Recipe for Love

I remember my first time. I was confused and excited and didn’t really know what I was doing. I started doing it on a regular basis when I was a teenager. The more I did it, the better I seemed to get at it. I thought that once I got married I would do it less but the truth I do it more now than ever. If I do it more than twice a day, I tend to get achy muscles and if I do it too much in a week, my hands get callouses.I like to do it when nobody is at home to distract me and I get nervous when I do it in front of other people. So please join me for “the things I have learned” about cooking: What’s with the funny looks? What did you think I was talking about , ya sickos?

I love to cook. From the shopping for that extra fresh ingredient to make a recipe really work to the sitting back and watching some one enjoy the work I have done, I enjoy the entire culinary process. And due to the fact that there has not been a single call to Poison Control, I guess I am getting pretty adept at throwing together some food.You will notice that I refer to myself as a cook, not a chef. I am not a chef now nor do I ever intend to become one but I love being an amateur cook.

The layman may ask as to what is the difference between the cook and chef. A cook is what you do and a chef is who you are. Ask anyone that works in a restaurant what the difference is and they will tell you that is is about $20000 a year.Obviously the most basic difference is the responsibility and pressure that a chef is under is way worse than any, even professional, cook experiences. Although I only was employed briefly in the restaurant biz, note to self: Mussolini jokes don’t play well at Italian joints, I have been delivering to restaurants for years. Let’s face it, I have been in more kitchens than the Florida State Health Inspectors, explains that tummy trouble you have every time you order Moo Shoo Pork. In those visits I have learned a thing or two about what it means to prepare food for other people.

I know that I am not alone in my, probably undeserved, pride of my culinary skills. We have all been there. You are in front of your stove, whipping up a pretty good version of fried pork chops and you say to yourself,”hey, I am pretty good at this. I bet I could be a chef.” Well, you are pretty good at putting a band aid on, but I don’t think that qualifies you to perform open heart surgery.Lots of people have tried to parlay their skills at cooking turkey dinner for Grandma and Uncle Joe into the actual business of running a restaurant.  These businesses are easy to recognize shortly after they open. They are in dark buildings that have signs out front that say things like “Vacant” or “For Lease”. No matter how kick-ass you may be at whipping up appetizers for the last P.T.A. function you went to, the truth is the game changes when you are doing it for a living.

When I am fixing dinner at the house, the worst distraction I have to deal with is being summoned to the living room for a particularly brutal groin shot on America’s Funniest Home Videos, yet another reason to outlaw the pinata. A chef has to deal with a wine delivery who shows up two hours late, has to translate “sweep the floor” into 6 different dialects of Spanish, has to find a way to cover for the 3 waitresses and a hostess aren’t showing up because they got arrested and has to break up a fight between two hot-headed line cooks who accuse each other of sabotaging their” mise en place “. And this is before the chef even gets out of the parking lot. “Real chefs” have to deal with these type things every day. I said “real chefs”. Sorry “slop dispenser” at Golden Corral I wasn’t talking to you.

The hardest part about being a chef for a living  is…..being a chef for a living. At my house, if I burn the rice or the roast is too dry I have 4 different magnets on the fridge with pizza delivery numbers that will bail me out. I will have to suck down a few slices of Pizza Hut but other than my pride nothing is harmed.If a pro has a flame out he literally could have a flame out. If I screw up the Independence Day family meal, the worst I will have to deal with is being relegated to bringing cups or plates to the Labor Day BBQ. If I truly screwed up, I will get the family kissoff,’ No, you don’t have to cook anything. Why don’t you just bring the ICE?”

One spectacular screw up by a chef,and they will be so blacklisted that their next job will involve knowing the difference between hash browns that are “covered” and “smothered”. Or they spend their days talking to three toothless waitresses, and they are all named Judy. My biggest risk in cooking is my pride. A chef is risking the livelihood of everybody in the restaurant if he isn’t the best. So even if you think you got “skills”, you still may not be good enough for people to bet their bank accounts on you.

Here are a few more pearls of wisdom I have picked up about the culinary enterprises:

  • The weekend means nothing. In restaurants, Friday is their Monday, Saturday is their Monday, Sunday is their Monday…..
  • There are no clean Chinese food places. The only way to think the Chinese  food place seems clean is if you are comparing it to the Indian restaurant next door.
  • If a restaurant’s bathroom seems dirty, you definitely don’t want to see the kitchen.
  • Workers at Olive Garden are more likely to get carpal tunnel from opening cans and frozen packages that from burning them selves on freshly cooked meals.
  • If a person comes to your table and says they are the sommelier, it means they were too much of an asshole to be the maitre d.
  • Captain Dee’s is a fine seafood restaurant, if you have never actually seen a fish before.
  • Yes that waiter does smell like booze.
  • If your food is not the way you ordered it, just exchange it with someone at your table. Sending food back out of your sight and into the kitchen is an exercise in blind trust and  I am not even that much of a believer in human nature.
  • You can never pay too much for a great meal nor tip too much for great service because in life you will have far too many times when you will get neither.

Now that we have covered restaurants, I want to tell you what separates me from the less talented home chefs.. First of all, it is feedback. My family has developed a complex judging formula similar in complexity to that which governs Olympic diving. To make it easy for me to understand, they have translated it into simple to comprehend verbal clues. Apparently the top of the scale is,” I am eating it, ain’t I” and the bottom rung is the much feared” This tastes like ass”. I am not sure what falls between those two categories but the family says they will let me know when I need to.

The other secret to my success  is that I only use the finest ingredients. I insist on using Top brand ramen instead  of the more pedestrian types and find that when I splurge and use 2 flavor packets that the dish is just amazing. I also insist on using the fish sticks shaped like dinosaurs cause it makes us feel like we are a fine dining restaurant, that serves fish sticks shaped like dinosaurs. You may ask which cheese does this gourmand recommend. Gouda? Irish Swiss? Fine Havarti? They are all too plebeian for my taste. You have to think big to cook big and there is no bigger cheese than Velveeta.  It must be a fine product or why would the grocers put it so far from the refrigerated cases that contain the other lesser cheeses. I know some may argue over the wonder that is “cheese in a can” but I guess that is what separates the masters from the apprentices.

Well I guess you now know why I could never be a professional preparer of meals, but a professional drinker? That, I could do.

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