Back off, back-seat cooks!

Back off, back-seat cooks!

May 2018

By Christina Quaine

Offering unwanted advice, meddling with ingredients, questioning the timings… Beware the looming kitchen botherer says Christina Quaine.

I’ve just started cooking dinner and I’m sloshing some olive oil into a pan when my husband yells: “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” in the sort of tone you’d adopt if you saw someone reversing towards a tree.

“You’re using that Spanish arbequina olive oil?” he asks, incredulously. “The cold pressed extra-virgin Sicilian olive oil would be better suited to this dish.” Later in the process I’ve turned away from the hob for a few seconds to chop some herbs when I hear the ominous clang of the pan lid being lifted. I whizz around and there he is, peering into the pan, scrutinising its contents critically. “How long does the recipe say to soften the onions for?” he asks.
“About 10 minutes,” I reply. “I’d soften them for 20. Ten minutes isn’t long enough,” he says. “Well, I’m following a recipe so I think I’ll stick with the instructions.”

This kind of exchange punctuates my entire time in the kitchen, interspersed with the likes of: “I think those onions might be catching.” Again, 30 seconds later: “They’re definitely catching!” They are most definitely not.

Many will recognise this character: the back-seat cook, the person in your life who can’t stop themselves from poking about in your kitchen business. For me, it’s my husband, for others it may be a parent, a sibling, an in-law. Whoever they are, they are infuriating. And, I’m sorry to say, this is peak season for culinary busybodies – because it’s May, a month bookended by two bank holidays, when you’ll probably be doing a lot of cooking.

I’m not alone in my rage. A recent survey by Kenwood found that a third of people can’t stand it when their partner imparts unwanted advice in the kitchen.

Meals can be ruined by this behaviour. Take my friend Sally, who recently had her family over for a curry. Sally had popped to the loo when her sister, a notorious kitchen botherer, decided that the lamb curry bubbling away on the hob needed more seasoning. Blithely, she tipped a load in and went back to her wine. Sally returned to add the final ingredients, then the family sat down to dinner. The entire meal was inedible and a takeaway was hastily ordered. Sally will never forgive her.

I get it. My husband is a better cook than I am. He is more at home in the kitchen. But part of the pleasure of cooking comes from creating something yourself, from scratch. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. So what if the tarragon didn’t go in at the right moment? Who cares if the courgettes weren’t grated on the finest setting? If someone is taking the time and effort to cook for you over the bank holiday weekend, then let them be. I just want to get on with the meal, in my own way, without feeling as though I’m being cross-examined by John Humphrys.

Still, maybe my husband is simply getting his own back on me for the times I’ve offered ‘helpful’ advice in the car. “You needed to take that turning back there! Brake! Have you seen that red car 200 metres ahead?!” And I don’t even hold a driving licence. Ahem.

Do you agree with Christina or do you take a different view? Tell us in the comments below.

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