On Becoming a Master Chef

Alex-2016 Alex, Uncategorized 0 Comments

As a freshman, I really enjoyed USC’s dining halls. From Parkside to Cafe 84 to EVK, there was always a variety of options. If I was running late to my 8 am math discussion, I could quickly hop into EVK, pick up a coffee and some yogurt, and be on my way. If I had more time between classes, I would adventure to the Parkside dining hall and spend an hour with my friends. As much as I loved the social aspect of eating in dining halls, I chose this semester, my fall semester of my sophomore year, to cook my own food, something I had never really done before.

Well, in all honestly, I had some cooking skills. As a Boy Scout in Troop 52 of Danbury, Connecticut, I had earned the cooking merit badge. From long winter nights of camping, I could start a fire and make cobbler in a Dutch oven. Over several years on our annual summer rafting trip, I had optimized the rate at which I could boil water on a camping stove, leading to less cooking time and more time to eat my pasta dinner.

At first, cooking in my apartment’s kitchen didn’t seem much different. At night, if I wanted to, I could easily make ravioli. Opening the pre-made pasta package from Ralph’s, I would dump the ravioli in boiling water, wait until the pasta rose to the top, and smothered the ravioli in marinara sauce. For breakfast, I loved eating honey nut cheerios, a pretty quick fix for a rushed morning. On the weekends, I sometimes ventured into uncharted territory, maybe scrambling eggs with hot sauce. So, throughout the first month of my sophomore year, my cooking really was simple.

After a month of ravioli and scrambled eggs though, I was ready to learn more than two recipes. My first great idea? Tilapia marinated in olive oil. After letting the raw tilapia marinate in olive oil for a night, I stuck the fish into the oven for 30 minutes, at 350 degrees. Proud of my accomplishments, I cooked for my entire apartment that night. As I laid the dish out on the table, the fish did not look quite right, and, upon taking the first celebratory bite, I realized, to my disgust, that the fish was still raw. I remedied the issue by sticking the fish back in the oven for fifteen minutes, but, by that time, my apartment mates had decided to go to Subway instead. That night, I ate alone.

Over the next few weeks, my cooking progressed. I (successfully) made tilapia again and even cooked a great chicken marsala dish. During away games, I always manned the grill, and, on lazy Sunday mornings, I began making creative egg dishes with a variety of spices and vegetables. My crowning achievement though was my homemade sushi. Last Friday, I hosted a sushi rolling party at my apartment. Prior to the attendees arriving, I had to boil rice, dice cucumbers, and chop avocado. The salmon had to be unpacked, the seaweed purchased, and the imitation crab unrolled. Even the sushi rollers, large Ziploc bags with skewers stuck through them, had to be made. Luckily, the preparation went well, and the dinner was delicious. Everyone got to roll their own sushi and put in whatever ingredients. My favorite dish was the homemade California roll, which I wouldn’t cut up and would leave as a “sushi burrito”. That night, I re-won the trust of my apartment mates in my cooking ability.

In college, learning how to live an independent life is nearly as important as the items taught in class. For me, cooking is just a small segment of learning how to be more independent, and, so far this semester, I have enjoyed being able to cook for myself. While sometimes I will eat out at Subway or Panda Express, or sometimes will just make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I much prefer sitting down in my kitchen and eating a meal which I prepared on my own. It also helps that my meals taste pretty good.

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