I’m a pretty confident cook. I don’t cook very often, these days, because I’m also a pretty lazy cook, but I know what I’m doing in the kitchen. I’m quite happy tinkering with recipes or inventing things entirely from scratch. I’ve made lasagne from the pasta up – the only thing I didn’t do was mince the meat, that’s because I asked my nice butcher man to do it for me.
When I’m making something I’ve never made before, I look at a few recipies for the same thing, and then forget about them all and do whatever seems right. I can pick flavour combinations that seem outlandish and horrifying, that I think will be good together, and I am rarely wrong.
I can’t bake, though. When I’m making something that needs to rise, I need recipes, and I have to follow them. This is because I don’t really eat bread or cake very often, so I don’t cook them very often, so I’m scared to make them in case they break.
Except pizza dough. I can make delicious pizza dough at any time without any reference materials – it’s easy, why would you need to look at a recipe?
The above is only a little bit so I can brag about how awesome I am (I’m pretty awesome, guys), it’s also to show that even confident cook-types can have areas where they’re uncomfortable, and those areas don’t necessarily make any sense, but they’re scary and will be avoided, or walked through carefully.
In my family, while growing up, all of us kids (me, my brother and sister) were involved in cooking meals. There are pictures of us with wooden spoons as big as we are, blue cake batter in our hair, delightedly stirring our cake monstrosities that we were allowed to put anything we wanted in, with some guidance from mum. The cakes were probably awful but we were involved in the process.
We wouldn’t be involved in chopping vegetables or boiling anything, but we’d get stuff from the fridge and the pantry, and when we were big enough to do it without making enormous messes, we’d measure and pour things, mix them, lay them out, whatever.
A great deal of this stopped, however, as we progressively hit school age. So when I was at school, the others were less involved in cooking because mum was doing other stuff as well, and by the time all of us were in school it didn’t happen often at all.
This means that I was the most exposed to cooking as a young child, and my sister, the youngest, the least. And while my brother and I have had family-adjudicated pizza-from-scratch competitions, with various styles of pizza each, in the past, he’s less of a generalist cook than I am, and my sister claimed to be unable to cook for a long time, but in the last two years or so has been doing so more and more, and is now more confident. But the general cooking skills gradient matches our ages, and also our exposure to the processes of cooking as tiny children.
Now, one family isn’t data, but it is an interesting counterpoint to the gender-essentialist view that men can’t cook and ladies can. First of all, no-one can’t cook. Cooking is easy but it’s definitely a matter of confidence, to some degree. Experience with the processes is also important, so you know, for instance, to start the rice earlier if you’re going with stovetop absorption rather than a rice-cooker for your whatever it is rice dish, but barring massive inattention or accidental use of the wrong measures for things, basically anyone can cook from a recipe and it’ll turn out.
It may, currently, be the case that more men than women claim not to be able to cook, which I think is more a fear of failure than a scientifically tested viewpoint, but I’m reasonably certain that more girls than boys are involved in the processes of cooking as children, at the moment (or 20 years ago – might not be the case for kids who are kids now, and if it’s not, the “can’t!” divide will probably vanish as they move out and start being adults).
A lady I lived with once, despite coming from a very much food-oriented culture, wasn’t really comfortable doing more than cooking rice and some vegetables, and attributes this to not being involved with the cooking side of food much as a kid. Food just appeared at the table, and you ate it (if said lady is reading this and being misrepresented in terms of skillset or upbringing, I apologise, but this is how I recall it from our discussions).
A lady I live with right now is much less comfortable with experimenting with food than I am, or at least was initially. Heather still likes to cook from the recipe but she does throw changes in, now, when she feels like it, and this is directly due to her increased familiarity with cooking in general (and also because she’s had to put up with me going “ooh! let’s put this in there, too!” for so long that it’s become part of her kitchen habits?).
So, yeah. Being uncomfortable with cooking isn’t a guy thing for any non-cultural reasons. There’re ladies who “can’t” cook and there’re guys who cook all the time. There are people who are masters of a few particular dishes that they know inside out, and there’re people who will give anything a shot based on a vague description someone gave them of a meal they ate when they were drunk, 19, and in Burma somewhere. They all exist in every gender and the only reason that there’s different numbers of each gender in these classes is because different genders are brought up with different expectations and experience in cooking in general.
Science fact. So there.