A Reflection on my Father - The Chef

By Conchita de Souza

A Reflection on my Father - The Chef

What is (or was) your father like? The kind that dishes out tough love or the kind that always cracks lame dad jokes? Is he into watching his sports or does he prefer to be adventuring amongst nature? Is he a DIY dad or one that can’t tell a spanner from a ratchet?

When my brother and I were just kids, we did not see a lot of our dad; he was always working long hours and on weekends too. We knew that he was a chef; but at home, it was mum who always did the cooking. Maybe it was because dad was cooked out by the time he got back from his job. He would sometimes cook on weekends that he did not work, showing off his skills by setting the wok aflame whilst preparing his signature Asian hokkein stir-fry noodles. My brother and I would exchange impressed glances and take silent thrill in his workmanship. 

I remember my mother dutifully washing his chef’s uniform, each time removing the strip of black-beaded buttons before soaking then scrubbing the coat clean of stains. She would lovingly iron his uniform each week, carefully pressing the iron against the embroidered name on his coat. I would secretly swell with pride when he worse his uniform, thinking how handsome and heroic he looked.

When I first started cooking in my late teens, I was afraid of disappointing him with whatever dishes I attempted. I made lots of errors: undercooking or overcooking; too much spice or not enough salt. My dad would pass comments like “the carrots aren’t  julienned well” and that I should use roux to thicken the white sauce. I was a student of French but was unfamiliar with the culinary terms he threw at me so to irritate him, I would correct his pronunciation.

I forged my own identity in the kitchen, one that sought to define itself by being the opposite to that of my father’s. I became interested in Italian cuisine whilst my father preferred Asian and Indian. Slowly but surely, I gained confidence in the kitchen and in my ability to prepare meals, albeit guided by a recipe page opened on my laptop. I humbled myself to ask him for help, and he too would eat my food with less disdain and almost a hint of appreciation. 

Till today we never cook together, our presence in the kitchen only possible in the absence of the other. Out of respect, I will ask him culinary questions to which I already know the answers, or can easily find on Google. He does a lot less commercial cooking and no longer dons his checkered chef pants and white coat. I can see that he is slowing down and I don’t want to accept that he is succumbing to the start of his twilight years.

His legacy in the kitchen is far from romantic and very practical indeed; always cook from home and cook in bulk to save time and money. The former I’m already embracing but the latter doesn’t come easy for me. 

Words and reflections aside, and in honour of my dad and yours, here are my top five dishes that can make any Father’s Day a special one. Try one or all of them this Sunday and let us know how you go. 

  1. Indian-style Eggs Shakshouka - If dad is a brunch kind of guy, he will definitely appreciate this gem of a dish that can transport any grown man back to his simple childhood of dunking bread into a soft-boiled egg. Pair it with your dad’s favorite bread and some bacon strips on the side. 

  2. Biryani - The best thing about preparing this dish is that is can be tailored to suit your dad’s preferences in terms of spices levels and also the protein used (seafood, chicken, mutton or vegetables)! Cooking a biryani involves making the flavoursome curry first, and then adding it in layers with white rice. You then seal the pot with some raw dough and stick it in the oven on low to bring out the flavours. Serve with raita to temper the heat but also to contrast with a pop of fresh and raw flavours. 

  3. Tandoori Chicken/Lamb Chops - Springtime has sprung and theoretically is is not too cold to get out the barbie, especially for all things tandoori! Accompany with a pasta salad or channel North African vibes with this couscous delight.

  4. Dhal Makhani - If the barbie plans fail due to unpredictable weather, stay indoors and undercover whilst preparing this rich and creamy dhal that will have your home smelling like a Mughal’s royal kitchen. Serve with hot basmati rice and top with coriander and slivers of raw Spanish onion. 

  5. Gajar Ki Halwa - If your dad has a sweet tooth (mine certainly does) then he will appreciate this dish more than you can imagine, especially the effort you put into making it. Don’t be fooled by the main ingredient - carrots. This dish will transform the carrot from an ordinary and healthy salad ingredient to a decadent delight that will have you unbuttoning your trousers under the table.
Happy Father's Day!


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