What I Learned from Cooking with my Boyfriend
My guest blogger this week is my lovely assistant, Tara. In this post, she shares some wisdom from the kitchen! -Lisa
Eight months ago, I took the plunge and moved in with my boyfriend of a year. Robby is the first (and, fingers crossed, last) guy I’ve ever lived with, and he just-so-happens to be a great cook. Admittedly, I have his ex to thank for that. They were together for eight years, and in that time she whipped him into the domestic god he is today so I might reap the benefits… and a few extra pounds. I raise a glass to her with every teeming plate of pasta al limone, miso glazed salmon, and juicy ribeye he puts in front of me.
Suffice to say, my guy knows his way around the kitchen—and, to his credit, ours is not an easy one to get around. Our building dates to the 1930s, and aside from the deep, farmhouse sink, it’s hard to find much charm in the lack of counter space, not to mention total absence of a dishwasher or garbage disposal. Yet Robby manages to excel against all odds. He moves around the kitchen like a pro, with authority and confidence, and sometimes it takes everything in me to refrain from jumping him mid-sauté on our ever-so-unfortunate linoleum floor.
I, on the other hand, don’t fare so well. I overcook pasta, I forget to prep, and most recently, chose the wrong sized pan while attempting jambalaya and stood in the middle of the kitchen, helpless and on the verge of tears, as I watched our supper spew over like molten lava. Robby chops veggies with the ease of a well-oiled machine; it takes me a good ten minutes to julienne a carrot. In fact, before I met Robby, I didn’t even know what it meant to julienne a carrot.
In my defense, I spent a significant number of my adult years in New York before moving back to L.A., and let’s just say The Big Apple didn’t bode well for my culinary development. Aside from the occasional Thai delivery, all of my meals were consumed outside the apartment— and with good reason. The closest Trader Joe’s was a dozen subway stops away, and I didn’t want to wake the cockroaches.
My (Drunken) Inner Jewish Mother
Regardless of my lack of experience in the kitchen, something about cohabitation struck a domestic chord in me, and almost as soon as I’d unpacked my last box, I found myself overcome by the urge to feed my man. In other words, my Inner Jewish Mother took over. Unfortunately for Robby and me, my Inner Jewish Mother has the culinary skills of a twelve-year-old after guzzling an entire bottle of Manischevtiz.
Robby was sympathetic to my ineptitude. He found my remedial veggie chopping endearing, especially because I do it as a lefty. But I imagine my clumsiness in the kitchen would challenge anyone’s patience, and Robby’s quickly waned. When I attempted to sauté onions, he’d tinker with the flame on the burner to make sure I wouldn’t char the pan. When he saw me struggling to peel garlic, he’d grab a knife and explain how much easier it is to get the skin off when you crush the cloves first… and then he’d mince it for me.
Most of my early attempts at cooking would end with me stomping out of the kitchen and plopping myself down on the living room sofa, angry and dejected, while he finished preparing the meal. Sometimes shouting would be involved, and I once threw an heirloom tomato at the wall out of frustration. In the end, the food would taste wonderful, but I would feel ashamed of my amateurish skills and resentful of Robby’s having taken over. While I don’t ascribe to the motto “a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” I hated feeling like I didn’t have a place in there at all.
Romanesco and an Epiphany
For awhile, I just stayed out. I watched from the dining room table, some combination of envy and bitterness boiling up inside of me, as Robby peeled and diced and sautéed, our apartment filling with the aroma of onions and garlic… a smell I came to associate with my own inadequacy. At the local Farmers Market, which we frequent together every Sunday, I would lose myself in the rows of fresh produce and imagine a day when we might live as equals in the kitchen, julienning organic carrots side by side. Then, on one of these trips, while staring at a particularly stunning array of romanesco, I had an epiphany: if I wanted to feel like an equal in the relationship, I had to learn to hold my own in the kitchen.
Food was such a central part of our lives that my culinary woes felt as grave as trust issues or sexual dysfunction. I knew I had to step it up. I couldn’t keep deferring to Robby when I found myself struggling in the kitchen just because I knew he was a better cook. And I couldn’t keep letting him taking over, no matter how desperate my drunken Inner Jewish Mother was for a reprieve. If it took me ten minutes to julienne a carrot, then it took me ten minutes to julienne a carrot, goddamnit!
Sous Chef at Best
And so I made a rule, and I drew a line. When I was cooking, Robby wasn’t allowed anywhere near the kitchen. There would be no exceptions. If I had a question, I’d Google it. And if things got out of hand, there was always a fire extinguisher in the hallway. I managed alright, and slowly but surely, my skills began improving. But with each mediocre dish I made, I had the sneaking suspicion that something wasn’t right. I thought having the kitchen to myself would feel empowering; that all the sweat and toil would payoff when I set that plate of food down in front of the man I loved and felt the satisfaction of knowing I was fulfilling my womanly duties. The trouble is, I wasn’t having any fun. And the feeling I got setting that plate down on the table was never as gratifying as I had hoped. Mostly, I just felt insecure, tense, and exhausted. I was trying to play the role of master chef, but I was a sous at best.
Room for Two
Regardless of its scant dimensions, I knew deep down there was room in the kitchen for both of us. I peeled back the yellow tape, and I let Robby back in. Instead of continuing to let myself be intimidated by his culinary prowess and judging myself for my inferiority, I tried embracing it. I mean, how lucky was I to have a man who could satisfy me in the bedroom and the kitchen? I let Robby take the lead, and I quickly realized that playing sous chef wasn’t as bad as I’d made it out to be.
Since that fateful night, I’ve cooked plenty of meals on my own, but the ones that taste best are always the ones we prepare together. That isn’t to say we don’t bicker and bump elbows along the way, but like any good argument, there’s always something to be gained. Cooking with Robby has taught me the virtues of patience and perseverance, and the beauty of collaboration. With each meal we create together, we’re learning how to maneuver around the kitchen and each other’s idiosyncrasies simultaneously, and we’re getting closer. And as nerve-wracking as it can be sometimes, at the end of the day we subscribe to the adage, “what happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen.” Except for the food, of course— we take that with us.
Are you having trouble finding your footing in a relationship? Set up a coaching consultation with Lisa and see how she can help you transform your love life and forge a deeper connection with your partner.