Cooking/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Pizza, Pot Noodles, and pancakes: cooking with friends in my first-year kitchen

For my first year of uni, I left home armed with three cookbooks, around five tubs of homemade chilli ready to put in the freezer, and enough cooking equipment to cosplay a Star Wars character at a moment’s notice. To think I was prepared for the cooking adventures of university was an understatement. I’d always been able to knock up basic dishes, but I’d spent the summer before my first year cooking a bit more regularly for my family to try and practise some new recipes. I was pretty proud of my veggie stir fry and bean and cheese enchiladas.

So, when I arrived in my uni kitchen, I was pretty surprised to be greeted by people who were actually cooking. I would often wander back from events during Welcome Week and be greeted by the smell of goat’s cheese and balsamic onion pizza, or coconut Malaysian pancakes. I’d grown up with this vision that the typical uni student was only capable of making pesto pasta and Pot Noodles, and my cooking ego was subsequently bloated with my slightly above average ability. The skills that my new housemates were showing were impressive to say the least, and this caught me off guard.

I valued sharing food from different cultures and learning a little bit about the backgrounds of my new flatmates

Most of the social time I spent with my new friends revolved around the kitchen. I had a couple of flatmates who were Italian Erasmus students. One of them threw a pizza party for her birthday and she shared her hometown’s signature pizza, topped with a boiled egg and mayonnaise. I remember sitting in the kitchen, watching her gently poke her chilled pizza dough to check its consistency, and I was stunned by the incredible flavour combinations she was creating off the cuff. One of my other flatmates would regularly make challah, a sweet bread often cooked in Jewish households, from scratch. I was given the task of plaiting the bread one day, and through a bit of trial and error, I was eventually crowned the neatest at plaiting challah. I valued sharing food from different cultures and learning a little bit about the backgrounds of my new flatmates and their cooking techniques along the way.

When it came towards the end of Term One, I felt we needed a flat Christmas dinner. I had so much fun planning what we were cooking, what decorations to make, and how to maximise oven space. One of my fondest memories is trekking back from Aldi, dragging along two suitcases stuffed with enough food to feed 24 housemates, including two boxes of Christmas crackers, a couple of trays of pigs in blankets, and three whole chickens. I had a wonderful time cooking with others, even learning my flatmates’ top tips for making honey roast carrots and a chocolate yule log.

So many of the memories I had made, whether it be making potato cakes or pancakes, revolved around the kitchen

As my first year came to a close, it only felt appropriate to hold an impromptu goodbye picnic. I was prepared to just go to Rootes to buy some snacks to share, but one of my flatmates asked if we could bake a cake. He admitted he wasn’t very confident at baking, and despite being very talented at making other dishes in the kitchen, wanted to expand his skill set. I agreed to help – while I don’t claim my cakes are Bake-Off worthy, I can whip up a simple vanilla sponge. I remember walking him through each step slowly, and sharing tips as I went along. Once the cake had cooled and we had filled it with buttercream, my housemate tried a slice, and I can still picture his face to this day. He turned around with the biggest grin and thanked me for my help, reiterating how delicious the cake was. What I had thought was just a simple bake, gave him so much joy, and I felt such pride in being able to give back some of my kitchen skills.

Cooking with friends had such an impact on me during my first year, and I often wondered if my friends felt the same way. So many of the memories I had made, whether it be making potato cakes or pancakes, revolved around the kitchen, and I hoped that my new friends had enjoyed it as much as I did.

I got my answer over the summer holidays. One of my old housemates sent me a photo on WhatsApp. He had made a vanilla sponge with buttercream for his Mum’s birthday.


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