Growing up, I loved watching Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook. He was funny and fast with amazing knife skills. My husband loved Julia Child with her heavy accent, quip cooking tips, and passion for food. Neither of us are chefs but we like to cook. Me less than him, but when we do, it’s creative and fun because we like to experiment. We like to cook how our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers did – without recipes!
When I was 12, I remember asking my mom to teach me how to make my favorite chicken with tofu soup, and her response was “just watch.” What I observed was her butchering a whole chicken into pieces and dropping it into a pot of boiling water followed by chunks of tofu. She never once measured the cups of water, or the amount of salt and pepper used as seasoning. She just knew how much was needed, and I remember thinking that’s not what I saw on TV. The chefs would always tell you exactly how many cups was needed, how many spoons to use, and how much time it would take to cook. When I asked when the soup would be ready, she said when the water bubbles and the chicken is no longer raw. The same is true for my mother-in-law who doesn’t use measuring tools or recipes when making the batter for her Jamaican dumplings.
Both learned to cook the same way – by watching their mothers and from years of experimenting with ingredients. There were no recipe cards or books to reference – they just cooked with their senses using their eyes, hands, nose, and heart. I believe it is by far the best way to cook, and what makes the meals so tasty. This type of cooking has no bounds, and gives the chef full creative liberty while enhancing their knowledge and understanding of their ingredients. It also fosters unique techniques, and helps to keep traditions and cultures alive. Many of the meals that my mother and mother-in-law serve represent our heritage and culture. They are foods that we eat everyday, not only to sustain our bodies but to remember who we are and where we come from – they feed our souls and taste like home. We will continue to this way of cooking for generations to come — without recipes but with heart and tradition.