Home cooking is a habit. You have to wear it, get familiar with it. You’ll never learn this from watching telly or reading a book.
And that’s why home-cooking is different. For me it’s defined by three things. The ingredients you have available, the circumstances in which you find yourself and the people you are cooking for. Since pre-history when we were nuzzling round the cave fires these have always the driving facts of home cooking. And the truth is that they don’t always leave you the freedom to be creative until you’ve learned the skills of your trade. Sometimes it really is just fodder.
If your most convenient source of shopping is a local convenience store, your budget is tight, you are feeding a fussy child or a careless partner, you’re in a hurry or forcing yourself to cook for one, all the circumstances of cooking are driven by necessity. Which is, after all, the mother of invention.
That seemingly miraculous ability to look at a few scant ingredients in the fridge and cook something nourishing and tasty might be the goal. But it’s not where you end up that matters, it’s the attitude you start with. The people who seem to be able to throw together an astonishing feast from nothing but a celery stalk and some anchovies weren’t born with the skill, they acquired. it. Less genius than fearlessness. It took Nigel and Mary a lot of practice to get there. Real cooks will give anything a go.
Anyway home cooking isn’t really about virtuosic restauranty food like soufflés or gratin dauphinoise, it’s knowing what to do with a cheap cut of meat or how to make potatoes simply irresistible with a lot of freshly cracked pepper, butter and parsley. When you become confident with what you have to work with and you get in the habit of cooking from scratch, this approach becomes a skill you can depend on.
Nor does it matter what your kitchen is like – most of mine have been pokey, windowless galleys with stuff piled high on every surface and barely room for the dog to get in around my feet for floor pickings. Again the most important thing is to get familiar with the space you have you have available. And learn to love it.
I call what I cook at PipsDish ‘real home cooking’ precisely because it is wholly based on this approach to cooking and creating dishes. Though I have a bigger kitchen and a ready supply of great ingredients, it’s still the same principles that I started with.
I took the experience of cooking at home to having a supperclub in my sitting room, and now to my small social kitchen in Covent Garden. Still, I work with what I have; several times a week I talk to the farmer, fisherman and veg people. And every day I go to the restaurant early in the morning and decide what to cook that day, based on what’s in the fridge. With no menu and little in the way of formality, I believe that people like PipsDish because I cook from the heart, using the skills I have acquired by being a habitual cook. And that’s the most important thing you can learn.