Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Wheee, chef...

"If you don't fall down, you're not trying hard enough."

~ skiing wisdom (probably coined by knee surgeons and makers of air casts)
I've been the chef à domicile at our house for more than 20 years.

In all that time (and as far as we know), no one got food poisoning from the meals I served up.

But to the best of my knowledge, no one ever went away saying, "Damn, I wish the Millers would invite us over for dinner more often."

Then, a couple years ago, I stumbled across cooking shows on Netflix, and an epiphany* was had.

It started with "The Great British Baking Show" I think, then Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown", then (in no particular order) "Chef's Table" and the sublime "Chef's Table—France"; "The Mind of a Chef", "A Cook Abroad", "Avec Eric", "Rebel Without A Kitchen", "Ainsley Eats the Streets", and most recently "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat."

Also on our screens during this time were superb movies like "Chef" and "Julie & Julia" and "The Hundred-Foot Journey." Books came into the house—many, many books—among them Addie Gundry's "Homemade Soup Recipes", Jennifer Trainer Thompson's "Fresh Fish",
"Eat Like You Give A F*ck" from the Thug Kitchen, and Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential", "The Nasty Bits", and "Medium Raw".

The point, if it's not apparent, is that I was inspired to start taking my evening job more seriously. And...

*The Epiphany—was that I should try making food people would actually find memorable. In a good way.

So far, I haven't fallen down. Much.

Despite adding variety and complexity, I can count on about three fingers the number of times I've cooked something that was truly awful.

1. Seafood chowder—the Pacific Northwest produces some of the best seafood in the world. Sadly, the halibut, salmon, and shrimp I selected this time were no match for the onion, fennel bulb, and leeks I used in the base. Rookie mistake. Thing I learned: it's a bad idea to overwhelm mild, already-delicious fish with strong flavors.

2. Yakisoba with scallops and veggies—I've made this dish several times at home, and it's always worked out fine. But when I made the same thing the same way at my parents' house, it was terrible. The noodles were a mushy mess that tasted as bad as they looked. Thing I learned: nothing—I still have no idea what went wrong.

3. Asparagus-cheese soup—inedible. Too late I discovered the asparagus was stringy and chewy and bitter. I don't know if it was overripe or underripe or what. But it was bad. Thing I learned: be more careful about picking produce.

This is not to say everything else has been amazing, or that I'm any sort of accomplished cook. I'm not. My failure to fail, I think, is actually a sign that I'm not trying hard enough. That I may need to expand my ambitions beyond my comfort zone to discover all the hilarious ways one can screw up a meal.

I mean, I guess.

The other possibility is that consistently good cooking is a function of simplicity rather than complexity. That if you start with a few quality, local, fresh ingredients, you're less likely to make a mess of them. 

In which case my failure to fail is a function of where we live and our abundance of options. 

A bit like avoiding recurrent yard sales because the mountain is always covered with six inches of powder—and concluding you must be a really good skier.

I'm not a really good skier, metaphorically or otherwise.

And the fact is, there are entire categories of world cuisine I haven't attempted yet. I want to try a lot of them, which means there'll be plenty of chances to stumble and fall all over the kitchen. 

I'm willing to give it a try, anyway.

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