Everyone has a different approach to their kitchen. There are so many variables, such as what’s kept in there, where it’s kept, and what the space is used for. You can get a very good sense of a person’s eating habits by poking around the kitchen. What condiments are in easy reach? What kind of appliances do they use regularly? What array of pots, pans, and tins are there? What kind of snacks are in the pantry? All that is before you even open the fridge and discover the leftover evidence of their cooking.
We can all appreciate the product of cooking and what comes out of a kitchen. What we don’t always realize is that the way it comes together can vary widely. Here, too, there are many variables, like how to wash, cut, combine, cook, serve, eat, and clean up after any given meal. Each person has a set method which they’ve deemed best. You only realize how different they all are when you enter someone else’s kitchen and offer a hand.
“Sure, I’ll prepare the carrots… but did you want them peeled? Sliced lengthwise or in rounds? Oh, diced? And how are they to be cooked? Baked, sauteed, boiled?” You find the cutting board and guess on the best knife, then discover that the board you’ve chosen is only for meat. Try again. They’re to be sauteed, but what oil should you use? Are there any spices the family usually eats? You try garlic powder and learn later that it’s not a favorite with the kids.
After preparation, it’s table time. Setting it is a task that most people are just happy to have done, whether the knife blade faces in or out. However, you still need to figure out which dish set is used for which meals. In serving food, sometimes things come out on the table all together or one at a time. Do you wait for a prayer or special keyword, “Bon Appétit”, before eating? There may be a certain order to eat things, or way to pass the dishes around.
Finally, there’s the washing up. Have you ever thought about how many different ways there are to wash dishes? Even if you’ve always had a dishwasher, there’s still an individual approach to loading it, as well as figuring out the dishwasher’s tolerance to left-on debris. But when handwashing, the variety is all over the place. To accommodate all the preferences, there are a wide variety of tools used for the job – sponges, washcloths, bristle brushes, and scrapers. Soap is all surprisingly similar, but its use varies. Sinks also differ in whether there are multiple compartments, plastic buckets inside them, and some way to collect food particles.
I’ve been in a lot of kitchens since leaving home. Thirty to be exact, at the time of writing this in May, 2017. Adjusting to people’s kitchens has been one of my hardest tasks. I’ve never been very confident in the kitchen anyway, so it’s an outright challenge for me to enter a new environment time and again and try to pull something edible out of it. Baking is something I do enjoy, but when you don’t know where things are and the measurement system/tools are all different, even that loses its charm. The upside is that you can learn a lot of different ways to do and prepare things and figure out what works best. People have often wanted to share and teach the methods that work best for them. The downside is that it’s easy to lose all confidence. In someone else’s kitchen, nothing is as simple as it seems.
My conclusion is that while food is universal, cooking is generally a very personal thing. If you do share the task with someone, it’s best to have a clear goal, yet flexible expectations about how you’ll reach it together.