How I started to cook

As a little child, I was too young for any of the women in my family to consider starting my cooking apprenticeship, but they loved to feed me and I loved food. Despite all the women who surrounded me, the spark that started my interest with cooking came from my father. I even know the day when it happened – it was October 31st, 1980 (nothing to do with Halloween). I was seven years old. The day before, my mother gave birth to my brother Yair, who was child number five in our growing family. The next day my mother was still at the hospital; in Israel women stay there for three days after giving birth. It was lunchtime and we were getting hungry. As the eldest child I felt it was my responsibility to notify my father that we were ready for lunch. I knew he could cook. My father was a professionally trained cook who graduated from Tadmor – Israel hotelier school.  I followed him to the kitchen and I expected him to put the tall white hat for chefs on his head, open a recipe book, and start measuring quantities. To my surprise nothing of that happened. Instead he said, “let’s see what we have here.” He started to open the kitchen cabinets taking out jars of spices and placing them on the counter. Next thing he did was to peel potatoes and cut them into small pieces. He cooked them partially in salted water before he mixed them with oil, salt and pepper, and turmeric and finished the cooking in the oven.  “How did you know what to do?” I asked him amazed after watching the process. “It’s very simple,” he answered. “You just use what you have and imagine what you can do with it.”

From that day on my father became my mentor in the kitchen. My father refused to use recipes when teaching me how to cook. His repeated mantra was: “You only need to know the basics of cooking, the different ways to prepare food, such as boiling, frying, baking, grilling, sautéing, and then based on what you have in hand decide how you would like to cook your food.” For many years I used to be frustrated by his answer, but today I’m very grateful to him. He forced me to develop my own creativity in the kitchen. My father was also my harshest critic. He didn’t believe in praising children but in pushing them to become their next best. I remember waiting anxiously to hear his verdict on my cooking. He would take a sip or a bite, squeeze his lips and cluck with his tongue as he let his taste buds register the flavors, and then he would tell me what I have missed in the recipe. There were days that my mother felt sorry for me and would hurry to scowl at my father for being too harsh on me. For that he used to always answer – “She has to hear criticism if she wants to become better.”

A few years ago I had the chance to cook for my father again when came to visit me in the States. “Now you cook better than I do,” he complimented me. I told him that I doubt it’s true but I really appreciated the compliment.