19 during Covid-19: Fun over culinary mishaps

Five interns at The Sunday Times reflect on how the pandemic has affected their lives and what they have learnt during this period of enforced isolation

Since the start of the circuit breaker, I have been challenging myself to cook my cravings as I follow in the footsteps of my idol, "Hed Chef" Hedy Khoo.

As a greenhorn with a deathly fear of fire, knives, hot oil and cold meat; and two fat fingers, this has been no walk in the park.

On an evening last month, I had finished loading up the first batch of white chocolate cookies, enjoying the smell of baked goods as I mixed more batter.

A sizzling sound later, my family found ourselves in total darkness.

Our helper and I squatted in front of our ancient oven, staring desperately at the gluey cookies that refused to cook.

Outside, my mother frantically dialled our electrician while lamenting the fate of her groceries.

Thankfully, within the hour, Mr Kan, the electrician, saviour of our home and produce, arrived, restoring light and Wi-Fi in exchange for $600.

An hour after he left, I dared to try again, kneeling in front of the oven and humbly offering another batch of cookies to it.

It seemed the oven had had enough of my pathetic attempts. "Stop it, loser, or you won't be able to see again," it threatened.

But I didn't listen and our house was, for the second time that day, plunged into darkness.

Long-suffering Mr Kan had to make a second trip, once again restoring power with a few words of advice: "Please, stop using the oven."

The writer, 19, with curry she made.
The writer, 19, with curry she made. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHELSEA KIEW

A plate of white chocolate chip cookies for $605. The saddest part was they were terrible.

While this was undoubtedly the most expensive disaster, it wasn't the only one.

A strawberry shortcake collapsed mid-way, earning the moniker "Franken-cake".

And my first spaghetti bolognese had an astronomical salt content. Faced with this conundrum, but armed with a gung-ho attitude and the concept of osmosis still swirling in my recently graduated brain, I chose to soak my (fried) beef in cold water to draw the salt out.

Unbelievably, it worked and my mum and I got to enjoy some texturally interesting (read: soggy) pasta for dinner that night.

I will not deny it. I am an appalling cook with an abysmal ratio of edible to inedible food.

I have also never had this much fun in my life.

As the circuit breaker period compels people to try new things, cases abound of prodigies who miraculously excel at the hobby of their choice. Or the more common and more quiet cases of those who try something once, fail and give up.

But my half-baked attempts and the subsequent catastrophes have been a continuous source of excitement and hilarity.

Every time I emerge from my cooking cave with a plate of some grotesque gruel that no one in my family dares to eat, I'm still proud because, now, I'm a tiny step closer to making it good.

As I painfully swallow another spoonful of too-salty katsu don, it's humbling and exhilarating to note that "I'm horrendous, but I'm internalising these lessons fast".

And beyond the cerebral stuff?

Dodging oil splatters because I forgot to dry my vegetables. Crying from cutting onions. The discomfort of massaging cold, dead prawns. These give me the adrenaline and excitement I sorely need in my life under the circuit breaker.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 10, 2020, with the headline 19 during Covid-19: Fun over culinary mishaps. Subscribe