As somebody who frequently eats out rather than going through the hassle of cooking dinner like a proper grown-up, I’m always in awe of those who manage to wrangle big family dinners on a daily basis.
My wife and I regularly get together with my parents, my brother, my sister-in-law and their kids, along with our dog, and the challenge of catering for everybody’s food requirements is not inconsiderable.
The dog is easy enough – just a bit of kibble and cheese will sort him out, although he would beg to differ, as human food always seems so much more interesting. But one person’s a vegetarian, another doesn’t eat much carbs, yet another is mostly on a FODMAPS diet, and then the kids often want something entirely different, like pasta.
Feeding us all is a considerable logistical challenge – one that I have to admit I often solve, when it’s my turn, with the help of the local Thai takeaway. I ‘m in awe of those who manage to sort out meals for their family each and every day, often while simultaneously holding down a full-time job as something other than a short order cook.
But there’s something special about food preparation as an act of love, and dining together as a ritual. My grandparents lived in the country during my teenage years, and various aunts, uncles and miscellaneous friends were usually in attendance when the family got together, giving the whole thing a rather jolly PG Wodehouse house-party feel.
There would always be pre-dinner drinks and nibbles, presided over by my grandfather and involving gin and tonics for those old enough. My grandmother would be preparing dinner, but would make frequent forays into the conversation.
Then we’d sit at the table to consume whatever she’d had cooked up, followed by dessert of some kind, often stewed fruit accompanied by vanilla ice cream. Then cheese, and then my grandfather would tackle the washing up. I took it for granted at the time, but I now see it as a precious family ritual in a society that hasn’t many of them.
And food is about so much more than sustenance, which is why just about every house I’ve ever lived in has had the kitchen as its centre for socialising, rather than the lounge room. Most of them sensibly combined all the spaces together into one flowing area, since the idea of a separate kitchen and closed dining room is one that reflects an age when people had servants – nowadays, when entertaining, you want to talk to your guests while you put that the finishing touches to the meal.
I miss the idea of a proper kitchen around which the family can cluster because the apartment I live in has a fairly unusual one – it’s basically a long galley that’s off to one side within the floorplan. And while there’s plenty of space for food preparation, we can’t fit a kitchen table.
It’s a functional space rather than somewhere to hang out – a place to cook rather than a warm, welcoming kitchen, like the ones I grew up with.
One day, I want to have a kitchen that’s right next to the dining table, the way it’s meant to be, and invite people over to chat as I prepare delicious things for us to share. I’ll need a new house, and to become a much better cook, but at least I’ve got a few things to work towards. Because preparing food for the people you love, and taking the time out to chat as we eat together, is a huge part of what life should be about.
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Food at table image by The ALP via Pexels.
Secrets Of The Kitchen takes us into the homes of eight families to reveal what really happens in the kitchen. This three-part documentary airs 3.25pm Thursdays on SBS then on SBS On Demand.