It is a bright Goan afternoon and I am in chef Sarita Carvalho’s kitchen at Tempero, the Goan specialty restaurant at ITC Goa, learning to make rava fry and stir fried mushrooms. Dressed in a monogrammed apron and a chef’s hat, it is my first time in a restaurant kitchen and I am as excited as I am nervous: what if I spoil the food? A drink of kokum however cools me down and chef’s cheerfulness demeanor helps me relax. Soon I am marinating the fish, slicing the mushrooms, and enjoying the Goan music in the background.
Just three hours away from my flight, and five hours from getting back to the humdrum of life, I would have been fretting under normal circumstances but here I am unusually calm. I am not thinking of the crowded airport or the bumpy flight, neither can I remember a mile long to-do list and my children’s impending exams—all I can focus on is turning the fish gently so that it doesn’t break.
I usually consider cooking a burden but today, as I sear the fish, fry the mushroom, and plate my last Goan meal, I realize it can be therapeutic too. Apparently I am not alone.
A quick search on Google brings up dozens of studies that talk about the benefits of cooking. Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, had famously mentioned in an interview with the New York Daily News how cooking is a great de-stressor. Stress, she had said, can numb your senses, cooking, however, activates them. It is not only about studies though; many who cook regularly describe cooking as an excellent way of relaxing and rejuvenating.
“Cooking is about concentration, creativity and mindfullness,” feels Kalyan Karmakar, noted author and blogger, who cooks almost every day and says it helps him relax. Amit Panmani, an Indore based chef meanwhile feels cooking is like an orchestra, which draws you within itself. “The fragrance of frying onions, the aroma of spices, the crackling of mustard seeds, says Amit, “makes you forget entirely about the outside world.”
Aroma, taste, touch, visual delight and even the sounds of the kitchen, according to studies, keep you present in the moment. The end product meanwhile induces a sense of accomplishment and gratification.
“Cooking is an escape from the humdrum of daily life,” asserts Devakshi Gupta, a travel blogger from Mumbai who cooks regularly to unwind and finds the process of creating something new is therapeutic. For 32-year-old Priyanka Agarwal, a writer from Mumbai, cooking is a way to disconnect whose. The decision to cook, she says, had sprung out of the need to disconnect from obsessive, unwanted thoughts.
Dr. Arti Kapur Singh, a writer and a documentary filmmaker on the other hand finds cooking a means to connect with herself. “It is meditative,” says Arti, “I start imagining flavours and aromas when I hold a vegetable or an ingredient in my hand—I start a mental journey of working on those flavours and aromas.” This, she says, helps her connect with herself at a deeper level.
That cooking needs you to be mindful and switch off from everything else makes it a perfect activity to unwind; that it needs you to use all your senses helps in balancing your mind and body and can bring out unusual results. The physical act aligns mind and body.
Researches prove that cooking can help reduce anxiety, control blood pressure, and even aid healthier eating in individuals. Therapists suggest cooking to their clients; doctors advise patients with physiological disorders to make their own food. The appreciation and gratification that comes along enriches you emotionally.
“I have always enjoyed cooking,” says Modhurima Sinha, director of Public Relations at Taj Hotels. “To me the reaction and happiness of friends and family who I cook for is most satisfying,” she says. “I feel very privileged that my cooking is brings joy to others,” quips Ishaan Kamal, an HR professional based in Australia, who cooks regularly. He also feels it helps him stay connected to his motherland while recreating the recipes he grew up eating.
Connecting with the roots, in fact, features prominently among the reasons people chose to cook. “Every dish I make builds on a food memory from my life,” says Kalyan Karmakar who often experiments with Bengali recipes his grandmother and mother cooked. Divya Chaudhry, a corporate professional who lives in Mumbai agrees. “The flavours and aromas of my kitchen transport me to the summer vacations of my childhood,” says Divya, “the satisfaction of making something from scratch, she feels, is an added incentive.
With so much to gain from, do these people recommend cooking? “I absolutely do,” says Kalyan, “when you cook, you become aware of what is going inside your mind and body.” “I recommend it to others to treat it as me time,” says Devakshi. It is a great way connect with a dormant side of yourself.” But for someone who has never cooked would this not be more of a stressor? Vickrham Vicky, a culinary curator, who cooks regularly has the perfect solution for that. “Start with a simple soup or a sandwich and see how you feel,” he says. “If you love to eat and feed, rest assured you’d love this too.” Having experienced it first hand, I would have to agree with that.