Those of you who read my BLOG know that I am no stranger to cooking, I do most of the cooking in the house, my mom is disabled and I cook something decent at least four nights a week. But flash back and by the age of eight I was coming down early on Sunday mornings and making bacon and eggs with a pot of tea before my parents were awake. Then I would set the table and lay out the food before going to wake my parents up, my folks groggy eating half cold food and wondering what to do with me. So flashing forward 40 years later and I decide in December of 2009 to teach myself classic French cooking. I armed myself with a set of JA Henckels knives and added to the armload of cookbooks we already had and dove fearlessly into the unknown. My first dish was the ubiquitous french Navarin D”Agneau, lamb stew with spring vegetables. It came out OK but I moved on. By the time I made Blanquette de veau, veal stew in cream sauce. Coq au Vin, chicken cooked in red wine and pan roasted trout with fennel I discovered a few things about myself and about cooking well. I was blooded by a pairing knife (1st time) and wore a forearm burn proudly till it healed. Granted, not all the dishes came out great but the experience was, I learned a little about butchering meat, to look a fish in the eye before I buy it and to read a recipe carefully. I also found out what to do when you get “in the weeds.” This is where rum and Coke helps tremendously.
Most of the men at my job wouldn’t be caught dead cooking French food, and at least one thinks that canned gloppy soup over rice or giant frozen boats of mystery meat swimming in unlikely gravy is Haute cuisine! They are all caught up in typical American attitudes towards the French and their food. Which as we all know, has been increased exponentially by the former Bush Administration, why? Because of the lack of France’s support for George W. Bush’s war for oil and profit. Even the guys that do cook would not go to the trouble and expense that I do, and I would be kidded no end by my interest in all things French.
So…why do I do it? Because I have to, because I love it. The research in my books, the planning, the shopping and the execution. The proof however is when your family, friends or guests begin to eat. Sometimes the silence is worrying until you look up to see bulging cheeks and nods of approval like some bobble head dolls on a dash-board. That makes it all worthwhile, and just like any art form you can look upon it and say “I made this …and it’s good, very good.” For me the accomplishment of feeding a dozen people Thanksgiving dinner from a kitchen the size of a NYC food cart is enormous, although it is tinged with a little sadness that my mom who taught me a great deal, because of her disability, is forced to sit on the sidelines and watch me do what used to be her job. But at least I have a prep chef and coucil.
In our current “post traumatic economy disorder” many people are finding it harder to feed the typical family of four. Television commercials are touting large TV dinners as the answer to all our problems, serve it up with a salad and call it “restaurant night!” These commercials show happy middle class families excited to sit down to such fare as an alternative to going out for a nice dinner. The sad thing is that many families are doing just that because they can’t afford a meal out for four unless it’s fast food served on plastic trays, and guess what-that’s not so cheap as it used to be either. But on the flip side the many chain restaurants are offering two-fer-one deals to try to lure people out of the house with the promise of good food. How much healthier it is to cook from scratch, a few basic techniques, some herbs and spices and you got it. Then get the kids or your friends involved and make it fun! It’s not hard, anyone can do this if they have the guts and the desire. You don’t need a cooking degree from Culinary Institute of America or the French Culinary Institute ( but I would still like one if I could afford to go) to be able to make a few great dishes. I have cooked as a hobby for many years before it became a passion and a necessity in recent times, but this year I feel that I reached a new milestone in my cooking. I have mastered a few techniques, taught myself to cook many things I never tried before and developed a sense of how to cook a dish just from observing it being made on TV. There is a lot I don’t know and more that I want to do, I need better knife skills for one and I need to learn to cook fish and meat better, and I need to graduate beyond stews and casseroles. I may have my critics and that’s fine, most people do.
All I know is that I may not be a great chef, but at least I cook well.