The culinary arts are more than just a hobby

Amateur cooking is a great way to rekindle understanding of cultural roots

Illustration: RESLUS

By: Devana Petrovic, Staff Writer

Coming from a household of cooking snobs, where the kitchen is one of the most crowded spaces in the house and family dinners consist of unwanted culinary feedback, it’s not surprising that I have always left the cooking to my more ambitious family members. But after two months of cooking show clips circulating my YouTube watch history, I’ve discovered a love for cooking when I least expected it: during a global pandemic. 

Back when the world wasn’t fearful of COVID-19, I purely relied on leftovers from my mother’s hearty Balkan dinners and Subway sandwiches; clearly, I’ve never been a meal prep kind of gal, let alone interested in experimenting with my culinary skills. But with an unholy amount of time on my hands and bounds of inspiration for recipes, I’ve found myself in the kitchen a lot lately. 

Initially, I started cooking pasta and stir fry dishes, mainly pushing every possible variation with the ingredients directly available to me and the very basic skill set that I possess. I have since gravitated towards more complex plates, where I’ve enjoyed pairing various proteins and vegetables with different spice combinations: salmon dishes, classic chicken and potatoes, and barbequed meats, just to name a few. 

On weekdays, everyone in the house is busy working from home, so I have been able to snag some kitchen time without getting in anyone’s way. Cranking up some tunes and whipping up a mean bowl of spaghetti bolognese has been a great way for me to unwind and destress. I’ve appreciated the level of focus required in cooking, as it has helped me mentally regroup myself and centre myself on a calming activity. 

Surprisingly, it has become more than just a hobby and form of stress release, but it has also rekindled my appreciation for traditional Serbian cuisine and brought me to studying recipes of my past relatives. I have found the most comfort and intrigue in learning to recreate the familiar dishes of my childhood: gibanica (filo rolled cheese pie), goulash (beef stew), and sarma (minced meat cabbage rolls) are some of the Slavic favourites. These foods that once made me feel outcast and different as a child, are now flavorful relics of my cultural heritage, and recipes that I aspire to perfect. 

In sharing this newfound hobby with my mother, she dug out my grandmother’s old recipe notebooks, in which every possible family recipe is scribbled across several pages. Unleashing all these culinary family secrets has given me a long term goal with cooking, which goes past any other hobby of mine. Once I figure out how to read my grandmother’s messy cursive Cyrillic, I am hoping to acquire the skills necessary to execute these dishes, and also pass them down to future generations. 

Learning to cook has bestowed several challenges for me: overcooking, undercooking, breaking cooking vessels, and setting off the fire alarm. It’s highly likely that I will only be cooking for myself for a while. Nonetheless, I have great amounts of respect for every family dinner my mother has single-handedly cooked and arranged. 

Although, I am most definitely still a less than amateur cooking enthusiast, uncovering my love for the culinary arts and elevating how I express my love for food, has been incredibly therapeutic and the perfect distraction. Not only have I expanded my knowledge and flavour palette, but I have acquired a newfound understanding of my own ethnic cuisine.