How I Became a Better Home Chef During the COVID-19 Pandemic

If you look back on the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, you will probably remember the sudden surge of banana bread, sourdough loaves, and whipped coffee flooding your social media pages. Like many others, I found myself indulging in these trends as a way to curb my boredom. Pretty soon, cooking and baking became a new hobby of mine. If you're curious, read on to find out how I used my downtime during quarantine to sharpen my skills in the kitchen.

Finding an artistic muse

chopping food and food prep Photo by Conscious Design from Unsplash

I was a food lover long before COVID hit and I have always been a big fan of cooking and baking shows like The Great Canadian Baking Show, MasterChef, Cake Boss and Netflix's The Chef Show. Once those had gotten me hooked after binge-watching episodes, I began watching homecooks' videos on YouTube. Tasty, Preppy Kitchen, and Binging with Babish are just a few examples of YouTube creators who share recipes and step-by-step instructions. Not only are these videos extremely informative, but they are also just very entertaining to watch, what with their different video aesthetics and styles of cooking.

Despite the intensity of competitive shows like The Great Canadian Baking Show and MasterChef, it's fairly obvious how passionate the contestants are about cooking. Every dish is created meticulously with so much care, and understandably, every critique stimulates an emotional reaction from each person.

Similarly, watching The Chef Show's world-renowned chef Roy Choi work around the kitchen and host Jon Favreau eagerly learning from choi and other chefs was somewhat endearing. In a way, it felt familiar to me, because I was just as eager to learn as Favreau was.

After observing all of these talented chefs and bakers, I was really intrigued by how much time, effort, and (most importantly) passion that goes into creating dishes or whipping up a dessert. They make it look so easy and effortless, even though it can be harder than it may seem. Society often sees cooking and baking as a chore. But the culinary arts should be appreciated more, seeing as it takes the same amount of effort, care, and creativity as any other form of art.

Experimentation and research

Ramen in a pan with sauce, and eggs and vegetables on the counter. Photo by Patchanu Noree from Burst/Shopify

When the pandemic first hit, I was really hung up on how much I missed going to the restaurants near campus and work. I missed burrito bowls, pad thai, pizza, sushi and so many other foods that suddenly weren't so easy to get my hands on. Although I thought about simply ordering in, I knew it would be a wise decision to save my money. Instead of constantly getting takeout, I tried my hand at making these dishes myself at home.

It was rough at first. I was, quite literally, experimenting with all of the ingredients I had available in my kitchen and creating concoctions that were admittedly hit-or-miss (ask any member of my family). I remember making stir-fried noodles that were a little over-seasoned and brownies that were practically cemented to the baking pan. I saw myself imrpoving over time — tasting as I went along, being careful not to over-mix things, and reminding myself to grease the baking pans before placing anything in them.

In the end, I learned that although it is definitely okay to take some creative liberty with cooking, it is a good idea to stick to instructions when you're just starting out. Thankfully, we live an in era where recipes for just about any dish you can imagine are available with a quick Google search.

Here are some easy, beginner-friendly recipes I used during the first few months of quarantine cooking:

Savory

Sweet

Practice, and remember it's all for fun!

cooking cookies with milk Photo by Rai Vidanes from Unsplash

Like any other life skill you wish to develop, practice is essential. I was in the kitchen everyday, remaking recipes that didn't turn out as perfect as I wanted them to be the first time around.

If after some time the constant cooking and baking starts to feel like a chore, it's important to remind yourself that it's all in good fun. So, put on some music, tie your hair up and have fun with what you're doing, whether it be on your own or with someone else who is also interested in cooking and baking.

Again, I would suggest starting simple — maybe dress up your standard instant ramen with eggs and chives or make your pancakes from scratch. Work your way up to more challenging, complex recipes and experiment. Yes, food is a basic human need, but that doesn't mean that you should tire yourself out while making it. This is especially important to remember during a time where we need to find fun in the most simplest of everyday activities.

Before COVID-19 forced us all to stay in our homes, I wasn't much of a home cook or a home baker. It wasn't even much of a hobby of mine. Sure, there were the occasional omelettes, easy pastas, crêpes, and the boxed brownie mixes, but I usually left most of the cooking to my mom. That being said, my mom really enjoys cooking. It's a form of stress relief for her, which I understand and can appreciate more now.

When I'm feeling a little down and if I have the time, I look up a new recipe to try and make it come to life. So I definitely encourage you to get up and start cooking. Good luck and enjoy whatever it is you decide to make!