Kitchen calamities: A disastrous recipe of ice and fire

ACCORDING to some of his friends, Leon Saw makes a mean spaghetti bolognese. But it didn’t start out like that…oh no…in fact, it began in quite the opposite fashion.

Photo: Kenny Louie via Flickr

Photo: Kenny Louie via Flickr

Before coming to Australia, I was never allowed to help out in the kitchen at home, and for good reason.

Because the first time I tried cooking here, I almost burnt the house down.

I forgot to switch off the exposed electric stove and left a wooden spatula on it. Shortly after, noxious fumes and the toxic scent of charred matter filled the kitchen. And if not for the swift intervention of a housemate with a bucket of water, you’d possibly be spared this embarrassing confession.

The second time I tried cooking, I didn’t defrost my icy slab of mince from the freezer before throwing it into a hot frying pan. The protein took more than an hour to cook through and some of it had taken on a cancerous hue (black).

Despite nearly burning down the kitchen, Leon persevered. Photo: State Farm via Flickr

Despite nearly burning down the kitchen, Leon persevered. Photo: State Farm via Flickr

After my other disasters and near death experiences in the kitchen following my first two attempts at cooking, I could’ve thrown in the towel and resigned myself to instant noodles and takeaway for the rest of my time in Australia. But I didn’t want to reinforce my obsessively possessive mother’s immutable belief that I couldn’t take care of myself and eat right, after escaping her suffocating aegis and fleeing here. I didn’t want her to put on that smug “told you so” expression at my funeral after my death by monosodium glutamate (MSG) overdose.

So I persevered and experimented further. Friends and housemates also offered advice but not before having a good long laugh at my singed eyebrows. Gradually, the kitchen fires became just painful splashes of boiling oil on exposed skin and first degree burns on hands. I also discovered the defrost function on the microwave.

All that was a few years ago.

Now, I’m…still somewhat a basket case in front of the stove – who was I kidding? But while consuming my kitchen concoctions may induce a trip to the hospital’s emergency department, at least it won’t kill me outright.

And now that I have spectacularly destroyed my culinary credibility in the preceding paragraphs, you’ll probably just take whatever cooking pointers I dish out with a pinch of salt. But here are some basic kitchen tips, which, had I known them then, would have made my first cooking experience (and will hopefully make yours) a much less painful one.

As Leon learnt the hard way, it pays to get organised in the kitchen. Photo: Bob Peters via Flickr.

As Leon learnt the hard way, it pays to get organised in the kitchen. Photo: Bob Peters via Flickr.

Cooking = Ingredient(s) + Heat (or lack of)

Cooking is essentially placing an ingredient or ingredients in heat or in the absence of heat (ice cream maker?). More often than not, there will be plenty of ingredients involved so it helps to be organised. If you intend to make a stir-fry, chop your garlic, dice your onions and defrost your meat or other frozen ingredients, and arrange them next to the stove before actually stir-frying.

Hotter = faster but ≠ better

You may be starving but resist the temptation to turn up the heat right at the beginning. Your ingredients may cook quicker, but then they’ll also burn faster. If you’re unsure how hot your pan, pot or wok should be, start with lowest heat setting and gradually increase it.

Salt to the power of infinity = kidney failure/death

Last but not least, always taste your food before deciding whether to season it. You haven’t salted your mince but the pasta sauce you just added to it has given the protein quite a punch. The last thing you want to do is season the meat further, rendering it poisonous.

Do you have your own stories to share about life overseas? Send your contributions to

Post Your Thoughts