Man with a Pan


Man with a Pan

Illustration: Mandar Mhaskar

The kitchen is the new garage.

While this sounds exactly the sort of profound statement that if left unexplained would lead to me acquiring a reputation for wisdom and a devotee list of celebrities, here’s what it means. Men are going into the kitchen in ever-increasing numbers and not just to get themselves a beer or forage for chocolate. But to cook! And they seem to have the same attitudes to the whole cooking shtick as they have to cars and careers and tools and gadgets and boy toys. Which means that they bring to it a sense of adventure and competitiveness, the desire to live slightly dangerously and most critically, the attention span of fruit flies.

Men, especially Indian men, have always understood the concept of cooking and cleaning, just not as it applied to them. The law that men cannot cook and clean at home was set down in a divine edict in the Vedic era. Even though other wonderful things from that era seem to have disappeared without a trace, for e.g. Vedic surgery and Vedic aeroplanes, this one was thankfully preserved in its purest form, thereby ensuring that the typical Indian man reached the 21st century without having any idea whether rotis grew on trees or bushes.

But suddenly, men seem to have negotiated a new agreement with the universe re home cooking. Sages have long predicted this change – that by the Chinese Year of the Monkey – in a large country a man with bad hair would become grabber-in-chief while in another large country men would enter a territory that they had never entered before and would colonise it fearlessly and administer it ruthlessly.

How blessed are we to live in these times where we can all enjoy the fruits of men’s labours in the domestic kitchen! So while women have been labouring in the kitchen since the earth was still a primeval soup (one that was possibly put on the hob and stirred for hours by a woman), men have just recently stepped into the arena. So they bring a refreshing novelty and excitement to the enterprise and a certainty that they will not ever have to do this day after day until the end of time and the knowledge that they will most certainly not have to do the washing up. This frees them up to be much more creative, much more self- important and definitely messier than women generally are.

So while women typically cook everyday food (that’s what happens when one cooks every day), men cook spectacular showstoppers. Show me a man who cooks yellow dal and lauki sabzi and I will show you a null set. Men cook things that have meat and fat and sizzle and sex appeal. Men cook to wow. There’s always a liberal use of alcohol, and sometimes it is even added to the food. There is blazing fire involved, there’s a lot of grilling and flambéing and blow torching. There are knives. There are always knives. And while it’s true that knives have proved indispensable to everyone, regardless of gender, while negotiating the home kitchen, women don’t have the same relationship with knives that men do.

Dessert usually is a last ditch attempt to add to the blood alcohol level of the guests and the cook, and also to try set fire to something.

So an entire set of chef knives is always bought, before men even start boiling water. These will be sharp enough to be able to make carpaccio out of shoe leather, but Kanta Bai will never be allowed to use them for slicing baingan for fear she will destroy them. This obsession with gadgets spills over into everything – while women may have routinely used a belan (or in my case, anything handy, from a beer can to the flat of my wrist) to smash garlic, men will buy 22 garlic presses over a five-year period. They will spend roughly three man hours talking about the technical superiority of the latest one, which costs the equivalent of the annual salary of POTUS and occupies as much space as Air Force One in the kitchen drawers, before deciding in the sixth year and announcing loudly at every occasion including Uncle Mehra’s chautha gathering that a belan is best for smashing garlic, after all. Similarly other gadgets will be bought and stockpiled in the event of a culinary emergency – micro-plane zesters, melon ballers, butter curlers, olive pitters, mandolins, pasta makers, spice grinders, and everything else without which, we all know, it is laughable to think of making even a khichri.

Gentlemen cooks are well read cooks – the average cookbooks-bought-to-dishes-ever-tried ratio is 4:1, i.e. four recipe books to one dish tried. But most men know better than most cookbook authors and so rarely need to follow recipes anyway, they fly by the seat of their “men who cook make great lovers” aprons. When the meal or the dish goes wrong, a lot of wine is reduced in an attempt to rescue it – the reduction coming by way of large gulps straight from the bottle while cursing fluently and loudly.

While women cook with ingredients from the bhajiwallah at the neighbourhood corner and the kirana dukaan next door, men cook spectacular things requiring ingredients that have more air miles than most pilots. Men cook with meat sourced from New Zealand, or at least Bangalore (the meat that dare not speak its name). They use sausages from Germany, salmon from the North Atlantic, and duck breast from this organic farm near Gurgaon. Sadly, the goat has to come from Kwality Mutton, because goats are stubbornly desi.

However, Quraishi bhai, the butcher, who was just the disembodied voice at the other end of a telephone line for most women, will rapidly receive many Saturday morning visits from sahab, and many conversations between the two will ensue. This means that sahab will soon become a repository of knowledge on goat’s anatomy and will be able to expound on the virtues of haath ka kuta keema as opposed to machine keema. From this veritable treasure trove of hot gas and ingredients, liberally mixed with fats of choice (butter, olive oil, first- press mustard oil, cold-pressed coconut oil), some showstopping spectacular items will emerge.

These creations will be shared on social media – #SoBadItsGood and #FoodIsTheNewRock. Other men who cook (you know who you are) will be consumed by a surge of testosterone and competitively go out and buy a ginormous Weber grill and start barbecuing some rhinoceros butt steak the size and density of a car tyre, marinated in rum from Barbados in retaliation and everyone except the rhinoceros is happy.

Dessert usually is a last ditch attempt to add to the blood alcohol level of the guests and the cook, and also to try set fire to something. Every thing that can conceivably be served as dessert is served, doused in rum sauce, whiskey sauce, or beer sauce. Sometimes, just alcohol is served, doused with alcohol sauce.

As this enormous theatre and production of huge cost comes to an end, celebratory cigars are distributed and praise (the whole point of this exercise) is duly lapped up and finally the immersion blenders, the rotary whisks, and the rhinoceros-carving knife set are put away until the next year.

The man with a pan has arrived. Could the New Year look more promising?