"Cooking is a continually rewarding, and often therapeutic, life skill"PIXABAY

When I was in my second year, I started to try my hand at cooking and venture away from Hall, the college’s reliable bastion of student nutrition. I swiftly found that a self-sufficient method of sustenance was incredibly fulfilling, especially when I shared my new-found skill with my friends. This made me curious to discover what other students in the college were concocting in their kitchens and gyps

Food is meant to be enjoyed with people; it is a break from the day, a chance to clear your mind

Tim is a PhD student from New Jersey with strong Italian-American roots. His dish of choice was an authentic nonna (grandma)recipe, a tangy Chicken Piccata, served with creamy polenta and crispy roasted asparagus. It has remained unchanged for generations since its origins in Sicily, birthplace of his grandmother. As a first-generation Italian in America, she preserved her home cuisine in a new and foreign land. Tim’s motivations for cooking the dish remain the same: “Making the food that you would normally have at home is a way of getting over homesickness. It’s basically nostalgic comfort food.” With only £8.00 worth of ingredients and 20 minutes of your time, you can put together a meal for two. And herein lies the beauty of the dish, which is best appreciated when shared with someone else. I asked Tim, “What is the best way to start getting into cooking?”, and his response was, “When I invite friends over for dinner, they want to reciprocate.” Food is meant to be enjoyed with people; it is a break from the day, a chance to clear your mind, and forget about work for an hour or so. What better place than Cambridge to give it a go?

The Italian theme continued when I paid a visit to Luca and Federica, two fourth-year Engineers who made a Southern Italian-inspired spaghetti. The dish was invented during Easter term, when they desired to make something tasty, using healthy ingredients, to get through the exam season. The pasta itself is a riff on a classic spaghetti alla puttanesca, with a few personal touches. At a cost of £5 for two people, and only 30 minutes of effort, it is a masterpiece in simplicity. Federica emphasised the influence of her family and friends on her cooking, since eating is always a social occasion in Italy. Passion for food reigns supreme, which, according to Luca, is what “distinguishes Italians from other cultures. The English don’t put in quite as much passion. In the UK there is a stronger link to working and being efficient. Food is a necessity, whilst in Italy it is a daily ritual.” So how can we, as students, learn to develop a passion for food? Luca suggests that you should “trust yourself to buy the ingredients you need to make the recipe, because then you have no excuse not to make it. Think of your future self and the need to cook.” By being a little daring and taking some tentative steps into new gastronomic territory, perhaps we too can learn to eat well at university.

Gabriel, a third-year Lawyer from Singapore, was my final port of call. His dish was a classic crowd-pleaser; a gooey, chewy, melt-in-the-mouth, chocolate-chip brownie. Baking is a cheap and efficient way of producing tasty treats that are a guaranteed pick-me-up. For Gabriel, however, baking is just one of many skills which he had to learn when he moved overseas and started living by himself. Figuring out how to cook was not just a means of survival, but also a continually satisfying experience that gave him the ability to make anything he wanted. In his small gyp, the basic equipment and facilities do not limit his passion. Even though Gabriel only has a microwave and rice cooker to work with, the possibilities are endless. In Singapore, “food is the national religion and a massive part of Singaporean culture.” He is a “huge fan” of adding a personal touch to his food, so he seeks inspiration by browsing individual blogs and finding people’s recipes and ideas from there. Although cooking at university may seem difficult, “the biggest hurdle is committing to it in the first place.”


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The meals I shared with these students showed me that cooking is indeed more effort than ordering a takeaway, microwaving a ready-meal, or having your parents cook for you. More importantly, cooking is a continually rewarding, and often therapeutic, life skill. It is also a shared experience, a way to express yourself to someone you care about. That someone can even be yourself.

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