checking nutritional panels every time we went grocery shopping. He was my taster because he was a kid, same age as the children in the center. Miggy was my kitchen hand of some sort. He got interested in the kitchen just as I did when I was his age. So interested that when he was seven years old, he told me he wanted to be a chef! To which my reply was, he can get a proper paying job and then cook for his family and friends. I know I may have sounded like my folks, remembering that was exactly what they told me. Get a proper paying job and then cook at home or do your watercolor paintings as hobbies. Again, I am thankful that I listened to them. The thing is, I believe anyone can cook as long as you have the passion for it. Miggy grew up pretty much as my kitchen hand. He watched me baked tons of dough and whipped up desserts with me and I guess like any other child, the best part for him was licking the bowl. As he got older, his interest in cooking became a skill. He can bake and cook. He is fifteen now by the way. Last year at school, he always got high remark for his Food Technology practical assignments. He came home one afternoon with the sticky date pudding he made at school. You see, I do not really like sticky date pudding but the ones he made … just fantastic!And I am not saying this just because I am his mother. He made some again at home and I was not allowed to help. He made the caramel sauce himself. Now here’s a couple of photos of those sticky date pudding. Just look how they glistened with that caramel sauce.
Don’t they look enticing? He baked some Macadamia White Chocolate cookies and I promise you they were good. One time, the class was asked to cook a sustainable dish and he came up with a really simple but satisfying salad of lamb strips, roasted cherry tomatoes, spinach leaves topped with fetta cheese and lemon croutons, which he made from fresh bread. Last project for the year for them was the gingerbread tree. Now that one was really impressive. I felt really proud and “motherly” while having some of the ginger shortbread. I was just thinking how I am thankful I chose not to do the apprenticeship back then and instead chose to bond with my growing son. Interestingly enough, cooking was our bonding moments. When he was in grade school, Friday afternoons were our afternoon-tea dates. Just like me, he likes trying out new food and has got an adventurous taste bud as well.
I can brag about this – my son is my biggest fan when it comes to my cooking. And I am his!