Is this the face of the end of home-cooked meals?
“Are Chinese closed as well?” wails four-year-old Layla (scan left), wracked with grief as she’s told by her mother that Nando’s, KFC, and McDonald’s are all closed. “What about deliveries?” “Everything’s closed,” says mum. “You’ve literally got to eat mummy’s cooking now.” This final blow is about all poor little Layla can take. She lets out a cry of such anguish-stricken sorrow, you would think she was faced with some diabolical sort of mortal danger; not the temporary deprivation of Big Macs and chicken wings.
While so many people found such an impassioned reaction hilarious (the video went viral), there is an underlying observation to be made here: generations of children are now, more than ever, nourished by restaurant- cooked food. The home-economics classes of yesteryear no longer exist – among the Boomer generation, cooking abilities were much more ubiquitous. In London, where I grew up, every mother of every childhood friend I had could rustle up a spag bol or a beef stew. In my house, a rotating list of dishes included those two go-tos, plus beef goulash, lasagna, beef stroganoff, and occasionally a new riff on one of those, quite possibly inspired by chefs from children’s television, like the spectacularly flamboyant Ainsley Harriott or mumsy Cheryl Baker. My mum would surreptitiously sneak a tin of baked beans into her shepherd’s pie. She might add one of Mulligatawny soup too, just to really test our mettle. We’d variously complain or cry our eyes out, depending. But now, 30 years on, I wouldn’t want my shepherd’s pie any other way.
What’s more, and more important in this instance, is I also know how to cook it. Call it curiosity or an appetite or just a quest undertaken out of necessity, but I learned how to make all of those dishes. If we went out to eat at McDonald’s, it was certainly someone’s birthday, or at the very least one of us had lost a tooth (20 pence under the pillow and maybe a McDonald’s, but only if it was traumatic). If my family are a good example (as good as any, I’d like to think), then 100% of the boomers can cook (mum, of course, and dad too, particularly adept at pastry-based dishes – beef Wellington, steak and ale pies, et cetera – and also a dab hand at the BBQ (especially if you like your meat charred to a crisp. JK, dad x). Of the GenY/Millennials, approx. 75% can cook – of the four of us, one sibling can barely operate a toaster, but the rest range from adequate to proficient (I am proficient). If you are a mathematician you may have crunched those numbers already (well done you) but that is a 25% decrease across a single generation.
The ‘Layla’ generation, coming of age in A.D. 2020 (After Deliveroo) is just one gen later, but a world apart in terms of tech and globalization. Any toddler with an iPhone can order chicken nuggets. They will never have to touch so much as a toaster, let alone a skillet or a saucepan. Bain-marie? Cocotte? You what? Those skills must surely be a dying breed among the masses. What would Layla do, one wonders, with a full set of Le Creuset cookware? A common wedding gift among my old folks’ middle-class friends, but surely more absent from wishlists now, and presumably increasingly so. The future of home cooking must be set to peter out completely by 2030. And what, then, does that mean for other home kitchen-dependent companies? Will ovens go the way of the hand whisk? Who needs a hand whisk when you have a NutriBullet? And who needs an oven when you have every restaurant for five miles at your fingertips? In fact, fuck that, who needs a kitchen?! If we’re all social distancing, and sitting on our sofas, getting up only to open doors for our delivery drivers, why would we need kitchens at all?
And yet, in our isolation, a strange thing has happened. Seemingly overnight, once-restaurant-subsistent humans are finding themselves celebrity chefs. They are posting videos of their vegan treats and how you can make them at home. If you’re one of @iamtabithabrown’s 1.6 million Instagram followers, you surely know exactly what I mean. Queen of vegan sushi, tacos, and sandwiches, her catchphrases have swept the world (Like so, like that), and her penchant for pickles precedes her (cos that’s her business). She was just signed by CAA, which represents stars such as Scarlett Johansson, Keira Knightley, and Nicole Kidman. Not every one of these quarantine cooks is destined for such stardom, but the isolation is fueling, even if forcibly, a return to home cooking. Whether this Cordon Bleu bug will outlast this other less palatable one, only time will tell, but for the time being, things are looking delicious.
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