I often receive a question that puzzles me. Upon becoming acquainted with my blog, several readers and friends have casually asked, “So, when are you opening a restaurant?” If by chance they have already assumed that it won’t be a restaurant then it’s bound to be a catering business because that is what ladies do — good to note and most amusing is the idea that because I am, in essence, a lady who cooks then I am sure to be an expert in the art of baking cupcakes or rolling stuffed vine leaves.
In my mind, these questions instead pose another question, “Are you planning on becoming a celebrity chef?” I also wonder at the idea that in the Arab world, the general public expects a female to be the next celebrity chef when the western world has made it blatantly obvious that the one who usually reaches that much-coveted status is male. Is being an Egyptian male cook something un-revered?
Recently, I spoke with a friend who recanted a story about a young boy; one who had taken an avid interest in cooking and in watching cooking shows, all to his mother’s dismay. While my friend urged her to invest in the boy’s budding interest, the mother recoiled at the unnerving future vision of her child, if left to his whims, becoming a mere cook. Oh, the shame.
Now that many international TV chefs have become household names in the Arab world, is it more acceptable for our male children to become adults with a career in the kitchen? Or will the image remain of a short, plump and aging man forced by life to become a toque-wearing chef, working, as an afterthought, in the kitchen?
Maybe, if we start a reality show called “So you think you can be a celebrity chef?” we’ll start seeing some response from educated men who have been secretly honing their skills for years and would rather cook than work in investment banking. The chance at celebrity might be key to breaking the norm.
Between our gender-oriented ideas about kitchens and traditions that can tie us down, I wonder how long it will take to bring true variety to the Egyptian dining scene without the assistance of a foreign chef leading the way. Because until now, we do not have modern culinary schools to bump our cuisine up on the world stage.
The recipe below is one of my personal favorites — a tweaked recipe of Tana Ramsay’s, the much overlooked wife of chef Gordon Ramsay. It is ideal for after-school/after-work baking and is very rewarding despite its simplicity. Pillowy and moist, this cake usually has people asking for the recipe which is the way I’d prefer to do my part to get more people in the kitchen — by sharing.
Lemon Crunch Drizzle Cake
Adapted from Tana Ramsay’s Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe
(I upped the lemon zest and didn’t dissolve the sugar completely
to keep the crunchy topping I like.)
225 grams of softened unsalted butter
225 grams of caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 and a half large lemons
225 grams of self-rising flour
For the crunchy drizzle:
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
85 grams of caster sugar
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then add the eggs, one at a time, slowly mixing through. Sift in the flour, then add the lemon zest and mix until well combined. Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper, then spoon in the mixture and level the top with a spoon or a baking spatula.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until a thin skewer or knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is cooling in its tin, mix together the lemon juice and sugar to make the drizzle. Prick the warm cake all over with a skewer or fork, then pour over the drizzle — the juice will sink in and the sugar will form a lovely, crisp topping. Leave in the tin until completely cool, then remove, slice and serve. Will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days, or freeze for up to one month.
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