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Experiences

How Learning to Cook Changed My Outlook on Life

Cooking. You either love it or loathe it. Personally, I never really gave it much thought until recently. My mother would talk about cooking as if it were a chore in a “just get it over with” type of way (albeit, she is a very good cook). Because of this, I had never thought of cooking as anything more growing up.

At 11 years old, I fell in love with cake decorating. I have no idea why or how it fell into my lap, but it was (and still is) my creative outlet. I loved how, with a little bit of intention and attention, I could make a simple baked mixture of flour, sugar, and butter look beautiful. I was completely self-taught, and you better believe that whenever there was a bake sale at school, I would have the most extravagant batch of cupcakes with mile-high buttercream on that table. I would sell some cakes and cupcakes to family friends—I was even commissioned to make 500 cupcakes for a small-town reunion once. Basically, I was making cakes any chance I got.

The problem with this hobby is that there aren’t many reasons to make fancy decorated cakes. Sure, there are birthdays, holidays, and frankly whenever I felt like making a cake, but baking and decorating a cake takes a reeeeeaaallllly long time (even longer if you’re me), and not everyone even wants a cake for their birthday (including myself—I’m actually more of a pie or cheesecake person). The next step in my culinary journey was to branch into baking. I was still making cakes, but I started adding cookies, pies, and desserts of all kinds into the rotation. My family seemed to enjoy tasting new flavours far more than seeing a beautifully decorated cake (ask any other home cook: flavour always trumps beauty). I became fascinated with the different ways I could combine unexpected flavours into objectively delicious treats (but don’t quote me on that).

Around this time, I began travelling. My first international trip took me to Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and France. When I tell you that I grew a second sweet tooth on this trip, I’m definitely not kidding. I was suddenly surrounded by cannoli, crêpes, macarons, schneeballen (look it up), strudel, gelato… you get the idea. All that to say that I fell even more in love with all the different ways you could combine basic ingredients and whip up universal favourites. On top of that, endless combinations of flavours were slowly starting to unfold in front of my eyes; I started learning to be bolder and more courageous with flavours in my sweet experiments.

At 18, I moved twenty-something hours away for university. Living in a shoebox of a dorm room, I found myself truly longing for a kitchen (and no, I was not about to use the communal Kraft Dinner-stained saucepan in Thompson). I had realized that no matter what I was making, cooking in any form is my true hobby, and I am so lucky that it is a delicious one!

When I had to move back home halfway through the second semester of my first year at university, I could finally scratch that culinary itch that had been bugging me (I have COVID-19 to partially thank for this one). I challenged myself to cook without recipes, learn from my shortcomings, become more comfortable with seasonings (flaky salt and I are BFFs), experiment with savoury flavours, draw from other cultures, and learn as much as I possibly could.

Over one year later, I continue to push myself outside of my culinary comfort zone, and I have never felt so fulfilled. Learning to cook has taught me that:

  • Not everything can be perfect, and that is a beautiful thing.
  • Stepping out of your comfort zone only makes your comfort zone larger—and who doesn’t want a bigger comfort zone?
  • Not everyone will love what you create—life is only viewed through subjective lenses.
  • When you love something, continuing to learn about it becomes incredibly easy and fulfilling.

Make of my experience what you will, but never stop learning and always be on the lookout for better and bolder flavours in your life. Oh, and always keep a set of tasting spoons in your arsenal. :)

Hailing from Northwestern Ontario, Jessica is an avid baker and traveller and has a passion for learning and experiencing new things. She is currently studying Life Sciences with a minor in Aging Studies and hopes to become a dentist in the future.
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