Men who say 'I can't cook' are pathetic

Men who say ‘I can’t cook’ are pathetic: From brandishing burnished blades to dicing with dangerous chillies, the kitchen offers endless opportunities for blokes to show off – but usually the important bit gets overlooked, says Simon Mills

  • Simon Mills encourages men to stick to unpretentious food at home
  • READ MORE:  Women reckon life is just simpler if they let men take control of the grill

First of all, we need to talk kit. The modern domesticated man-chef loves a bit of quality kitchenalia. 

Not so much those faddy gadgets you plug in, turn on and, as Jamie Oliver is prone to saying, ‘waz’ up a vegetable soup in, but the butch killing-and-grilling accoutrements that will endure endless abuse and probably outlast your first two marriages.

A man might not have Marco Pierre White’s julienne skills or the gastro flounce of Keith Floyd, but he can look the part in his Labour and Wait apron surrounded by a heavy French cast-iron skillet, a set of bombproof catering-class stainless-steel pans, a quiver of sturdy wooden spoons and a surgical-grade micro grater.

Knives deserve special mention because a blade honed to Samurai airborne-melon-dissection capabilities can convince even a mother’s boy like moi that his kitchen is the set of a Tarantino bloodbath. 

With the right weapon in hand, this man sees the plump, corn-fed Waitrose chicken he’s just removed from its cellophane not just as dinner, but as an unlucky number on a cold-hearted kill list.

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Open this Mr Sharp’s knife drawer and I can choose from a dual-knobbed mezzaluna rocker with rostfrei eisgehärtet (German for cold-forged stainless steel) blade for the fine chopping of herbs and garlic chunks, a pair of classic orange Fiskars kitchen scissors (Finnish) and an indispensable Microplane grater (American) capable of sloughing hardened cheese, hog hide and human knuckle. 

My bread knife is the scourge of sourdough, poppy-seed cob and rye and is made by Opinel (French).

Then there’s the galley itself: the iroko-topped mission control of blue-flamed, multi-ringed burners (real men don’t cook on those silly, uncontrollable induction hobs); the knobs and timers of the Hades-hot oven; the chopping and prep areas; the swinging, hissing faucet on the dual steel sinks. 

Facing his crowd as it comes together to eat, it is here that a man becomes the superstar DJ of the dinner party.

Can I actually cook? From memory, I can prepare a tasty tomato pasta sauce using tinned tomatoes, crushed garlic, basil salt and pepper, maybe adding extra piquancy with a chilli flake or two. 

I’ll boil the pasta to an al dente bite and keep some of the starchy water for the marriage of sauce and ribbon. Yum. 

Thanks to a famous episode of Nigella’s show, I can knock out a hangover-busting breakfast of Eggs in Purgatory (more tomatoes, more chilli flakes… do you see a pattern here?). 

I can deliver a decent carbonara and add a tray of caramelised garlic and rosemary roast vegetables to a Sunday lunch. 

I can spatchcock a chicken without squeamishness and griddle a steak to buttery deliciousness three times out of four. 

If there is a sheet of leftover ready-made puff pastry in the fridge, I’ll do an apple tarte tatin for pudding, deploying a cute, hand-cranked, Heath Robinson-esque apple-peeler gizmo thing to get the russets cored and denuded just so. 

My scrambled egg (a tablespoon of Boursin cheese added to the pan is the secret) is to die for and better than anything you will eat in a Mayfair hotel. 

And if I sound like I am bragging, please be aware that this stuff is really, really easy. Honestly, if you can toast bread or pour milk over a bowl of Cheerios, you can make a porcini risotto. 

Men who say ‘I can’t cook’ are pathetic. Men who say ‘I don’t cook’ are just bone idle.

Here’s why. There are myriad books. There is the internet, TikTok and TV. Just watch and learn from the best. If in doubt, slavishly copy what they do. 

I can’t really ‘cook’ – I’d be useless in a professional kitchen creating an original menu with foam and fennel seeds, but I can make food. 

I achieve this, to some level of competency, as a shameless recipe-follower, an instructions-adherer, an obedient assembler.

Fellas, I’ll let you into a secret: anyone can do this. As long as you get all the right ingredients ready, measure out as suggested, pay heed to cooking times and temperatures, even a soufflé is possible.

Why does a modern man cook? We think it’s sexy, generous and provident. We get to learn that shopping for ingredients is a pleasure and that cooking lunch, unaided and alone (we prefer it that way), marks us out as capable, modern and, you know, not completely useless in the eyes of our long-suffering beloveds.


Mezzaluna, £18.95,

Bread knife, £26.99,

Prestige cast-iron skillet, £29.99,

Fiskars kitchen scissors, £20.99,

Apron, £70,


We also do it because we’re annoyingly competitive. We like to outdo our peers with our culinary mastery, making out like Nigel Slater with the honey and cumin, giving it a bit of Anthony Bourdain with the searing, sweet and sour Middle Eastern flavours. 

We cook only when there is an audience. We make an awful lot of noise and a heck of a mess before comparing our creations over social media with wildly overreaching claims about taste and composition.

We don’t ever consider how irritating this must be for the person in the house who doesn’t cook for fun or Instagram ‘likes’, who makes food to simply feed her family, day after day, three times daily at weekends and during school holidays.

A few weeks ago, I sat down for dinner at a female friend’s house, watching (drooling) as a big and very pro-looking coq au vin with a golden puff-pastry lid emerged from the oven. 

A snarky guest (an annoyingly smug and showboating male-cook type) made a sarcastic comment about how the obviously shop-bought, ready-made pie must have been the result of some intense kitchen slavery at the hands of our host. This did not go down well. 

‘I have three kids,’ said host, wielding a spatula with some menace. ‘Over the past 18 years, I have fed them over 18,000 times. Probably more. And do you know what? I hate cooking. It is not a joy for me. It is a chore. A dinner party is no fun, it is just another meal to cook. Enjoy your pie.’

What else can we man cooks learn? You can butch up a sauce or a stew by adding spices and doubling butter content. Baking, meanwhile, is an absolute Oppenheimer-level science: do exactly as the recipe says and don’t mess with measurements, temperatures or timings.

Get as many cookbooks as you can. Not just telly-chef ones – Delia, Jamie, Nigella, etc – but also old and interesting volumes. I have at least 50, all well thumbed, water damaged and olive-oil stained from use. 

Among the Simon Hopkinson and dog-eared Elizabeth David classics are cookbooks by the crime writer Len Deighton, artist Salvador Dalí, designer John Pawson and playwright George Bernard Shaw.

It is better to impress with taste than through presentation. International, metropolitan sorts eat out so much these days, their palettes are so used to the sensations of sophisticated, exotic food served at an array of fabulous restaurants, that having something home cooked and unpretentious now has a unique cachet. 

So don’t try to replicate Michelin-starred food at home. Do a shepherd’s pie, a wild-mushroom lasagne or a spicy Moroccan carrot salad. But do it really well.

And then, chaps, get off your backsides and do the washing up, too.

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