Had things gone just a little differently, I might well have become a chef. I can remember a night at my grandparents home when I was about 18, and they had invited over a relative who was a cooking instructor at William Angliss. He was there because there was talk at the time that I might train to become a chef.
I was a good cook even then and had an interest in food in general. I didn’t understand it until later, but I’d been spoilt. My mum was an adventurous cook. At a time when many families stuck to the standard meat and three veg mum was making curries and stir-fries and ambitious French casseroles, and so on. Most nights, we had dessert. The only clue of how unusual this was, was when my friends would make a point of telling strangers of my mother’s cooking: “guess what they had for dinner!”
So, I was exposed to a wide variety of food, and my palate had well adapted to spicy and adventurous flavour couplings. I enjoyed it from the purely sensual perspective – it was fucking delicious! But it piqued my curiosity as well because food has history and heritage. It belongs to cultures. If you’ve got an open mind at all, then you can’t help but be fascinated.
I was fascinated. I wanted to know more. And I was curious about how flavour was created and how things went well together, like a chemist mixing a concoction. Naturally, I tried it myself, and the more adventurous and interesting the better – and that remains as true now as then.
Somewhere along the line my interest and aptitude for cooking were noticed, though I don’t remember ever having a particular conversation about it. Apparently, it was obvious that it might become a career choice, and so the meeting was set-up with some distant cousin.
I can remember the night and quizzing him extensively as he spoke about the industry. We sat in the front – formal – loungeroom of the house in Strathmore. He was surprised at the range of my questions and commented to my grandmother how much more advanced I was than the kids he normally dealt with. It stuck in my mind because I was of the age when the sense of self is developing. He was a decent man doing a favour, but clearly, he had a passion for the business.
In the end – obviously – I chose not to take up cooking as a career. It seems very mature in retrospect. I reasoned that I enjoyed cooking and I didn’t want to spoil the pleasure of it by making a profession of it. I think also, I saw myself, and my future, in a different way.
I didn’t stop cooking, though. It’s remained a great pleasure, and I’m still a bold and adventurous cook. It’s clearly a passion, though I love the eating too. I’m urged occasionally to go on MasterChef, though I’m not at that standard. A few years back, there was an idea that Cheeseboy should team up and go on My Kitchen Rules. I wasn’t keen on that either.
One of the funny things is that I have a vision of myself in years to come, comfortably retired, and taking my cooking to another level. With time on my hands and a decent veggie garden, I figure, I take it up a notch and make it one of my things.
There’s a part of my nature very diligent and driven and, like many men, I’m a listmaker – even if it’s only in my head. I’ve been collecting recipes for years, much as my mum did before me, and thousands of others.
I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes looking through old recipe magazines while listening to Spotify. I have a thing if there’s a recipe I like I’ll fold down the corner of the age to return to. Today I went through the recipes and tore out the pages to set aside.
I have hundreds and hundreds of these pages around the house. I’ll be lucky if I make 10% of them. On top of that, I save recipes online. I have an app with 1200 recipes I’ve added to it, and which I methodically work through making a couple of new things a week, adding my notes and a rating to each recipe. I have a dream one day of having a hundred magic recipes that a lifetime of cooking has distilled into the very best.
It sounds domestic. It is, but it has a history. It has meaning outside of food because memory is in there too, and culture, and maybe a little sentiment – a recipe in its own way.