A few weeks ago, on a nippy winter night at a friend’s place, around 10 of my buddies and I were indulging in the happy mix of great alcohol, good appetisers and enjoyable conversation that is a staple of fun weekends – when the tenor of the evening abruptly changed. The host brought out the star of the party – a pahari mutton dish he had cooked himself – and a few minutes later, I noticed two very different reactions to the food. While the women all served themselves and moved back to resume their interrupted conversations, the men stood around congratulating the cook, trying to dig into the dish to guess the ingredients, suggesting modifications and requesting for the recipe. And I thought to myself, what’s happening here? When did men start to love to cook? And when did women lose interest?
The increasing tribe
Look around you. Chances are, you’ll find this happens more often than you think. While men from previous generations prided themselves for not being able to even boil water, today their urban counterparts are not just turning on the gas, but cutting, dicing and slicing their way to culinary heaven – from making quick staples for dinner to elaborate meals, to exotic dishes from the last foreign country they visited. Vicky Ratnani, head chef of fine dining restaurant Aurus in Mumbai, who also hosts Gourmet Central on NDTV Good Times, agrees. “At a recent cooking workshop that I hosted, nine out of 25 participants were men – guys who had busy lives and high-pressure careers – but were taking time off to learn the skill,” reveals Ratnani.
And what about the women? Well, most seem to enjoy spending time away from the kitchen. Quite a few of them, especially between the ages of 20 to 30, don’t know how to cook at all. And even if they do, chances are that they have too much on their plates and hence little or no desire to slave away in the kitchen. “Given a choice, I would not cook, I’d rather use my time to manage the house well, juggle the demands of my career, look after the overall needs of my husband and maintain a social life,” says Indra Desai, a 35-year-old corporate lawyer.
Most urban career-minded women are increasingly delegating daily cooking chores to the domestic help. And most of their partners are okay with the arrangement. Abhishek Singh, a 20-something business consultant, loves trying out new recipes. He picked up the nuances of cooking while in college when he stayed as a paying guest. Now married, he has no issues with the fact that his wife doesn’t know how to cook. Says Singh, “She will learn. Cooking together will be a great bonding exercise.”
This is a departure from the days when prospective grooms could never imagine a homemaker who didn’t know how to rustle up a delicious, hot meal.
So now, the old proverb ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ should actually read: the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach.
The tables have turned, and how.Women desert the kitchen. When it comes to cooking, chances are your family fits into one of these three categories:
1. The woman is still the only one who is cooking.
2. The woman knows how to cook but doesn’t; the domestic help does.
3. The woman, the domestic help and the man cook in turns.
Now, a new category appears to have emerged: The woman cannot/does not want to cook, but the man does, often with the domestic help as a back-up.
The reasons for this change are a shift in attitudes. As we all know by now, women are now working long hours in offices. They have a space beyond the kitchen to feel ‘acknowledged.’ According to lifestyle management expert Rachna K Singh, chauvinism is giving way to sensitivity. “Our society is evolving and that means an equal division of chores between the genders, one of which is cooking. This happened in the West a long time ago,” explains Singh.
We are living in the age of cooking democracy, she adds. “Some women were never taught to cook by their mothers – no family recipes handed down – so they don’t know where to begin. Others don’t trust their cooking abilities enough to feed their spouse, and some others want their men to cook for them.”
And why is it that women are not enjoying the process of cooking as much as before? To begin with, did they really enjoy it? “Ask your mothers. A lot of them wouldn’t really have enjoyed cooking but were forced to. Now that women have all the freedom, they’ll cook only if required,” says Dr Syed Mubin Zehra, social analyst and author of Sexual and Gender Representations In Mughal India.
The men are loving it
The men who like to cook also love talking about it, says Sunil Tickoo, CEO, WG Hospitality, (who was helpful for our shoot at Q’BA Restaurant and Bar in Delhi as always), who loves putting together burgers and other dishes for his children.
Back in office, a usually aloof colleague unleashes a long monologue about his fascination with baking, which began at the age of 14 by watching his aunt churn out brownies by the kilo. Now, he gets up at the crack of dawn to bake if he has someone coming over, and has specific knives, pans and other cooking equipment that no one, except him, is allowed to use.
Model Aman Singh goes a step further saying he is a kitchen Nazi who has to be in control.
So yes, men can not only boil water now; they can do much more!
How to hook your guy to cook
*Lure him into the kitchen with interesting promises and make him watch all the food shows that show men cooking. He is bound to get inspired and start cooking.
*Tell him your friends say that couples cooking together is a great bonding exercise (it really is). That should get him into the kitchen. *Make it fun for him by looking for recipes that he likes.
*Get him into the ‘masculine’ spirit of things, with recipes that have beer, vodka, brandy and wine as ingredients. And gift him cookbooks written by men.
