What Our Dads Taught Us About Cooking
What are you doing for Father’s Day this Sunday? Let’s step away from the stereotypical gifting of gadgets and grilling of meats and take a second to appreciate what our father’s taught us in the kitchen. We did a similar post last month for Mother’s Day and it was so fun to see how our readers’ kitchen lives were shaped by a parent.
Here are a few things our dads taught us about cooking. Please add your own memories in the comments!
My dad didn’t cook a lot when I was a kid, but he did share his love of experimenting with new food. My brothers and I ate a lot of pasta as kids, but my dad was always talking about the incredible lobster meals he had in Mexico or his love for Vietnamese and Indian food. On the rare times he did cook, he made a lot of simple, delicious things like a great steak out on the grill or pink scrambled eggs (don’t ask).
My dad rarely cooked for us growing up – we went to my grandmother’s house for dinner or ate out instead. But what he did teach me was to love food. Although we mostly ate Chinese, he gladly took the family out to try chile rellenos, Vietnamese pho, filet mignon at the local steakhouse, burgers at the drive in, and giant milkshakes that came with extra in the tin. He taught me that food is worth traveling and obsessing over, that it brings people together, and that it’s worth taking the extra time to eat well.
My dad’s cooking taught me that sometimes simplicity is the key to a truly great meal. I didn’t appreciate this until I was older, but my dad cooked dinner a lot when I was growing up. His meals weren’t fancy or elaborate, and he didn’t spend hours slaving over the stove. He made he kind of meals that were satisfying, comforting and left you going back for seconds (especially on meatloaf night!). I learned that a well-seasoned, well-cooked piece of meat and some simply cooked veggies go a long way after a long day.
My dad didn’t start cooking until his retirement. Inspired in part by his sons-in-law, who are all cooks, he checked out Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the library and spent an entire afternoon making her beef bourguignon, which is hardly a recipe one would recommend to a new cook. It was an epic undertaking, as my mother says, in part because my father didn’t know his way around the kitchen, and had to take frequent breaks to look up a particular technique or ingredient. But that’s his way: he jumped into cooking feet first and fearless, which I love.
Since then my sisters and I have gifted him with Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything and a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated, which he reads with relish, continually amazed at the new things he’s learning. (Oh, and the beef bourguignon? My mother says it was absolutely delicious.)
When I was 22 and living in my first post-college apartment, I decided I wanted to make bread. Like, my very own, for-real, with-yeast-and-flour loaf of bread. I remembered my dad showing me the “finger test” when I was a kid for judging when the water was the right temperature for adding yeast — I have a very clear Saturday morning memory of him telling me to put a finger in the measuring cup of water to test its temperature, me quickly pulling it out because the water was hot, and him chuckling at my surprise.
With this in mind, I went about making my first grown-up loaf of bread. I did the finger test, I added the yeast, I kneaded the bread, I baked the bread, and from the oven I pulled….a door stop. It was completely brick-hard. I called my dad in a panic, wailing, “But I did the finger test! The water was steaming hot and everything!” His response, “Emma, the finger test is to make sure the water is COOL enough to add the yeast. I was fooling with you when you were a kid. I think you killed all your yeast!” Sure enough, I baked a second loaf, this time making sure the water was COOL enough for me to touch, and the loaf I pulled from the oven was perfect. Thanks, Dad. Thanks a lot.
My dad isn’t much of a cook, but he was a faithful grocery shopper (and budgeter) with a taste for simple food and smart budgeting to keep his family of 8 kids happily fed. Any frugal streak I possess I owe to my dad. I also think that my original desire to please and delight someone with food came from feeding my family, and especially my dad. He just loves good food — it’s a simple pleasure but it’s so fun when I can make something he really loves, like my all-time favorite banana cake — his birthday treat.