I eat, therefore I cook
I remember the precise moment that I became a cook. As a latch key child I spent many days without cable TV and only had 4 channels to choose from everyday after school when I was finally allowed to be home alone after school without a sitter. I was in 5th grade and I watched The Frugal Gourmet and Julia Child and Jacque Pepin.
I ate a lot of Stouffers frozen dinners and Lean Cuisine. Occasionally Jeanne would make Steak and Gravy, Fried Fish, Shrimp Bisque or Tuna Noodle casserole. My mom liked to read and that is the most amazing gift she gave to me. But the woman would read at the table. While eating. Then smoking and reading and pretty much ignoring me. I loved Wednesday nights at my grandparents because we ate dinner, talked, argued, laughed, ate dessert then a game either all together or just me and my Poppy.
I found food in the fridge one day. Chicken breasts, rice and green beans. I didn’t know how to turn the oven on but I was well versed in the toaster oven. I lined the small pan with foil and put butter, pepper, salt, paprika, garlic powder and oregano. I cut up the green beans and put them in a pot with water in the steamer. I boiled water in another pan for the boil-n-bag rice. It was ready when Jeanne got home and she was shocked that I cooked. She loathed cooking although she was pretty good at it. I am not sure if eating was a favorite thing of hers. My mother spent much of her young life shunning amazingly yummy food because it would make her sick. She was allergic to all fruits but apples, all grains but rice, all veggies except dark green veg and beans, all milk, chocolate and everything pretty that grew outside and all animals. She ate rice crispies in apple juice for breakfast, couldn’t eat bread or pasta and only got white chocolate in her easter baskets. I understood why food was not something she really felt connected to as it use to try to kill her.
My ulterior motive for cooking was to make her stop reading and talk me to for christs sake.
She was worried about fire and injury so she discouraged me from cooking when she wasn’t home but allowed me to step in that next christmas when she couldn’t get her shit together to cook everyone’s breakfast. Shortorder cook she was not. But at 12 I learned I could totally do that. Like Rainman looking at a bunch of toothpicks on the ground and counting them I coud look at the stove and just cook it all and assemble it easily. I don’t consider something that you don’t work at a talent-its just something I could do.
Babysitting at age 14 I caught my cooking break. I was “watching” this family’s kid while they had a party for work at their house catered by their up and coming friends company. A husband and wife duo in the kitchen making yummy food. I felt funny just socializing with the guests and had nothing to do since their kid never woke up I started weaseling my way into the kitchen. They asked me if I had ever worked in a kitchen before. I said no. I was only in middle school and the only job I had had so far was shampoo girl at the salon where i got my haircut. Which was the coolest fucking job ever-being surrounded by girls wearing awesome clothes, tons of make up and giant hair smoking and reading fashion magazines talking about how people looked while people gave me dollar bills for washing their hair.
Cooking seemed cooler-more challenging. I had to get a work permit to work for them. I could only work 4 hours a day after school and 8 hours on the weekends. I washed a lot of pots. Peeled a lot of shrimp. Sliced a million baguette. Crushed a ton of garlic. Cut melon and cheese into tiny uniform triangles and washed a trillion heads of lettuce. They tried to get me to use the slicer but I wasn’t legally allowed which pissed them off but the slicer fucking scared the shit out of me. The only thing that has saved my stupid ass many times was being completely terrified of shit that could seriously hurt me. The slicer still scares the shit out of me. I don’t even like touching it when it’s turned off and unplugged. I thinks its insane they make and sell them for home use. Shit.
Regrouping. Shit. Okay.
But eventually Jerry started to show me how to make pate a choux. How to poach a giant salmon. How to trim a giant piece of beef to get the tenderloin out. How to debone a chicken. How to make every sauce that tastes good. The difference between minced and sliced garlic and why the flavor is more intense the smaller it is. How to cook just about everything. Also how to make everything look amazing. I made tomato roses, birds out of apples, baskets out of watermelons and flowers out of veggies with scallion stems on skewers. I worked my way up to fill the front case to make to order sandwiches, to-go dinner stuff and had a cult following for my egg salad-all while in 9th grade.
I worked for this cater for about 4 years until my senior year of high school and just couldn’t take his crazy chef like abuse any longer. Frequently I was the only chick in the kitchen besides his wife and the chain smoking grandmother who made and decorated all his cakes. I learned about every sexual persuasion, position, curse word and insult you could possibly imagine. I learned what good food, good wine and good time was.
I wore tuxedo shirts and bow ties, meticulously cleaned and reorganized people’s kitchens when we did house parties. I found their vacuum and moped their floor. I cleaned their fridge and found Tupperware for leftovers and organized them with labels.
If my mother asked me to do these things at home I would convulse and appear as though she were asking me the square root of 7,865 while making me lick raw liver naked. I was getting paid at work and did not receive an allowance from her but at the time I don’t know if I had a good reason for being so unreasonable-as teenagers are about stuff at home.
I liked to cook. I made a whole french meal from Julia Childs cook book and invited 3 friends over for dinner in 10th grade. My chocolate mouse was amazing but I didn’t realize that it would feed 20 people. I bought saffron for the first time. I learned that poulet was french for chicken. I made stock.
Once when my mom was out-of-town I had a boyfriend sleep over ( I was a complete slut and for that will be terribly punished by Karma) and I suggested I make dinner. We went to the grocery store and I got food to make chicken stir fry. I was 16 and said slutty boyfriend was 19 or 20. He kept laughing at me picking out food and asking me what I was going to do with it all. I even bought fortune cookies and fresh ginger. Stupid fucker was completely unappreciative.
I continued to tell people I could cook well and occasionally tried to win over boys/men with food. It rarely worked. Once ensconced with current husband of 20 years this June I would cook for his guy friends. I would tell them things like “Hey, I will make waffles tomorrow before you leave. And bacon and honey butter…” Stoned, they would eat like starving Sudanese shoveling food into their pieholes without much comment except for thanks and the occasional well after-the-fact remarks like “holyshitColemakeshomemadewaffelsandcrepesandshit”.
I love to cook. Truly. I love food. I love the science of it. I love the camaraderie of it. I love the idea of feeding people with good food they have never had before. Or had at someones house.
I don’t know why I know how to cook, I don’t know why I can cook and I certainly can’t explain why I don’t cook for a living anymore but if you come over, I promise I will make you something good.