Andrew Clark
Andrew Clark

The Knackered Chef

Since my public admission (on this website) about my non-existent handyman skills, I’ve recently been challenged on another essential “must have” before I can officially call myself a “millennium man”, but this one I refuse to take on the chin! According to my wife, I can’t cook, but picture, if you will, the following scene …

I arrive home (usually late, having spent the day flirting with ex-girlfriends on Facebook) and am greeted by two brawling brothers aged four and eight giving equally convincing yet completely opposite accounts of what heinous crime has been committed against them and why the other should be eternally banished to their room for a much maligned “time out”.

I immediately kick over from boss to Dad mode, and employing my very best conflict resolution skills, while disarming them of any illegal weapons, I manage to calm them down with the subtle, yet very real, threat that Mom is no doubt in a really bad mood and that their continued squabbling may just result in a domestic code red.

Peace having been partially restored, I open the kitchen door and am immediately handed a crying baby, covered in some hither-to unknown, but highly offensive, substance, with snot streaming down his face and in desperate need of a nappy change. I manage to run a bath and coax the older siblings in, to act as lifeguards while I dash about looking for three pairs of pyjamas in appropriate sizes amid a monstrous pile of washing on the unmade bed.

I return to the bathroom only to discover that while said older siblings have prevented their baby brother from drowning, they have not prevented him from emptying most of the bath water on to the bathroom floor with a variety of empty plastic containers. Resigning myself to the fact that the grand mop-up will have to take place later, I manage to give them all a quick scrub before removing them one by one to the dressing area, where they prepare for the meal which their mother has lovingly prepared.

Now, given a choice, I have no doubt about which of the following options I would choose — option A: bathing, dressing and supervising three highly excited, rowdy and boisterous children; or B: giving the occasional prod to a pot of pasta as it bubbles away on the stove.

However, out of sympathy for my dear wife (and fear of a woman scorned), I dare not venture the opinion that I too would prefer to potter about in the kitchen after a hard day at the office.

The point I’m trying to make is that I can actually cook, but due the circumstances above, I don’t often get a chance to. Admittedly my repertoire is a little more limited than Jamie Oliver’s, but I do have a few stock dishes, which I think I cook fairly well. As a teenager my mom figured I should be able to cook at least one meal (you know, in case there was some sort of nuclear disaster and I was left to fend for myself), so she taught me how to make spaghetti bolognaise.

My dad’s contribution was to teach me how to deep-fry the perfect chip, a delicacy for which I’ve received numerous compliments, and I also make a pretty mean burger. Now I admit that these are not particularly healthy or PC foods, so I suspect that my wife’s jaundiced views of my culinary skills have more to do with my choice of what to cook rather than how I actually cook it, but I like to prepare the sort of things I’d like to eat, which effectively excludes vegetables altogether, or at least cooked veggies.

I always get shot down in flames when saying this, but my high-school science teacher, who was admittedly a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket, made a very good point. He used to mutter things like “Only man would take a perfectly good piece of meat and ruin it by throwing it on a fire,” a bit like Homer Simpson logic, I admit, but I feel much the same way about vegetables. Raw cabbage tastes great, but start boiling it and it makes the entire house smell like a sewerage farm. The same goes for broccoli, and, as for Brussels sprouts, well they’re just proof that God has a sense of humour. How can anyone actually con themselves into believing that something that foul actually tastes nice? Please, who are they trying to kid?

Yes, I know that millennium man is supposed to be a vegetarian and all that, but personally I find vegetarians rather hypocritical when they try to gang up on us carnivores. At least I only eat things that are capable of running away or fighting back. What chance does a poor, defenseless cabbage stand?

Some cooked vegetables can be rendered near edible by the excessive use of other more palatable flavourants such as garlic, salt and chilli sauce. I’ve attempted this technique myself, but am frequently accused of having a rather heavy hand with aforementioned flavourants, which brings me to another point. Of course more experienced cooks don’t need strict guidelines when it comes to knowing how much of any one item to throw into the pot, but I need to know how many grams, teaspoons or tablespoons to throw in.

My idea of a pinch seems to be more generous than most, which is probably why my cholesterol level has my GP scurrying to have his instruments calibrated whenever I’ve been for a check-up. I like to have exact measures and frequently employ a calculator when working out ratios when I have to double or triple up on recipes for large numbers of people.

Of course even this does go wrong from time to time. I was reminded of a party I went to recently where we were required to cook a specific dish prescribed by the host. My designated dish was a Jamaican chicken-jerk-type thing that included just about every spice I could find in my local supermarket. I was absolutely fastidious in measuring each of the many ingredients to the nearest gram, grain and drop. The whole dish was placed in the oven at just the right temperature and whipped out not a second too soon nor a second too late.

I had to taste it before gaily distributing my creation to the guests at the party (most of whom I’d never met). Now, I have a fairly strong constitution and believe I can handle spicy food better than your average pale face, but nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught my taste buds were about to endure. I had a vague sensation of something crossing my tongue, but after that my only conscious recollection was one of pain. Strangely enough the heat actually began at my ears, but slowly engulfed my entire body, which instantly broke out in a soaking sweat.

My lips and tongue became completely numb and my nose began to run. I burned a fiery path to the nearest tap and glugged down gallons of cold water, cupping it in my hands and submerging my face in it for as long as I could. Having recovered from my near-death experience, I dashed to the recipe book to try to work out where I’d gone wrong. I didn’t have to look for long …

Since I was cooking for many people, I’d had to triple up on all the ingredients, but in my haste, I’d failed to notice that, while most of them were measured in tablespoons, the more potent of these ingredients, such as black pepper and chilli powder, were actually measured in teaspoons, so what should have been six teaspoons of black pepper became six tablespoons!

It was too late to do anything about the glitch, so I proceeded to drink several glasses of wine prior to the party in the hope that, with a bit of Dutch courage, I would be able to assume a look of total ignorance when one by one the innocent guests were unsuspectingly assaulted by my potent concoction. Unfortunately things didn’t quite work out that way … excessive alcohol intake rarely leads to the desired result in terms of human behaviour and what should have been a calm demeanour of absolute nonchalance became irrepressible hysteria as a look of complete and utter wide-eyed panic, accompanied by much throat clutching and wild gesticulating with flaying limbs, overcame each guest.

Once they’d had time to recover and I’d stopped laughing enough to admit to my mistake, they too saw the funny side of it (well, most of them, anyway) and some Italian guy who apparently owns a restaurant even said it was “magnifique”, although he’d had to drink one hell of a lot of vino to cool his taste buds down.

Okay, so I guess my newly acquired skills could use a little refining.

“How ’bout I go bath those sweet little rug rats now, honey?”