*Whatever you do, don’t criticise his food. Shower him with so many compliments, he wouldn’t have a reason to stop trying. Drop hints later on about how he could improve.
*Turn the kitchen into his den. Have things that he loves around him – the iPod with his favourite music and a mini bar.
*Select recipes that take minimal time. He won’t be able to excuse himself saying that they are complicated.
*Make sure you praise him in front of everyone. Especially in front of his mother. It will get tough for him to back out then.
*If nothing else gets him into the mood, do what British chef Jamie Oliver suggests: withhold sex until he starts cooking.
Is he a glutton or a gourmet?
IT TAKES all kinds of men to make their maiden forays into virgin territory: the kitchen. Here’s how to recognise one species from the other:
Those who love to cook. period
Like model-turned actor and now TV host (Chakh Le - India) Aditya Bal who got into the kitchen and began to cook out of boredom and frustration (his film career wasn’t taking off). Bal cooks every day. Though he admits it can get monotonous, experimentation keeps him going. He can easily cook for 25 to 30 people (maybe with just one helper) and has had 80 people over for an ‘only biryani’ meal.
Those who plan in advance and execute
Unlike a majority of women, for whom making food is a chore that needs to be done in the minimum possible time, for these men it is all about the fanfare and planning. “After carefully drafting out a menu, I start getting the ingredients from the vendor. A day before, I keep most basic things ready so that on the night of the party, I just have to throw everything in,” says Bal. He doesn’t go by the book and aims to keep getting better at the art of cooking.
Those who cook to impress their women
Men who cook are hot. Nobody’s contesting that. A man who cooks for you on a date has already won you over halfway through. That’s why even in Bollywood movies, a lot of male characters now don aprons and are seen cooking vigorously to hook the ladies. Hrithik Roshan did it for Katrina Kaif in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and Imran Khan served a plateful to Deepika Padukone in Break Ke Baad. And that’s how actor and now TV host Aly Khan (who hosts Foodistan on NDTV Good Times) started to cook.
“I was in England for my studies and my mother would get masalas when she would visit. I used the ingredients to make food to impress women. They would often flip. Food is a sensory thing. And it is very romantic – laying the table, putting together a dish and then tasting it together. Also, the first bite (exploring the flavours) is like having an orgasm.” Khan’s love of cooking has continued. Whenever he’s in India, he whips up special rice or gosht and loves to contrast textures.
What is it that makes a man who cooks so attractive? Any man in sync with his feminine side is attractive, like a man with a baby, explains Rachna K Singh. “A man who cooks seems like someone who is sensitive and compassionate. He has evolved.”
Advertising professional Rita Jha, 28, agrees. “Men can fix a car and build a campfire. Shouldn’t they know how to feed you without ordering in food? That says a lot about their life skills. We think ‘this guy is going to ease our burden when we are together’.”
Also, most women find the idea of a man understanding spices, playing with them, and then finally sampling the mix (yes, the same way Aaron Eckhart dips his finger and tastes food straight from the pan in the movie No Reservations) sensual. “He seems like he’ll be good in bed. Most times, it is true,” winks Jha.
Those who savour the flavour and create it
A lot of men learn cooking because of sheer necessity. They live away from home on their own and start cooking for practical reasons.
Consultant Abhishek Singh, for instance, began to cook when his sister and he were staying away from their parents. “I wanted to have good food. Eating out costs money. So I started to learn Continental and Chinese (that I love). I started to mix and match flavours and seasonings and come up with newer dishes. As a result, my cooking has become spontaneous and experimental”.
Unlike Singh, other men begin wielding knife and skillet because they feel they can beat their female partners at their own game. Engineer Ajay Malhotra, 34, for instance, began to cook, when he got bored of the staple dal-chawal and the ‘special’ butter chicken his wife fed him. “My wife also works and I realised she isn’t that interested in experimenting or learning newer cuisines, so I started cooking and realised I was good at it.”
Those who cook on special occasions
Some men only like cooking for parties. Or Sunday breakfast. Others cook fancy stuff – meat or crab or whatever’s the flavour of the season. Cooking is therapeutic and is done when they have spare time. With beer in hand, friends or family for company, and a special occasion to celebrate.
Chef Vicky Ratnani says, “Lots of my friends are holiday cooks. They end up taking one to two day workshops on local cuisine when they are abroad.” Actor Aly Khan, too, has a lot of holiday cooks as friends. “When we meet in London or Dubai, we hang out in the kitchen and bond over cooking,” he says.
Disclaimer: If the article seems a little skewed, it could be because the writer is a woman who doesn’t want to ever cook.
Men enjoy being nurturers
Most men interviewed said that the most satisfying part of the process was acknowledgement from their partner
From HT Brunch, March 18
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