Monday, December 17, 2007
I.... AM... IRON CHEF!!!
I’m a cooking junkie.
I love cooking over a stove, over a range and over charcoal briquettes… I love cooking. I love the sound of meat hitting a hot surface, that wondrous hisssss is music to my ears.
I love slicing and dicing veggies on the cutting board. There’s an almost Zen-like trance I fall into as I take a group of carrots, peel them, slice them into sticks and then to a fine dice. The same with the celery and the onions.
The other night we had a huge party for our cousin Mario and his wife, Sila… who are moving to Tampa in a few days. Close to thirty people, all under one roof gathered to bid these two adieus. Mario is one of my closest friends I have, even though we don’t get together much. He’s a brilliant lawyer and he’s one of the smartest people I know.
He also has a huge comic book collection that I was going to pry away from him… until my wife cut me off at the pass and told Sila to ship the books out before I could wrangle them away from Mario.
Cousin Paul and I held court in the kitchen, getting the huge salad ready to be served with the various meat, chicken and vegetarian lasagnas. I had loaves of fabulous chabatta bread to be grilled and slathered in garlic butter and Parmesan cheese.
My nephew Jeanpi (short for Jean Paul) was with us, hoping for the chance to cook with the big boys. We regulated the poor boy to such mundane duties as peeling the skins off the onions and trash monitoring. He did his duty, with a sad little smile on his face.
As the Patriots were date-raping the Pittsburgh Steelers, I was slicing celery on the cutting board with great speed. I’m not going to deny the fact that I’m very good with a knife. I got Martin Yan speed-skills, motherfucker, and I’m very confident. As my machine-gun dicing reduced the stalks to even slices, I could hear some of the women talking about how good my abilities were with a knife. One of them owns an Italian restaurant and this woman loves to watch me work a blade.
I took Jeanpi out to the patio where my grill is. I opened the lid, cranked-up the burners and slammed it shut with one of those Bobby Flay “grill… you are my bitch” moves. I then took young Jeanpi back to the kitchen and handed.
I sliced the loaves in half and then… to his surprise, handed the loaves to Jeanpi.
“You’re the bread man tonight.” I told him. He got his wish this evening. He was now a member of the kitchen brigade. A sly smile came over the young lad’s face. This was the big leagues… this was a crucial part of the menu and I warned him.
“You fuck this up… you’re on your own.”
He followed me out to the grill and we slammed the loaves facedown onto the grates. I took the first two, he took rest. I then slammed the lid down and told they boy that if he left this spot, for any reason, this grill will destroy his bread. And if he destroyed the bread, he would have to face the wrath of demons from the seventh level of Hades, formerly known as the family.
Don’t ever fuck up the bread. Nothing is more unforgivable than burning the bread and seeing empty bread baskets, never to see a crumb. You don’t want to be the cause of that nightmare. I’ll be the first to kill you.
I get back to the kitchen and begin smashing the garlic and ginger for the dressing, when I look to my side and see Jeanpi standing there, watching me work. Apparently, he didn’t understand the importance of his post.
“GET BACK THERE AND WATCH THE FUCKING BREAD!!”
Then he came back to the kitchen and told us that everyone thinks the bread is burning because they can smell it. What they smelled, I told him, was the bread being charred, which gives it that crunch. I told him he was in charge and to not pussy out to the Gangs of New York eaters, waiting to chow-down.
We went back to the grill, popped it open and flipped over the first loaf.
Beautiful, baby. Absolutely beautiful.
Golden brown with the slightest char sprinkled across the surface. The other three were just as gorgeous. Now we just turn down the heat and roast the backsides to add to the crunch. I then gave Jeanpi a brush and a huge jug of garlic butter and told him to slather them down like a Kentucky Derby racehorse in the winner’s circle.
It was a magical feeling passing the bread duties to Jeanpi. The boy-who-would-be-Bourdain was one of us now. Holiday cooks, bitching about all the people walking through the kitchen, kids letting us know that they’re not going to touch the cherry tomatoes and hungry partiers begging us to serve our culinary concoctions.
The kitchen is where the action is, where ingredients are flying from cutting board to mixing bowl at a furious pace. It’s me yelling to my wife to get that buffet table ready, because I’m serving it when it’s ready and I’m not going to be waiting for someone to find the fucking table draping. It’s high-stress and it’s a frantic energy and it’s the greatest place in the house to be during the holidays.
Paul and I rarely eat at the table. Not when we’ve been tasting everything and slamming down wine and Smirnoff lemon-thingamabobs while we were preparing the feast. We always serve the food, retreat back to the kitchen, pour two full glasses of wine and listen to the sounds of everyone diggin’ our food. It’s a great feeling. It’s quite a shit-eating grin when you cause that type of reaction.
And now… there’s a new musketeer. Jean Paul has officially joined the ranks of the Kitchen Brigade. The Warriors Three, covered in water, oil and vinegar, our shirts dotted with carrots, celery, onion, garlic, ginger and lettuce. We wear every scrap with pride.
And we don’t do the dishes.
Ahhhhh… it's good to be the cook.