Okay, “cuisine” might be a bit of a stretch, but the fact is that cooking at home while being at home during the coronavirus has flourished. People who always loved to cook but never had the time, have happily found the time, and people who loved to eat but never cooked have decided to give it a try once they tired of ramen noodles and peanut butter. Of course, experienced cook or not, planning, shopping and preparing three meals a day week after week is enough to wear anybody out. The good news though, as so many have discovered, is that families are actually sitting down to meals with each other, and even cooking together!
According to a survey done by SSA & Company, a management consulting firm, 40 percent of consumers began eating at home regularly for the very first time during the COVID outbreak. While retail sales in general plummeted, figures show that sales of small kitchen appliances (bread makers, electric skillets, juicers, rice cookers, coffee makers and such) have risen significantly, as have sales of cookware and kitchen utensils. Bloomberg rightfully reported that sales of those instant ramen noodles had jumped 578% between February and March, but by April, USA Today was reporting that bakeware and yeast were selling out on line! (I can personally attest to the yeast shortage.)
I have been a big, and frankly rather accomplished cook, for most of my adult life, though when I first got married, I “couldn’t boil water,” as my Mother put it. After the honeymoon, however, it soon became clear that my love of good food beautifully presented was going to demand some studying up if I wasn’t going to eat out in restaurants every night. And so, lo and behold, there she was: Julia Child herself on PBS television with her cookbooks available at the nearest Waldenbooks! (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I, 1961; The French Chef Cookbook, 1968 (which was the accompaniment to her television show and which I still have and sill use); and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. II, 1970.
Now I don’t want to bore you with the litany of Julia Child’s cookbooks, but having just cleaned out my entire kitchen cabinet of books and recipe files, I still have, and still use regularly From Julia Child’s Kitchen (1971), Julia Child and Company (1978) [the ham pithiviers in this book has become a Christmas Eve tradition in our house], Julia Child and More Company (1979), and Julia’s Kitchen with the Master Chefs (1995), which I just referred to the other day. Hey, author Julie Powell has nothing on me! (Julie and Julia, 2009)
Over the years, I continued to learn from other television chefs, Jacques Pepín, Martha Stewart, Emerill Lagasse, and my beloved (to this day) Ina Garten, and to collect their cookbooks. I also took local courses, starting with the Wilton cake decorating classes (even though I have never been much of a baker, but it was great for decorating all my son’s birthday cakes), and then moving on to special courses in specialty markets covering such skills as risotto, pasta making, and bread baking. Here in San Antonio, I have attended the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) for enthusiasts courses on French bistro cooking and soufflés. And last summer in Lyon, France, we were fortunate to take a class at the famous Institut Paul Bocuse and to have lunch there. Now that was culinary event that made the whole trip worthwhile!
During the COVID quarantine, the CIA has graciously given those of us who have attended classes there a complimentary on-line connection to their instructional kitchen videos and their library of recipes, all of which have inspired me to expand my culinary repertoire while at home. I also recently finished reading the hefty, but wonderful, newly-released memoir by Bill Buford called Dirt, in which he recounts the five crazy years he spent with his family in Lyon immersing himself in French cooking. And yes, his big goal was to study at Institut Paul Bocuse. Our trip to the south of France last year was our last abroad before the coronavirus hit, so this book has been both informative and nostalgic for me. (I love France and wonder if I will ever get there again.)
Anyway, I have spent these COVID weeks devoted, in large part, to cooking, canning, preserving, baking, freezing, studying and reorganizing my cookbooks and recipes. My husband has been harvesting summer vegetables and now is preparing for the fall crop. Needless to say, we have had some fabulous meals during this time — and we haven’t gained any weight!! Lots of things are in season right now — peaches especially, but also jalapeños, tomatoes, string beans, onions, and squash all of which are in our garden along with fresh herbs and fresh flowers.
Call it what you will, cuisine or just plain cooking, is a creative act of love and joy, particularly for others — one of those perhaps unexpected, but comforting discoveries from the coronavirus. Hopefully, there will be other happy discoveries and they will outlast these troublesome days.