How learning to cook has improved my well-being

Most people can’t pinpoint the exact moment that they became an adult, but I can. I remember it like it was yesterday — the crackle of sizzling flesh, the smoke billowing calmly towards my open window, the smell of a well-cooked bird wafting throughout my studio apartment. What began as a soggy, shrink-wrapped sack of meat and bones had become a picturesque dinner for two through sheer force of will and the time-tested aid of a weathered cookbook.

I had roasted my first whole chicken, and I had become a man.

I’ll admit that, of all my New Year’s resolutions this year, I’ve only kept to one: I promised myself that I would finally learn how to cook, and though it’s hard to say if I’ve fully learned yet, I’m certainly learning. There’s something amazing about taking a mishmash of seemingly unrelated ingredients — a bay leaf here, some garlic powder there, a teaspoon of vinegar — and creating something new and wonderful that you can share with those you love.

It sounds cheesy, I know. But if you’ve ever spent hours in the kitchen making a meal from scratch, you’ll know that it’s worth it to see the faces of those you’re serving light up with genuine pleasure. Like playing the piano or speaking a foreign language, being able to cook (and cook well) is a skill that, once acquired, will serve you for the rest of your life.

Admittedly, part of the inspiration for my culinary goals is connected to having moved out this past spring — as those of you living on your own or with roommates will know, eating out isn’t cheap, and pre-packaged microwaveable meals leave something to be desired for those whose palates can differentiate a reheated pasta bowl from the real deal.

I had roasted my first whole chicken, and I had become a man.

Living with someone who’s often too busy to cook, the onus fell on me to learn how to turn regular grocery shop fare into meals both nutritious and delicious enough to sustain the lifestyles of two busy university students living under one cramped roof.

I was lucky enough growing up to have a father who, similarly, was the head chef of the household — most of what I’ve learned about cooking has been borrowed from him. Whenever I visit him, he shares with me a new recipe he’s been wanting to try, or shows me a new tool he’s bought for the grill. It’s this flair for experimentation that I’ve tried to carry over into my own cramped kitchen space: I’ll often liven up an old recipe with a new ingredient or flavour, just to keep things interesting.

But of all the benefits of learning how to cook for oneself, the one I value most is the ability to feed those I care about: my friends, my family, my partner. Maybe it goes back to our ancestors, who would hunt and gather food for those in their groups or tribes — all I know is, it’s hard to beat the feeling of fulfilment and accomplishment when you know you’ve provided someone you care about with a healthy, home cooked meal.

The best part? Once you get started, it ends up being easier, and much cheaper, than eating ramen and Kraft Dinner for every meal. My advice is to start slow — figure out how to fry an egg and cook a solid bowl of pasta, then move into intermediate fare like making soups and cooking meat. Before you know it, you’ll be wowing your friends and impressing your dates with your culinary flair. Bon appétit!

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