"Where are your knives?"
"I have just one for chopping," I replied apologetically.
"What? No Chinese chopping knife?"
"Well, I have only two knives. I had to leave one in London. I had a Chinese chopping knife in Singapore, but it broke."
"Do you have an apron?"
"Yes, I'm sure there is one, but I don't know where it is."
"Hmmm." Klaus was clearly puzzled.
More than ten years ago, my friend Klaus could only carry my groceries or wash dishes while I did the cooking. He would often stand in the middle of the kitchen with his tall lanky body clearly in the way of everything, helpless and waiting for instructions. Sometimes I really wished he could read my mind as I didn't have the patience to delegate what needed to be done. Eventually I allowed him to chop the vegetables provided I showed him how.
In my new kitchen in Holland, I asked Klaus to start preparing for the Steinway to Heaven Welkom Fest by peeling the hard-boiled eggs first.
"Have you shocked them?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Put them in cold water right after they've been boiled."
"No. I thought of doing that. But I didn't know why I should, so I didn't."
"Ah! It's going to be difficult to get the shells off without breaking the eggs!" he moaned.
After he peeled the dozen eggs, he asked me what was next. I explained that I wanted to wash and cut the vegetables and put them on skewers for baking. I insisted that the cherry tomatoes go on top.
"What difference does it make?" he enquired. "Whether the tomato is on top or at the bottom? Just flip the skewer."
At that point, Erik from Eindhoven arrived.
"Before we put the aubergine on the skewers, let's put them in salted water," he advised.
While the tall guys were busily chopping and skewering, Mascha from Alkmaar arrived. I gave her a wooden cutting board to cut the fresh and smoked herrings.
"Better use a plastic cutting board," she said. "Otherwise, it would smell of fish."
I was outnumbered by knowledgeable cooks as I showed my ignorance in Cooking 101.
Klaus not only proved himself useful in the kitchen but also better organised than the host. In the last ten years, he has become an adept cook, specialising in the Chinese cuisine. When I visited his flat in Copenhagen, I was impressed by his kitchen. It looked and smelled like a kitchen in a Chinese restaurant with all kinds of exotic spices and sauces. His rice cooker was the authentic type used in Hong Kong. And he had several kinds of chopping knives and aprons.
No wonder he was appalled at my ill-equipped kitchen. What could I possibly cook in there?
22 June 2004 Tuesday