By Alison Ashton
You always hear people saying they learned to cook from their mamas or grandmas. With Father’s Day coming up, I’m reminded that it was my dad who suggested I get acquainted with the kitchen with some home cooking lessons.
“Don’t you think Alison should learn to cook something?” he asked my mom one day when I was 11.
“Why on Earth would she want to do that?” Mom asked. She was a reluctant cook herself, and the women’s movement was in full bloom at the time, so she figured if I wasn’t interested, why bother? After all, Dad wasn’t exactly nudging my brother toward the stove.
Until then, my culinary participation was limited to doing homework at the kitchen counter while Mom cooked dinner or, when she (rarely) made chocolate-chip cookies, licking the beaters. (Those were the days, before salmonella scares, when raw cookie dough was meant to be relished, not feared.)
Dad didn’t take the bait on Mom’s gender politics, so he and I embarked on a series of home cooking lessons. One of our first ventures was making brownies. We used a box mix, which is a big cheat of course, but they tasted good and offered guaranteed success. Before long, though, my tween passive-aggressive sulkiness and lack of enthusiasm took the wind out of Dad’s culinary determination and he tasked me instead with “character-building” chores, like scrubbing our redwood hot tub (above, with Dad soaking happily) with steel wool under a blazing summer sun (if only I’d stuck with learning how to cook a pot roast).
I continued to avoid the kitchen throughout my early adulthood, living on restaurant meals, takeout and convenience food. But after awhile, eating out became a chore in itself–deciding where to go, parking, the time. So I started following a recipe here and there with edible–even good–results. To my surprise, I discovered I enjoyed cooking; it was a relaxing way to end the day.
As I learned more, I worked my way into food editing and writing, where I enjoyed sharing my newfound knowledge with others. I even went to culinary school last year to fill in the lingering gaps. I learned plenty of fancy stuff—how to make crystal-clear consommé and a chicken galantine–but, truth be told, I was happiest mastering some basic skills that I likely would have picked up if I’d just stuck it out in the kitchen with Dad.
He didn’t live to witness this transformation, though I imagine he’d greet this news with a satisfied smirk and say, “Honey, if you weren’t so stubborn I would have shown you that for free.”
Well, Dad, better late than never.
A longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and the Editorial Director for NOURISH Evolution. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health.