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The Secret Key to Culinary Heaven

July 28, 2012

I think I have found the key to heaven. Culinary heaven.

When Nurul was down with morning sickness and couldn’t even stand the slightest smell of garlic, I took over the kitchen and started cooking (again!). It was so awkward being back in the department that I had long abandoned since Nurul “invaded” this space a few months before. Now that I was listening hard to her step-by-step instructions on how to slice those shallots and hold that wok and stir-fry that Char Kuey Teow, I felt like I was being transported to the old boarding school where I always hated those son-of-a-bitch seniors who made me walk like a duck every night after prep. But then, as soon as I put the cooked dish on a plate and saw something more familiar to my eyes, all the depressed feelings were gone and replaced with renewed joy, like I was looking at an old photograph and longing to go back to a time when everything was so perfect … so joyful … so yummy.

But hey, don’t worry. The sky is certainly not falling when a foolish amateur like me works his ass off in the kitchen. After a few painful attempts to produce simple dishes like maggi goreng (fried maggi) or sayur air (water-based vegetable soup) or singgang daging Kelantan (Kelantanese sour soup beef), I began to see the big picture and, oh boy, I think I finally got it.

“Whoa, this is marvelous!” I said while licking my proud, self-made food as though I had just won the inventive challenge in MasterChef Australia.
“It’s not that difficult, is it?” said Nurul.
“Not at all.”
“You know what?”
“All you need is practice.”

Nurul was right. I think I have found a way to cook – simply hit the kitchen and produce a disaster! I mean, all I need to know about cooking is visualizing and seeing it by myself, not being told by some fat stranger in a dry cookbook. I’m sorry, I just hate it when I have to follow certain recipes in a book or a website. For me, the instruction is way too technical, too trivial, too difficult. But, of course, the root of my poor culinary state is not written in any cookbook. It’s already written in my childhood.

Yes, when it comes to foods, I have always been a spoilt brat who is only interested in the results, not the process. Being brought up in a family with a girls-cook-and-boys-eat environment, I have almost come to believe that I can always get anything I want to eat without having to cook at all. So, asking someone like me to follow a recipe from a cookbook is like asking a tough bodybuilder to ballet dance. See what I mean?




Now that I have seen the big picture (or thought that I had seen one), I can finally sit down in a “classroom” and reflect on what I have done (or damaged). Here I am in Melbourne, learning stuff all over again at 35, like a kid who never grows up. As I recall the drama that I have been through in the kitchen, I begin to appreciate another exciting world that has long existed but has been kept hidden from me (sounds like the Chronicles of Narnia, huh?). And as I write down the learnt recipe in my personally-tailored cookbook (Cekmi’s Gourmet! haha), I think of the ambitious chefs who have found their passion in culinary arts and fine cuisines, of the book publishers who have made a fortune out of top food writers, of the TV producers who have earned a million out of food programs, of all the dedicated mothers around the world who have shed tears and cooked their hearts out for their beloved husbands and children. But most of all, I think of my own late mother who fed me so well and made me who I am.

When I think of all these, I thank God for teaching me another great lesson. I just need my own space and have someone there to assist me. This inductive, instead of deductive, strategy seems to work just fine for me. It’s more or less like doing a PhD with my supervisor as a loyal guide. But, seriously, I don’t need a PhD to learn how to cook. What I need to do is always there before me to be discovered. All I need to do is learning by doing it, not thinking about doing it. And I think could do almost anything that I want to do if I dare enough to go ahead and do it.

Now that I am holding the secret key, I’m ready for the next challenge. I don’t know yet what’s going to happen, but the door is already open. It does look exciting from here. I could smell the good food.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    July 29, 2012 2:32 pm

    Congratulations Hilmi and Nurul…a bundle of joy is waiting for you in March 2013.


  2. July 29, 2012 6:49 pm

    Yo Cekmi! I for one won’t mind cooking up a storm in the kitchen but I’m too short to reach the stove. So, I let my Mama do all the cooking. Your list of repertoire looks impressive. Soon you’ll be making kerutuk, dendeng and whatnot. Malaysia Hall Melbourne doesn’t organise Bazram? har har har *evil laughs*

    pee ess….intrigued by the mention of “morning sickness”….


    • July 30, 2012 6:45 am

      You Angie! Love the food at Malaysia Hall’s Bazram. But will cook that stuff you mentioned definitely. We will see about that huhu..


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