1. Remove lid. Add room temperature water (6.4 fl. oz) to inside Fill Line.
  2. Place in microwave center. Microwave uncovered for four minutes on HIGH (1000W).* Let stand for one minute.
  3. Stir and enjoy!

* Cooking time varies with microwave wattage.

If you’re a college student, these instructions are probably familiar: they come from cup noodles. They promise warm ramen, created quickly enough to satisfy an empty stomach when the stove seems daunting and the act of cutting a vegetable is out of the question. Students are often presented with the chance to truly cook for themselves for the first time in college. Instead of serving as parents’ or siblings’ sous chefs, we discover the freedom to make and consume whatever we want—and often find ourselves lacking in the skills and knowledge we might have taken for granted. In a pattern fitting much of the general college learning curve, we experiment, and sometimes get a little bit burned.

The cultural landmark and ultimate cooking film Ratatouille once famously told this generation, “Anyone can cook," but somebody had to start somewhere. Centuries of rich history stand behind the ways we learn to navigate the kitchen. With this short historical overview of the ways we learn to cook and what we might look forward to seeing in the future, I hope you too will be inspired to venture beyond the instructions on that instant ramen package.


The oldest cookbook on record was not written down on paper, but rather carved into clay. The Yale Tablets were created around 1700 B.C. and reside in Yale’s Babylonian Collection. An important note in the history of cookbooks: They were generally for one–percenters. It was only after the printing press made its debut that this landscape began to slowly change. The first printed cookbook was a 1465 Italian guide called On Right Pleasure and Good Health, and it wasn’t intended to be widely available. During the 15th and 16th centuries, cookbooks were exclusive status symbols of court culture, but eventually, as technology spread, so did their reach. This reach often targeted specific groups, especially along class lines: A Plain Cookery for the Working Classes, published in England in 1852, is one example. Literacy grew, a middle class emerged, and ideas of democracy and equality spread—and so did the cookbook, until eventually, it was readily available on bookstore shelves for all. Food magazines emerged in the 20th century, and today, with food blogs, we’ve arguably progressed past the need for paper–borne recipes, though cookbooks are still popular.

Cooking Shows

Cooking shows were not only relatively cheap to produce, but also transformed the making of food into its own form of entertainment. The first was actually broadcast over radio: Édouard de Pomiane hosted a program with the goal of bringing easy and luxurious recipes to a France fresh out of World War I. He is often considered the first celebrity chef. Following Pomiane’s highly successful example, other programs, like The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air, brought instructional content to anyone with a radio, a kitchen, and a paper and pencil to jot down these recipes. 

With television quickly invading households in the mid–20th century, it was natural that cooking shows would take advantage of this both visual and auditory medium. James Beard’s I Love to Eat (1946–1947) was the first real cooking show, and after it followed an explosion of content for the decades to come: from Julia Child’s humorous and legendary decade–long The French Chef (1963–1973) to Emeril Lagasse’s engaging Emeril Live (1997–2010), which made him an international star. The Food Network struggled at first to fill 24 hours with exclusively cuisine–related content, but eventually cracked the code. In the past few decades, there’s been a boom in the quantity and diversity of cooking shows, with something for everyone. Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa (2002–2021) provides classy and comforting cooking in the Hamptons, competitions like Chopped (2009–present) are like Jeopardy! to aspiring home chefs, and Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (2007–present) steps out of the home kitchen to highlight restaurants around the country. 

Social Media

Now, with the popularity of the internet and smartphones, social media has infiltrated the food scene. YouTube permits easy searching for specific recipes and instructions, like your basic knife skills, and boasts content across a variety of cultures, niches, and languages. Apps like Instagram and TikTok provide a similar platform for anyone to post and spread content, but in a more concise format. Through these online platforms, other apps are seeking to gain traction as well, like Zest, which provides recipes and tutorials based on skill level. The app’s humorous commentary and interactive nature reflect its catchphrase: “Like Duolingo 4 Cooking.” Like Zest, these apps tend to be geared toward and populated most often by younger audiences. 56% of Gen–Z uses TikTok for food–related content, while only 29% of millennials rely on the app. These platforms are a way not only to share cooking tips and tricks, but also to converse and connect with others. “FoodTok” is its own hashtag and community, with drama and trends (see “Cakegate” and “Girl dinner,” as recent examples). Cookbooks even focus on foods “as cooked on TikTok.” 

Communal Cooking

With all of these ways to develop your cooking skills, comparison between them is inevitable. It’s easy to forget the most fundamental—and I’d argue, important—way to learn: from others, person–to–person. It’s often said that our parents are our first teachers in terms of morals and personal growth, but the same applies to cooking. 

In noted stone–cold classic Ratatouille, it isn’t an innovative, flashy creation that undoes the critic Anton Ego’s cold exterior during the film’s climax. Instead, it’s the movie’s titular ratatouille—a “peasant dish.” It reminds Ego of his mother in his childhood home, serving his younger self the home–cooked meal she made with her own two hands. At its core, food is a deeply communal aspect of life, one that cultivates human connection, comfort and joy. For all that fun recipes from viral videos or fancy techniques from award–winning chefs have their merits, the closeness of cooking with a loved one transforms a dish into a beloved memory that remains long after the last crumb is gone.