That time we all had the terrifying experience of cooking for ourselves
Written by Jean Teng
We are living in the middle of a major food movement. It might not look like it — with restaurant doors shut, and our hospitality industries in seemingly dire straits — but necessity is the mother of invention, darling, and we’re seeing that invention all across our social feeds right now.
Let’s make some predictions. In another three or so years, a chef will accept a James Beard Award, attributing their success to lockdown for forcing them to push, think outside the box and innovate with, like, canned tomatoes. Sooner than that, fine dining restaurants will hold commemorative one-night-only ‘quarantine’ tasting menus, inspired by their time hibernating at home without the luxuries of a commercial kitchen. Oh, I can taste the dollop of whipped coffee butter on a slab of hot, holey sourdough now.
Whether we’ll look back with fondness or with horror, one thing’s for certain: it’s definitely been A Time. Here’s an overview of what I think will come to define this era.
You know it had to be here. With takeaway lattes off the menu for a lot of us, the yearning for something other than instant Moccona was at the forefront of public consciousness. A mixture of boredom and novelty created the perfect storm for this online sensation to thrive: an airy, sweet concoction that is more satisfying to make than consume. A fleeting trend, maybe, but a trend almost synonymous with this Starbuck-less stretch.
Making fresh pasta is just an altogether romantic notion. Picture this: strong, capable fingers kneading a soft, malleable ball; a sheet of smooth dough emerging from the steel pasta maker; yellowed strands draped all over the kitchen, drying out in the midday sun. Mm, mm, mm. It’s rustic luxury — fairly easy to do, yet a welcomed representation of the lush Outside World. Pair it with a glass of natty wine and it’s basically lunchtime at the local wine bar.
We all love a good portmanteau, and #quarantini was ripe fruit for the picking. In essence, a quarantini can be whatever you want it to be — a makeshift martini without the olive (sad), or even Ina Garten’s absolute monster of a ‘cosmopolitan for one’. Either way, booze, in any form, is an essential. Forget liquid courage — quarantinis are all about liquid comfort.
Heritage beans, heirloom beans — potato, po-tah-to. The point is, avid foodies have been scrambling to get their hands on the bougiest beans on the market, from black to pinto to chickpeas, especially since its use exploded within fashionable food circles in the States. Somehow, beans are cool now. Heirloom beans are the Rolls Royce’s of the bean world — lesser-known varieties that are harder to grow than their mass-produced counterparts. Their versatility appealed, with recipes highlighting their use in stews, bakes and even pastas, and more than that, the symbol of what they represent resonated: opulent apocalypse food, for trying times.
Lastly, but most importantly: bread, bread and more bread
We’ve all become bakers. Deprived of readily available artisan bread and with a fairly sinful amount of time on our hands, desperation led the masses to beg smug friends for sourdough starter and scroll through online shops for flour, please, dear God, any flour. (Flour demand in New Zealand went up by 500 per cent at the beginning of April.) Unnecessary panic buying then led into unnecessary panic baking. Ugly first attempts at sourdough loaves soon gave way to flatbreads and dimpled focaccia. Thank God for no-knead recipes, we discovered. And, above all, thank God for bread. Bread-making gave us a sense of purpose, an accomplishment, a thrill; something to focus on when everything else was out of our hands. We needed that. Plus, the bragging rights were pretty cool, too.