Bored to chef: Students cook their way through quarantine

Korean Bibimbap, photo courtesy of Lena Sullivan.

As the world came to a halt last March, Occidental students were sent home. No longer able to rely on the Marketplace for daily meals and overwhelmed by the stressful transition to Zoom, Occidental’s students turned to making food. Fresh banana bread, luxurious Dalgona coffee and bubbly sourdough starters took over social media feeds. For many Occidental students, perfecting their craft became a highlight of quarantine, Carina Grande (junior) said.

“I was at home for almost a year after we left Oxy,” Lena Sullivan (sophomore) said. “I think one of the reasons I got more into cooking and baking was because it was something that I did with my mom.”

Similar to Sullivan, Grande said cooking during quarantine quickly became a way for her to occupy her time outside of online classes.

“If I want to try a new recipe, I have all the time in the world to try it,” Grande said. “There are some recipes I’ve tried where I’m like ‘that just doesn’t taste good,’ but if I only think about the failures I’ve had cooking, I would stop.”

Grande said she took her newfound appreciation for cooking a step further and started a cooking Instagram account, @cookingwithcarina. She posts close-up glamour shots of the food she makes a few times a week and does “Cook With Me” segments on her stories whenever she tries new recipes.

“I think using Instagram is a great way to show off what I’ve made,” Grande said. “People keep asking me for recipes but I don’t use recipes, so I’ve been trying to write them all down.”

According to Grande, posting recipes and how-to’s on her account inspired her to work on a cookbook, “Miki’s Kitchen,” that she will release next year. The name of the cookbook comes from her mother’s kitchen, the place where Grande learned how to cook.

“When I was younger I would be like ‘Mom, let’s go to McDonald’s, I’m hungry!’ and she would be like ‘No, we’re going to go to Miki’s kitchen,’” Grande said. “The first time I heard it I was like ‘Oh that’s new!’ and then we pull up to my driveway and I’m like ‘Yo what the heck? Why did you do that!’ So that’s where I learned how to cook.”

Grande is vegetarian but said she is trying to have a cookbook that accommodates lots of different diets and budgets. The goal of her recipes is to highlight the simplicity and beauty in cooking, Grande said.

“I try to make my food accessible,” said Grande. “You don’t have to add these certain ingredients to make it taste good. Anyone could make these meals with the things they have in their kitchen.”

Sullivan said she has been vegetarian for nearly half of her life and has enjoyed experimenting with new kinds of plant-based protein, besides tofu, to expand her skill and palate throughout quarantine.

“I’ve been very into salting garbanzo beans and making them like yummy and crispy,” Sullivan said. “I also want to try tempeh. My brother sometimes makes seitan, so I want to try to get into those things more. Also, because I’m secretly trying to convert my roommates to be vegetarians.”

Cauliflower pizza, photo courtesy of Lena Sullivan.

While Sullivan is a vegetarian living with non-vegetarian roommates, Nicole Mansantanov (junior) is a non-vegetarian living with vegetarians.

“I’m no expert, but I just bought a cookbook to explore more options and it’s been fun to try and make things veganized because of the health restrictions of my friends,” Mansantanov said.

According to Mansantanov, this semester is the first time she has ever been fully responsible for making all of her own food. From coming up with shopping lists to meal planning, Mansantanov said she was inspired to not just cook the basics but to also learn how to cook things that she really wants to eat.

“Cooking for the sake of cooking as well as the sake of eating,” Mansantanov said. “It’s been exciting to learn to make healthier alternatives to quesadillas and things that I would eat as a picky eater. My sweet tooth has decreased over the years, and I’ve been more interested in flavorful foods, and fruits and vegetables that make my food more colorful.”

Throughout the pandemic, Mansantanov, Grande and Sullivan said they have all used cooking as a way to connect and express their creativity at home.

“Cooking is like therapy for me. When I was younger I used to cook when I was sad, and now I just cook because I’m happy,” Grande said.