Mom, Dad… I’m A Foodie.
“Doc, your food is trivial”. That’s what my cousin from the balad said when he saw me make a grilled
cheese sandwich with French bread, cheddar and parmesan cheese and slices of
onion and tomato.
“Aklak hayef,” he said. If we are what we eat, then I must be a trivial
cheese sandwich – but at least I taste good.
Food is not just taste, though– it’s the only activity that involves all
five senses. Some can look at a painting or a photograph and feel. Emotions and
faint memories are stirred, transforming them into blubbering and blathering
That’s the effect that food has on me. Serve me a steak with potatoes
and a green salad on the side and I’ll probably launch into a poetic opus about
how the beef is still surrounded by its familiar rural environment.
Pierre White is a staunch supporter of treating ingredients with respect: the
meat should be medium–rare; the potato purée must be mixed with fresh cream and
butter, and whipped to a smooth and creamy texture. The salad must be bursting
with fresh garden flavour. Give me a well-cooked and well thought-out plate of
food, and I will love you forever.
‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat
for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he’ll eat for life.’ The same is true
for cooking. That’s why I’ve taken my love of food to the next level, not to
just enjoy consuming it; but also to enjoy preparing it with respect. Give me a
steak, and I’ll eat well for a day; teach me how to cook, and I’ll eat well for
the rest of my life.
At nine years old, I learned to make my own breakfast: French toast,
pancakes, omelette, and scrambled eggs. At eleven, I searched for a way to make
my own barbecue sauce – no easy task since this was before the internet.
My father was the first to notice my penchant for good food. During a
long walk in Korba one summer, I picked up the scent of fresh, baked baladi
bread. We circled the block for a good twenty minutes before we found the
bakery and I tucked into a singular loaf of bread with a wide smile on my face.
Instead of collecting stamps, I wrote my own restaurant guide for El Khobar, Saudi
Arabia. It was handwritten in a notebook
with the menus stapled to the back. Eventually, I found myself getting pulled
out of class by teachers looking for advice on where to take their families out
Fast-forward twenty years; I dropped seven years of medical school and
five years of experience as a clinical researcher like it was a bad habit. Now
I’m trying my best to make a living as a food writer and eventually as a
professional chef/restaurateur, which (of course) has led to many family
discussions about where my life is going.
A generation ago, a man’s position in society was determined by his
title: Doctor, Engineer, Lawyer. That same generation also held fast to the
convention that the kitchen was the woman’s domain. Success was a monthly
salary and a pregnant wife. Real men were to bring home the bacon and pass the
time avoiding eye contact with their children while their wives cooked dinner.
Today, things are different, yet I find myself being judged by the same
outdated yardstick. My mother, being of
the old school, cannot fathom how a career as a common cook will enable me to
find a wife.
“You’re a doctor!” she says, “Who will agree to you marrying their
daughter when you tell them you quit medicine to become a cook?”
My answer, delivered with a wry smile, is always the same: “A fat man,
Today I am happily home-based. When my mother returns home from work in
the afternoon, she’ll either find me cooking, or sitting in front of my
computer watching food porn (read: cooking programs) .
Sometimes she’ll say, “We should
have sent you to culinary school instead of medical school”. Other times she’ll
say, “Why don’t you read medical books like you read cook books?”
I don’t have any romanticised ideas of a life spent eating well and getting
paid oodles of money for it; there’s little security in being a food writer;
and there’s little money in being a chef.
But then again, there’s no life in
sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day and filling out MVRs. Many of my
friends applaud my bold decision, expressing faith both in me and in the ideals
of our generation: if something is worth loving, then it’s worth doing.