Confessions of a Culinary Autocrat

Hello. My name is Desiree and I’m a Culinary Autocrat.

Let’s first define autocrat as I know it’s one of those words people think they know, but may not be sure. The purpose of this exercise is to bring awareness, as well as help those who are in denial to recognize it within themselves. 

Autocrat:  a person ruling with unlimited authority; one who has undisputed influence or power.

It took a hot minute to determine the exact noun I wanted to use to describe my condition. I first selected bully, but that is defined as someone who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker or in some way vulnerable. I am not cruel, insulting, or remotely threatening to anyone—it’s not in my nature. Dictator didn’t work as I’m not an oppressor—unless you ask any one of my kids, but that’s for another time. These two words alone are quite negative in connotation and I don’t think my condition warrants that kind of cynicism. 

The word autocrat seemed to fit perfectly as I do have unlimited authority in my kitchen and hold all of the power and influence as to what goes on there. Think of a chef in a restaurant. This person is in charge and decides on what is to be prepared and how. I am no different in my kitchen, but the concept changes when people around you aren’t employees. With that, I am using this post as a sort of confessional as I recognize that my autocratical ways may not always be positive. 

Herein lies my problem…I like things prepared or cooked in a certain way—my way. My argument is that I have been cooking for about twenty-five years and I think that gives me some authority. Right? I know I have made it far from fun to cook with me sometimes—okay, most of the time—but, there are methods to my madness. There are certain ways things are to be chopped, or diced, and there are specific ways ingredients have to be measured and prepared (see Alton Brown). There’s a science to the art of cooking and it ALWAYS matters how things are done.

I am confident in my abilities and know my limitations. I know I should use my powers for good and teach my teenagers, but I lose patience. I can show them how to use a knife, measure ingredients, and put everything together. The problem is that the next time they help, anything I’ve taught has vanished from their memory. I show them again—and again—and again. To watch them haphazardly pour milk into a measuring cup used for dry ingredients EVERY SINGLE TIME, rather than use one for liquids, makes me crazy.  Now I am done and my tone will discourage them from any future culinary exercises. However, I do need to ensure my kids know how to cook for themselves as they have to be comfortable in the kitchen, knowing all the tools to use, spices to add, and various ingredients that work well together.  Or, they grow up thinking it’s easier to open a box and just add water…with the wrong measuring cup, no less.

Now, cooking with your significant other not only shares responsibilities, but it’s an engaging way to bring you closer together. There are random conversations, laughter, and even some sensual taste-testing.  Michael and I have had some fabulous cooking sessions and it can, quite honestly, be very romantic. However, the days of us preparing meals together have been put on the back shelf—like some ingredient that is used on rare occasions, such as truffle oil or saffron. He knows how to cook and has prepared some delicious meals.  I have learned with him that I have to let go and let him prepare things as he wants. However, I find myself making little comments—not to insult but to suggest. At least that’s how I see it.

Now, cooking with your significant other not only shares responsibilities, but it’s an engaging way to bring you closer together. There are random conversations, laughter, and even some sensual taste-testing.  Michael and I have had some fabulous cooking sessions and it can, quite honestly, be very romantic. However, the days of us preparing meals together have been put on the back shelf—like some ingredient that is used on rare occasions, such as truffle oil or saffron. He knows how to cook and has prepared some delicious meals.  I have learned with him that I have to let go and let him prepare things as he wants. However, I find myself making little comments—not to insult but to suggest. At least that’s how I see it.

Things all came to head when he wanted to help and asked how I wanted some potatoes cut. They were going to be roasted in the oven, so it was important that they were all relatively the same in bite-size pieces to cook evenly. What started as a friendly argument over diced versus chopped turned into eerie silence in the kitchen.  I’m honestly not sure it was me being offensive or him being defensive—but, it’s been a while just the same. 

So, I find myself alone in the kitchen these days and I know it’s my fault. I have to let go my need to be in culinary control and allow my family to learn—just as I did (and still do). With Michael, I have to let him cook as he pleases, without my commentary (unless he asks, of course). I will add that I don’t complain about having to do all the cooking—the culinary autocrat in me is good with this. But, the kitchen being the most commonly used room in the house is a meeting place for families. I am exceedingly happy on those rare occasions everyone is home and standing around the counter as I cook—laughing and sharing stories. I even love it when just one person hangs out with me—until they ask to help.

I’m a work in progress. 

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