I think, in my future life, I want to be a chef, but I don’t know, man.
I was watching “Top Chef” Sunday morning. One of the competitors was this chubby bearded fellow with a ridiculous Jack Johnson mustache. Obviously he just moved to or from Brooklyn or Oregon – there is no third option. His whole look didn’t make sense. The beard said “lumberjack,” the mustache said “early 20th century” and his hat – an Irish jeff cap – said “well, Irish.” The whole package said “tool.” But I get it. You gotta have that mustache when you’re a 21st century cook, bro.
Anyway, I was watching “Top Chef” this morning. The judges debated the perfect crustiness of the sourdough bread the chefs were using. Like, one of the judges literally said “She was the only one to find that perfect crustiness in the sourdough.” I know, when I’m eating something with bread I certainly would like the bread to be of a perfect crustiness, or something. The bread should taste good, and it shouldn’t be overwhelming, sure, but the whole science of the crustiness, the sheer need to please these judges with just the right amount of char and garlic absorption – what’s the point, really? It’s all going into the stomach, am I right?
I bring this up because I spent the entire Saturday cooking a seven-course dinner for Sarah and I. She didn’t know. I started with “I’m gonna make dinner Saturday, definitely with some cheddar-cauliflower soup my friend told me about.” Then on Wednesday I decided the soup wasn’t enough, and maybe I wanted to show my appreciation for Sarah with a larger canvas. So I thought about a five-course dinner (appetizer, soup, salad, entree, dessert), but well, it’s me, and if you know me, I pretty much need to do bigger things, like all the time. My ego isn’t fit for normal stuff. So I was researching (Wikipedia) the HMS Titanic voyage and noticed its chefs prepared a twenty-one-course feast. But since I’m no enterprising turn-of-the-century tastemaker, I figured twenty-one wasn’t going to work. I settled on seven. That was going to work. Seven would take about seven hours, maybe eight, considering preparation. I could do that.
This was my menu:
Course 1: Grilled avocado and cheddar appetizer (when Sarah and I met, we talked over beer and grilled cheese)
Course 2: Cheddar and cauliflower soup
Course 3: Chicory salad with cheddar, oranges, and a spicy avocado dressing
Course 4: Mango-agave sorbet with tequila
Course 5: Lamb flank bathed in tomatillo sauce and tamarind-chocolate paste
Course 6: Crab cakes over spicy avocado-chocolate sauce (crab cakes was the first dinner I cooked for Sarah)
Course 7: Dark chocolate flan with milky marshmallow sauce
I wanted to spice everything, wanted to go cheese and chocolate, then pair the foods with the right drinks (Chilean Cabernet for the first three courses; Newburgh Brewing Company Brown Ale for the last three courses). I figured I would be ready to serve around 6:30 p.m.; I actually was ready to serve by 6:15 p.m.
I definitely have a newfound appreciation for chefs after creating my feast. I once worked for a catering company, mostly washing dishes and preparing box lunches and carrying on with low-paid stewards. I did, however, cook a lot of food as a dining service employee in college; I’m surprised nobody living in Boston University’s Myles Standish Hall and Danielsen Hall between 2003 and ’06 didn’t sue me for food poisoning. But serving thousands of college students every day was like throwing piles of food in a trough – don’t get me wrong; it was decent food prepared very well, but you’re basically making sure quantity is sufficient while hoping the quality retains. It’s actually pretty tough, but once you get the science down, you can really churn it out. And that pales in comparison to the chefs who create personally memorable dishes for multiple parties at quality urban restaurants. That job is tough. There is science, of course, but you have to blend that with a knowing sense of creativity. There’s real talent in food creativity. Real talent.
Sarah, though she could have been slightly altered by glasses of red wine, told me I was adept at combining the science of taste to the beauty of food creativity. I took pride in this, though I still wondered if it was the wine talking, because, heck, the avocado-chocolate sauce looked like smears on the Carnival Triumph. Still, it meant I could potentially – if I really wanted to ditch the journalism and writing gig I’m carving here – spend my life cooking people stuff. I love cooking stuff, and I love making people happy through my cooking, so a good marriage, right? I can make poop-looking avocado-chocolate sauce forever! Not quite.
Again, it’s tough. And it’s challenging and brutal and you have to gut through a decade of being a sous chef, and taking orders from some blowhard who once got on “Chopped” (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I expect quite a few folks once on “Chopped” really go nuts with that resume point), and cooking some sort of sushi fusion thing that doesn’t make any sense but has to satisfy some mustachioed fools like the guy on “Top Chef.” I’m rambling. I enjoy Anthony Bourdain, and “No Reservations” and “The Layover” and “I Go Places and Say Whatever the F**k I Want Because S**t I’m Anthony Bourdain” are fine shows. They tell me things I’d like to know about places. But how many of these shows are there? And how many of these chefs and cooks and owners and managing partners are there, just smiling and putting on some beard and slicing up some parsnips? And how do you even slice up some parsnips?
The point is, I’ve spent a decade working my way up the journalism and writing worlds, and I still have about a million ladder rungs to go. I missed the Lena Dunham express, evidently, so I’m likely going to be that sixty-year-old guy selling a piece about that new hipster mecca Brooklyn, New York, to the Greater East Coast Inquirer Globe Sun Observer Newsday (I figure this is how big-city newspapers will look in thirty years). And by then I’ll be the seventeenth-most-in-demand culture and generational issue writer in the Sub-Northern Region. That’s a big accomplishment in 2045, you know.
I don’t want to be a chef. Not while I’m trying to be other things. So instead I’ll just cook big dinners for my friends, and when Sarah and I get an apartment or house (which, considering the Craigslist links that are filling up my inbox, this is happening like next week), I’ll throw enormous dinner parties with awesome themes that can be paired with the right beer and wine and spirits that I attain from some of my many beer and wine and spirit friends (maybe the best thing about being a culture writer is that you become friends with beer and wine and spirits people). It will be during those sweaty, burning, bloody afternoons over the kitchen island that I’ll feel like an accomplished chef.
That’s another thing: Who in bloody hell wants to be sweating and burning and cut up all the time? Not this guy.