I Can’t Cook – The Art of Failure & Learning Through Cooking


“I can’t cook”

One statement I hear often is, “I can’t cook”. What a broad statement. I cannot cook. You, can, cook. Take it from someone who was guilty of proclaiming this statement over and over again; and subjected herself to weeks of hash browns, baked beans and garlic bread when I went to fend for myself at University. My first semester at university had me notorious for the uncooked pasta bake; I didn’t know you had to cook the pasta first. There was substance behind the “I can’t cook” claims; I couldn’t. My housemates in particular were the catalyst in getting me to cook and open up to trying new foods. Shirley, Adam, Greg, Alex & Jo.

Shirley, introduced me to a world of flavours and embracing experimentation; her chicken teriyaki was one of the first exotic dishes I tried and it had me in awe. Adam introduced me to the idea of food being more than just eating through how much he enjoyed cooking and his love for the family allotment. Greg painstakingly picked away burnt food from my pans, literally for hours, as we watch Come Dine With Me; reassuring me that it was all okay. Alex and Jo, got me my first ever curry, need I say more.

My first experience of food growing was when Shirley and I went to visit Adam for the weekend and we picked asparagus at the allotment. Both eating asparagus and going to an allotment were new to me; it introduced me to the idea of fresher being better. For both of them especially, food was an occasion, and for students, they ate ridiculously well and without the expense.

Education & The Power of Marketing

I had always been adverse to cooking, and you could go further and say I was adverse to food. Knowledge and confidence in cooking as well as food appreciation have long been concepts and skills that have, and are continuing to diminish. I’ve seen first hand how the lack of food education disables people from trying and giving it a go, because that was me. But no wonder. I went through 18 years of the UK education system and not once did food come into the equation. So of course we have built a generation of people who are disconnected, lack interest and fear the kitchen.

Manufacturers and marketing have preyed on this notion, hence the rise of the convenience food sector. Marketing has long told us that they can do it better. So it’s best we leave it to them, and you can spend your time doing something you’re actually good at. I wholeheartedly bought into this concept, even with becoming more confident and open to food and cooking. I saw the processed and convenience foods as helping me out because I lacked knowledge. My pasta sauce wasn’t going to be as good, so I best get theirs. How could I possibly make a curry from scratch, of course I’ll need a jar of curry sauce.  The pre-packaged fruit salad is full of vitamin D, Y, M and Q, good, get it in my basket, cutting up fruit is a messy job right?

Marketing has done good work of instilling preconceptions we don’t even know we subconsciously hold. Couple that with the lack of food education, it’s easy to understand the adversity and anxieties many have around food and cooking.

The art of failure & cooking

Relying on process and convenience costs us far more than we realise, and in a multitude of ways and not just financially or health wise. It shields us away from learning, discovery, and ultimately, from failure. And there lies one of the key issues with food and cooking. Failure.

We live in a world where we are constantly subjected to images of perfection, are hidden away from failure and taught to only discuss our achievements. Pursuing perfection is an unhealthy obsession magnified by our infatuation with social media and the illusion of what is, crafted and calculated perfection.

Fueled by eagerness when I first started out with my new found love for food, I had a lot of failures and I still do today. I started this blog back in 2013 as a new self-proclaimed foodie, chasing glory and feeling desperate about capturing and documenting it so everybody knew that I was now a “foodie” too. No real substance, I baked a couple of good cakes, therefore I was baker and the world should know. There’s no problem with that at all. Problem was my relationship with failure. Rather than learning from the mistakes, I would become engulfed in disappointment, self-loathing and anxiety that quickly spread from just being a flat cake to feeling like a failure at life and what was the point of even trying. I was terrible at dealing with imperfection and instead of trying again, I gave up. I stopped.

Changing the dialogue around failure; really it’s experimentation and learning

Failure is a good thing. Real life isn’t a constant sea of success and achievement. We all know it’s not, so why subject ourselves to the game and deny that we sometimes get it wrong. Ask any successful person how they got to where they are and they’ll begin to reel off the lessons learned, in-other-words, mistakes or failures, repackaged as a lesson. This was the turning point for me, constantly hearing people that inspired me, talking about how they got it wrong. It’s not a lesson to be overlooked.

I’ve learnt to embrace mistakes, turning disappointment into a chance to reflect; probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt so far. How? One, through slowing down and learning to be present and focus on what I’m doing and telling myself to focus when my attention strays. Two, through learning to accept that in order to be good at something, you’ve got to try and try again. In anything we do, we build confidence through trying, the same applies with food.

That’s why when someone says “I can’t cook”, I’m calling you out on it. You can cook. You do know more than the convenience ideas that you’re constantly subjected too. And you can learn and you can get it right, because it’s never to late to learn. Forget what you don’t know and focus on what you will know.

There’s been a lot of firsts for me over the past few years. More so recently as I become more confident in my abilities and embrace my mistakes. The meal pictured below was the first time I cooked fish, that was yesterday; it took 25 minutes. Which is shorter than watching a TV chef cook a dish you’re not eating. My previous post, was the first time I poached an egg. I’m learning through observation and a change in mentality – it’s really hard to make something completely inedible.

It’s all about the art of experimentation, trying something bold and not getting worked up if it doesn’t work out as expected.

i can't cook

Further Reading:

The concept of failure is something we all ought to be discussing more. The Chronicles of Failure by Ella Sadie Guthrie from Peachy’n’Keen looks at failure and has us open up about the personal failures we’ve all encountered. I can’t recommend reading through these enough. For me, they’ve normalised the dialogue around failure and have helped instill the notion of failure being a good thing and not something to keep a secret.

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