meal etiquette

I’m not a great cook. I’m a subsistence-level kind of cook.

My mom, a working mom, had very little time to teach me more than the rudimentary skills — such as cooking rice. Anyway, in the maternal side of the family, it’s my two aunts who are the food specialists. They’re actually professionals. My mom, like me, also learned out of necessity.

I learned to cook, partly from mom’s infrequent instructions, but primarily in HS Home Economics. And not very well, at that. Same with baking. (We didn’t have an oven at home; still don’t.) I may have flattened a cake once. (We still ate it, of course. It wasn’t so bad.)

So when I cook, it’s not from the heart, but the brain, and a liberal hand. There has to be a recipe. But if there’s no recipe, I’d experiment with my food, just throw stuff in there for the heck of it.

It doesn’t always work.

Just tonight my brother asked me, “Did you do something to the soup?”
“I added onions. Why?” I replied.
“There’s something…[funny],” he said.

I get that a lot. So when people eat the stuff, I consider it an experiment well done.

That said, I still expect folks to follow meal etiquette. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s fairly simple:

(1) Show appreciation. Cooking takes a while. There’s grocery shopping. There’s prep-work. There’s washing as you go, so that dishes don’t pile up after prep-work. There’s throwing out the remnants of veggies and plastic wraps and such. There’s the actual cooking itself. It’s a lot of coordination. And if the cook isn’t doing it from the heart, there’s a bit of tedium mixed in there too.

(2) Offer to wash the dishes. If it’s a one-time thing, the cook will probably say, “Oh no, just relax, you’re my guest.” But if it’s NOT a one-time thing, then don’t take it for granted. Because there’s nothing more tedious than having to cook AND wash the dishes afterwards too.

(3) If the cook accepts your offer to wash the dishes, do a thorough job. We’re not just talking about washing the dishes you ate from. There are also serving dishes. There are pans that cooled while you were eating but will need to be washed for the next meal (it’s a cycle). If the cook set a nice table, there are the napkins and the place mats and such. (There’s the stove to be wiped and the table too, actually.)

It’s really an entire production, this meal. So is washing up.

(4) Offer to return the favor. As a matter of reciprocity, it’s a nice gesture. Every cook needs a day off, right? Even the salaried ones.

It’s funny, but I keep waiting for lightning to strike one day and make me a kitchen savant. Sadly, I’m just coasting on edible.

I’ve seen great cooks in action, it just hasn’t rubbed off on me.

IMG_0520_JO WITH CHEF DUCASSE_rudy liwanagI’d actually forgotten I met and interviewed Alain Ducasse once. Thanks to sir Rudy Liwanag for reminding me.


  1. Amen. My words exactly! Very well said.

    1. i’m still in awe that you used to cook for 12 people… and flabbergasted that you still had trouble getting someome to set the table!

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