I Took a Class to Learn How to Roast a Chicken (and Divorce-Proofed My Marriage)
My relationship with my husband, Matt, has a lot of modern aspects: For one thing, I didn’t take his name when we got married. (It meant something to me to maintain the identity I’ve owned for 30-plus years. He was completely on board.) We also are 100 percent equal partners when it comes to the care of our son. (We both work full-time, so it’s necessary that we’re both flexible when we have to be—say, one of us has an early morning meeting or we’re dealing with a sick kid.)
Still, one of the most modern parts of our partnership is this: My husband does 100 percent of the cooking. I don’t even help with the dishes. (He uses far too many pots and pans in his “culinary process” for me to devote time to that.)
Don’t get me wrong: I pick up the slack in other ways, mainly by putting my obsession with cleaning to good use with things like managing laundry, reorganizing the fridge and cleaning up our toddler’s toys 17 times a day.
But as our son gets older, cooking and meal planning have become more time-consuming, and I feel an increased pressure to pitch in. And a slew of pop culture moments—ranging from Glamour magazine’s 2004 recipe dubbed “Engagement Chicken” to speculation that Prince Harry may have decided to pop the question to Meghan Markle back in 2018 after she whipped up Ina Garten’s take on the roast chicken dish—got me thinking: Will my culinary apathy, er, laziness have a long-term impact on my marriage? I turned to Google for a quick (and unscientific) gut check.
Before I go on, I want to preface this by explaining that my husband and I have always talked openly about my lack of culinary interest and cooking skills. He knows it’s not something I’m passionate about. Heck, I’m not even good at it. (Last time I attempted a pasta dish garnished with roasted pine nuts, I burned the pine nuts and we ended up eating plain pasta…cold.) That said, I’m aware that having a 2-year-old in our midst makes cooking a much heftier domestic burden to bear. When it was just me, worst case, I could fend for myself. That’s not an option when you’ve got a picky toddler and well-balanced nutrition to guarantee.
Back to Google: Do a quick search of the phrase “my wife can’t cook” and you’ll be taken aback. There’s thread after thread of men complaining about spouses who “fail” to do just that. “Quite frankly, it’s worse than a wife who is unwilling to have sex,” laments one. Insert eye roll here, but I scrolled on. That’s when I found what I’m dubbing a more feminist-friendly—ahem, modern—take: “In any good relationship, tasks should be shared. It’s ‘no one’s’ responsibility to do a specific thing. It is not ‘my’ job to take out the trash, nor is it ‘her’ job to cook/wash up.” (I’ll stop there since, after that, this particular person’s sentiment veers off-course from the argument I’m trying to make.)
This sparked a personal challenge: Could I learn how to roast a chicken—not to win over my husband, but to help create a more equal partnership? What’s more, could a roast chicken—a culinary challenge that’s also a dinnertime staple—spark an interest or at least an amateur proficiency in cooking? Thanks to the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, I was about to find out.
While ICE offers a series of fine cooking classes that review the basics—everything from knife skills to how to handle various types of proteins—I had a specific mission: to develop an innate sensibility and confidence when it comes to cooking chicken…and, OK, a couple of complementary side dishes too, with the goal of whipping up a complete meal for my husband at home and on my own.
So I enrolled in a solo course and, on a Monday morning, I showed up ready to learn the basics from Frank Proto, the director of culinary operations for the school. Right out of the gate, he encouraged me to toss the recipe and instead learn the fundamental skills that go into roasting a chicken as well as serving up other staple dishes: roasted veggies, mashed potatoes and gravy. Frank not only taught me how to properly truss a chicken but also how to trust my own taste buds over everything else. (For example, when boiling water for the mashed potatoes, I questioned how much salt to add. “It should taste like the ocean,” he replied, reminding me that exact measurements shouldn’t be my only guide.)
We worked in tandem—quite literally. In fact, we had side-by-side ovens going as I mimicked his every training and technique. We built a bed of root vegetables to rest my roast chicken on, seasoning everything with salt and pepper, garlic, parsley and thyme. He taught me how to use a timer and also how to approximate (you can always adjust the time and temp as you go, he explained); how to familiarize myself with my oven’s idiosyncrasies (a thermometer is a critical tool to know what kind of heat you’re working with); and how to multitask and focus simultaneously (the most common spat I have with my husband is about my ability to distract, always when he has multiple items on the stove).
When we were done, Frank sent me off into the world armed with a general knowledge of how to replicate the delicious meal we had just created.
Matt was delighted: “You’re cooking dinner on Sunday? Awesome!” I was a lot less sure, but I tried my best to channel Frank. This was less about a recipe and more about trusting my taste buds. (Plus, I did have a crib sheet of tips and tricks I could refer to that I had jotted down in my phone immediately after the class.) The weekend felt like a safer bet since I’d have time to run out for forgotten groceries or to triage any last-minute mistakes. Oh, and there were mistakes, mainly due to a lack of familiarity with our pantry. (Did we have red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar? Unsure, I bought both.) But I also blanked on exactly how to truss the chicken, something Frank went over in detail. (A YouTube tutorial saved me there.)
I did the grocery shopping, then started cooking at 6 p.m. Right away, Matt started offering suggestions, but I stopped him: “I got this!” (Even though, TBH, I wasn’t sure that I did.) At 9 p.m., about 90 minutes past the time I expected to eat, we sat down at the table. While I had nailed the mashed potatoes, the veggies were a little bit rubbery and tough. (“I overcooked them,” I muttered aloud.) But the roast chicken turned out tender and moist. Aside from adding just a little bit of salt, Matt acknowledged, “It’s pretty good!” Unlike me, post-meal, my husband offered to help with the dishes.
Overall, he was quite pleased with my interest and participation in taking on such a grandiose meal. (Chicken may be basic, but there’s an art to it turning out well.) He even ate the terrible vegetables I’d overcooked and talked emphatically during dinner about the show he’d binged three hour-long episodes of during the time I was in the kitchen. (Note to self: Time flies when you’re not the one organizing to get a hot meal on the table.)
Still, this experience taught me something quite valuable about my relationship and what roast chicken can represent: effort. I brainstormed with my husband the following morning and we came up with a new plan. Together, we’d tag-team the meal planning and grocery shopping. While he’d continue to do the bulk of the cooking since it comes more naturally to him and he really enjoys it, I would attempt to make one new meal every two weeks. It didn’t have to be roast chicken, but it would be an evening he could plan to have “off.” (He’d also step up with the cleaning—specifically, the volume of toddler laundry.)
Is this a truer partnership, at least as it applies to domesticity? Maybe. But more important, it’s a push to not fall into prescribed roles that eventually cause us to take each other for granted.
And if we get a good meal out of it, that’s just a bonus. (Meghan and Ina taught me that.)