Men who learn to cook later on in life do so for a variety of reasons, either out of necessity (bereavement, divorce) or choice (curiosity, more time on their hands). In my neighbour Barry’s case it was an ultimatum from his wife along the lines of, “if something happened to me, you’d starve.”
There is a tradition, if that’s the right word, that men don’t cook. Sure, men make really great chefs but cooking at home, you cannot be serious? We are, after all, the hunters and gatherers. We bring home the bacon. The women prepare and cook the food and look after our children in between times. This cave-dweller division of labour still persists in many households and, though I can’t speak for the cooks, to the bacon-bringers at least, it seems like a sensible arrangement.
Before I am lynched my nearest and dearest, I confess that the above is a complete caricature. Even my most conservative male friends are not that unreconstructed. Many are in fact keen cooks and more than a handful of them are the main cook in the household. I do about half the cooking in our house; enjoy it very much and find it a kind of therapy after the Central Line or a day welded to the computer keyboard.
Barry’s reluctance to try his hand sooner, he explains, was out of deference to his wife who is a brilliant cook. Nevertheless he rose to her challenge, joined an adult education class for a term and learnt the basics but soon found the classroom situation and lack of interactivity unrewarding. Chatting with a couple of friends who he knew to be good cooks, he hit on the idea of getting together once a month for lunch. The Chef’s Club was born.
Some months later, when Barry asked me if I’d like to join, I leapt at the chance.
The recipe is pretty simple: 3 or 4 cooks, 3 courses, one cook per course. Start at noon; continue for as long as it takes. Like any good party it begins in the kitchen, with chef preparing and students looking on. It helps if you have a pleasant location for the lunch itself. Take, for example, Barry’s back garden on a clear September day in the shade of a spreading cherry tree with blackbird in full song in the branches above. For me, it couldn’t have been a better inauguration.
If this all sounds like another one of those male bonding things, it quite probably is. Women are much better at forming friendship groups and getting together for a gossip. We men of course, never gossip and our conversation is largely centred on resolving the pressing global issues of the moment, up to and including Arsene Wenger’s team selection conundrums.
The main ingredients of your typical Chef’s Club dish are the company of like-minded people, good food, intelligent chat and a glass or two of something chilled (in moderation naturally; men of our age need to watch our blood pressures). Barry sums it up as, “tremendous camaraderie and bloody good food.”
How has it been for the wives? “Why don’t you ask my husband to join?” is a frequent comment from those outside the club. And inside the club, Barry is a transformed man. He now cooks at home at least twice a week and his efforts are complimented and highly appreciated by his family.
And my advice? Get out more often. Get cooking. It might just change your life!