Sunday, April 01, 2007

My Culinary Spa

As more and more people began to eat out of home due to a change in lifestyle, one can’t deny that many have since been more exposed to different cuisines and new ideas of cooking. Still however, we have no control over what goes into our food and sometimes we wish we could have a little more of our favourite ingredients just to make the way we like it personally. Well, the next best option is to learn how to cook your own favourite dishes if you want it your way.
In today’s hectic working environment, we are often so caught up in the pressures of the rat race that an alternative “out of the office” or weekend lifestyles pursuits have become a staple to unwind. Cooking has become one such activity. While many have complained that cooking is such a chore and a waste of time, there are others who will still agree that cooking is one of the best therapies to relax and unwind, not to mention the appreciation, instant satisfaction and gratification for a menu well done. To feel cooking that way, one must have the passion for food and great cuisines.
Cooking is an activity that invokes all our five senses. From visual impressions of fresh seafood, vegetables, meat and poultry at wet markets to the sizzling sounds of food in hot pans, wonderful aromas that are released by herbs and spices as they cooked, it stirs up memories, emotions and feelings. It evokes warmth and comfort to those who are able to eat together, sharing the delicious results of hand crafted recipes in familiar environments. To some weekend cooks, it is also a bonding process with loved ones when everyone chips in to help.

In Ang Lee’s movie “Eat Drink Man and Woman”, the opening scenes depicted a semi retired Chinese master chef preparing dinner for his three daughters. Scenes on preparation of ingredients and various cooking techniques show his passion for the craft and even when out of the hotel’s kitchen, the old chef still loves to cook sumptuous meals for his family. The profession has not only become his job, but a retirement hobby as well. In another movie “American Cuisine”, an eccentric French master chef prepares a simple meal after the restaurant closes for the night, which he shares with his room and board apprentice from New York. In observing the way of the master from picking out the greens for a salad to the whisking of the vinaigrette, slicing cold meats and pouring of champagne to go with the meal, the young apprentice understands why great chefs are so passionate about their food at its finest simplicity.

In the course of informal wine sessions, culinary workshops and beer parties attended, I have come across people from both white and blue-collar industries that love many a weekend cookout for family and friends. No matter how busy at work the past week has been, regardless whether they are highly paid executives or just a humble rank and file staff, over the weekends you will find them descending on the wet markets grabbing the freshest produce for their cookout sessions. Many a time I have also been told that while they feel “stressed” to invite me for weekend dinners because of the nature of my job, nonetheless they also feel safe to have me around as they know that I can also help to turn around any difficult situations.

From big executives to the man in the street, they all have one thing in common; cooking is a form of therapy for them to unwind from their daily work pressures. Cooking is a chance for them to express their inner thoughts and emotions about life. Being a weekend cook gives them the chance to be their own boss to plan, take charge and do things the way they like it. It’s all about letting creative juices flow, artistic presentations and appreciating the freedom of expression. The vibes and flow are at your fingertips and all you need is to pick up the knife and go. The rest is history. Science, IT, finance and other technicalities take a back seat behind artistic inspirations. There is no right and wrong about cooking, only how one interprets it to be. The bottom line is that whatever you put out or serve, it should be something that you would want to eat it yourself. Fragrant spices and food aromas arouses feelings of pride, happiness and satisfaction for the weekend cook. It helps to numb frustrations from work in the past week. Going to the market to shop for ingredients is a good way to unwind and to get inspired with new ingredients with the displayed produce. Food helps to bring family and friends closer and wines start the conversations. To the weekend cooks, it’s about doing something totally different from their day in day out routine. Such weekend gatherings make them recharge with inspiration and ideas for work projects ahead in the new week. Many also relate cooking principles and disciplines for motivation to their work in their own area of profession.

So am I a weekend cook despite the nature of my profession? The answer is yes! The passion for cooking has been in my blood and family for three generations and weekend cooking is definitely a way to chill out. Though I seldom cook at home due to constraints, still I would enjoy my weekend cookout any one time at a friends place. Like many in other professions, I too have a daily job routine that requires me to cook to technical specifications and application procedures that quite often hinders creativity and flexibility. Weekend cooking comes with more freedom to experiment and explore. The occasion often presents itself as an opportunity to meet people and built new contacts. It’s also a nice informal way to meet up old friends, network with people from all walks of life where everyone is relaxed and just let the wines flow. Weekend cooking are also opportunities to share ideas with colleagues from the industry and talk about the latest eating-places in town or food trends that have evolved.
A lot of these professionals turned “weekend chefs” believe that weekend cook outs help to create a relaxing environment for one to enjoy with friends, families and to take their mind off work. Its therapeutic properties provide the element of relaxation, recognition and satisfaction.. One of the greatest joys of cooking is when you see the happy faces of your guests who appreciate your loving effort to feed and nourish. During the time when I was doing my wine studies at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), weekends were also spent going to the farmers markets in St Helena town to shop for farm fresh produce. Together with my host family whom I bunk in with as a foreign student, we would cook delicious countryside home-style meals with great wines from local wineries. Around the table we had one CFO, two CEOs, medical professionals, winemakers, chefs and IT executives. Food brought everyone from different walks of lives together on the dinning table and it was cooking that made the occasion possible.
If u need ideas on menu planning and what to cook, u are most welcome to attend my cooking workshops on various cuisines and ingredients.As long as u reside in Singapore, just forward your email address to me ( and I will put u on my mailing list for the schedules, menus and locations of the workshops. If u would like to have a private cookout sessions with friends at your own locations on the weekends, that can be arranged too.
So what are you waiting for? Don’t let the thoughts of setting and clearing up as well as the loads of preparation work put you off from having a weekend adventure in the kitchens. The keyword is simplicity in recipes and presentations, embraced with proper organization, one shouldn’t emerge from the kitchen looking all exhausted and out of place. While it is true that often too many cooks spoil the broth, many hands after dinner does make the clean up a lot easier! As for dessert, just go for ice cream. It is comforting and makes everyone happy! Coffee? Let the machine do the work.

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