Can’t cook, won’t cook, cooks like a God


by Jonny Wilkinson

When I met my future wife she was a goth, as were many hip young women in Auckland in the mid 80’s. I had never entertained the notion that I could cook.  I certainly didn’t think I’d cook for entertainment.

I grew up with cerebral palsy.  The flavour of cerebral palsy that makes you spasm just when you don’t want to, like holding a jug of water, draining a pot of pasta, or sharpening a knife.

My relationship with food was one of convenience rather than one of pleasure.

In those younger years when coolness was of vital importance I used to choose food that was going to be really easy and un-messy to eat when around my peers.  This made food pretty boring.

What cured me of my vainness around eating was an overseas trip through South East Asia.

People there in public eating halls and markets would not only stare at you with catatonic intent, but they would stare at you while shovelling rice, chow mien and other stuff rather messily into their gobs.

After a while I did the same, staring back as I mashed food into my gob.

When I got back to NZ I didn’t tweak so much about eating in public. I realised that being so concerned about eating food and the way I looked was a self-disabling behaviour.  I changed that behaviour inadvertently by plunging myself into a completely different culture and in an equally different environment. Did I feel vulnerable?  Hell yes!  Did that vulnerability turn to self-change?  Hell yes!

After that I did start cooking, a cross between scrambled eggs & gruel, sustaining, but not pretty.

I realised what not being able to cook really meant after moving in with my wife, because she really couldn’t cook!

We decided to be gothic and just buy convenience store bought food; TV dinners, hot dogs in a can, instant mashed potato — the cornier, the more instantaneous, the unhealthier the better.

We got zits, we got boils — it was uncool, unsustainable.

So I taught myself how to cook.  I was driven not only by the need for sustenance but the desire to impress the new goth chick.  I taught myself through the sheer bloody mindedness and ingenuity that disabled people often have.

Cooking for people puts you in a vulnerable position.  Food is such a personal choice. When people don’t like it you can tell, straight away.  Learning how to cook also uses a vulnerability to leverage self-change.

Cooking for people when you can do it reasonably well is one of those fundamental ways of contributing and adding value to people around you.

Cooking for me now is actually an indulgence. I’ll go to the growers market, I’ll read recipe books, I’ll cook all day while watching Food TV, I’ll connive my weekend into orchestrating dinner parties on any scale just so I can get away with cooking.

My family has expanded; my daughters now have boyfriends: one lives in one and the other lives really nearby.  We cook together, which seems to give them a high level of enjoyment that I really did not anticipate.

The turn-around from not only thinking that I couldn’t cook but being embarrassed by food is extreme to say the least.  Not only am I an accomplished cook that derives great pleasure from the process, but it’s a major way of me contributing to family and friends around me.

Reflecting back through my 40 years I realise I have been constantly using this contribution strategy in order to be popular with my peers.

Contributing humour or food, or simply creating an ambience through what I am wearing have been my fundamental tools to influence those around me.

To underpin my cooking prowess here is a recipe I put together the other week.

Chicken, Bacon & Leek Pie with an Asian bent.

I went to the Whangarei Farmers Market last Saturday and the first thing that caught my eye were bunches of vibrant leeks.  Not full grown massive ones, but they weren’t baby leeks either.  The leeks and both my daughter’s boyfriend’s penchant for pies motivated me to put together this dish.  When I went to buy some free range chicken I found that a whole bird was the same price as thigh cutlets. I do not get madly excited over dexterous tasks such as de-boning a chicken, hence I decided to poach the chicken in an Asian style broth (I also wanted a succulent juicy texture).

Ingredients

For the chicken:

  • 1 Free Range Chicken (I used the Waitoa brand)
  • 2 Lemons (big mayers) – sliced
  • Fresh root ginger – sliced (6cm)
  • Coriander roots – from one bunch
  • 3 sticks celery – roughly chopped
  • 3 onions – quartered
  • 1 chilli – halved (of your choice)
  • 3 Star anise
  • 1 bulb garlic – halved crosswise
  • 3 Teaspoons salt

For the Pie:

  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 4 rashers smoked free range bacon – Julienned
  • 3 stick celery – thinly sliced
  • 6 small leeks or 4 larger ones – thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 3 Teaspoons white pepper corns – crushed
  • 350ml cream
  • 1 large bunch parsley – chopped
  • 1 packet of Edmonds Butter Puff Pastry
  • Zest of lemon
  • Salt to taste

Method

For the Chicken:

  • Using a heavy based pot that fits the chicken snugly, place all ingredients and cover the chicken with water (just).  Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 40mins.  Stand for half an hour.
  • Drain and reserve the cooking water.  When the chicken has cooled, debone chicken and cut into chunks & reserve.
For the Pie:
  • Heat oil in a large deep frying pan, throw in the bacon, crushed pepper and the fennel seeds.  Heat gently to render the fat out of the bacon, about 10 mins.  Add leeks and gently fry for another 10 mins, add 2 cups of the reserved stock and gently braise for half an hour.  Add more stock as the mixture becomes too dry.  Add another half a cup of stock along with the cream, simmer for another 10 mins until the mixture is reduced by a third, add the reserved chicken, warm through.
  • Grease a small to medium sized roasting dish.  Line dish with puff pastry.  Stir parsley & lemon zest through the chicken mixture and spoon into roasting dish.  Cover with pastry, crimp inwards at the edges.  Lightly beat the egg and brush the top of the pie.
  • Place in the oven (pre heated to 200°C) and cook for 20mins or until pie crust is golden.
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