In a Complicated Relationship with Food Videos


In a Complicated Relationship with Food Videos

Illustration: Shruti Yatam / Arré

– Add flour to a pot of boiling water. Then add some salt and oil and turn the gas off. Quickly stir the flour until it forms a smooth paste. (Got that!)
– Transfer the dough into a piping bag lined with a star tip. (Could make a mess!)
– Pipe 6-inch spirals onto a sheet lined with parchment paper. (Sounds easy… even fun!)
– Freeze the circles for at least 2 hours. (I’d do 3 just for good measure.)
– Fry the circles in hot oil until light golden brown. (Need to be careful with the oil, don’t want a repeat of last time’s fiasco.)
– Place a scoop of ice cream in between two churro discs. (Ohhh… this is amazing.)
This active self-dialogue is continuously running through my mind, as I watch a video of churro ice-cream sandwiches. I will probably never make churro ice-cream sandwiches, but I can’t stop watching these videos. You know the videos I’m talking about, they’re all over our Facebook feeds – the ones that have an overhead view of a kitchen counter and stove, with just a pair of hands slicing and dicing and frying and frosting. They’ll show you four ways to turn slices of toast into animal faces or cupcakes into flamingos. I’m watching the churro-sandwich video for the third time today, and I have about five more recipe videos lined up in as many tabs open in my browser.

Thanks to my food-video addiction, my newsfeed resembles a conveyor belt of dishes that could potentially turn me into a half-decent cook. But here’s the thing: I don’t cook. Not anything more ambitious than Maggi!

As a kid, I showed all signs of being a great cook. I loved hanging out in the kitchen while my granny cooked effortlessly, creatively, and calmly. I would be allowed to lend a helping hand every now and then. My granny must have believed, like I did, “Here are the beginnings of a woman who will feed her family well.”

Turns out, both of us were wrong. I never cooked and on the days I did, I made a glorious mess of everything. Once I decided to whip up a simple potato rösti with garlic mushrooms. The recipe called for finely slicing the potatoes and then pressing them between two sheets of kitchen roll to soak up the excess water. The slicing was fine, but I hit a roadblock when I got to the pressing part. The pieces would not dry. I had them between multiple sheets of paper for more than 10 minutes, occasionally airing them out under the fan too but they remained slick. Finally, I gave up and dumped the pieces in a pan and hoped they would come together in a lovely, crisp, golden rösti. They did not. What I got were clumps of half-cooked aloo that threatened to separate into individual slivers the moment I took them out of the pan.  Cupcakes, my next experiment, came out tasting like rust, and pies like socks.

This half-assed desire to cook “interesting food” ails most of my generation and some of us celebrate it. Look how my rösti doesn’t look anything like a rösti, we caption our Instagram posts. We find the kitchen and our antics in it amusing. And we were all women who come from mothers and grandmothers who were fabulous cooks.

Where did we go wrong?I think the answer lies in the fact that our relationship with the kitchen is a complicated one.

I want great food when I come back from work, but I don’t want to be like the mothers, who were chained to the kitchen. I like a good meal but I’m not committed enough to see it through.

But the more spectacularly I fail in the kitchen, the more obsessively I watch these videos. Watching cakes rise precipitously in warm ovens and gooey threads of golden cheese struggle to maintain form when a grilled cheese sandwich is pulled apart makes me feel like I’m part of the creation process. Food videos have become my proxy to fulfilling all my cooking-related desires without involving actual cooking. They are beacons of desperate hope for atrocious kitchen noobs like me, assuring me that I can make delicious pasta from scratch and it will take no messy kitchen and just 30 minutes. I mean if you can condense an entire recipe into two super-fast minutes, I’m sure I can manage something in at least half an hour. Right? We are a generation of superhumans, are we not?

The thing is that even though my experience with these videos hasn’t always been encouraging, they haven’t put me off cooking entirely. If anything, they’ve made my conviction even stronger. In my case, nobody has to pay the price for my conviction because I live with family and don’t have to feed myself, but I fear for the family that will depend on me in the future. What will I feed them? Churro ice-cream sandwiches that spill oil on a plate and collapse at a minute’s notice? Is that the stuff my children’s childhoods will be made of?

I know I should give up these videos and actually go learn to cook real food from a book that tells you how tough those damn potatoes are going to be and to not really aim for rösti and maybe just start with a simple aloo ki sabzi. But my ambition is lofty and my commitment low. I will never cook a single great thing but that won’t stop me from watching great food videos.