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Posts Tagged ‘Memoir’

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I’ve wanted to make Son-of-a-Bitch Stew since forever.

It’s been so long I’ve wanted to make one that I can’t remember anymore where it was I first even heard of Son-of-a-Bitch Stew. And usually I can trot out the source of any recipe I’ve ever made or heard of because my mind is a Steel Recipe Trap.

I looked in all the cookbooks I’ve had for a long time. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Kaput. Son-of-a-Bitch Stew was not even mentioned by Waverly Root, and goodness knows he mentioned a lot of wonderfully, exceptionally odd things.

But that Son-of-a-Bitch Stew has been calling my name. I used to threaten people with the fact that I’d make it for them. Threaten or promise, that is. I was ready to do it at the drop of a hat (but only if it was a cowboy hat) and even knew butcher shops that had most of the ingredients.

That Son-of-a-Bitch (stew, that is) came awful close to hitting the stove once when a fellow from Wyoming came to lunch. Why Wyoming? (Say that fast five times . . .) Because Wyoming is a place where the Son-of-a-Bitch was known and loved. It’s not only in Texas, you know.

I was close to putting it on the menu, as close to it as a pig’s nose-ring is to the soil when they’re rooting around, but then I chickened out. Actually my mind was more running along the lines of making Son-of-a-Bitch-in-a-Sack, which would have been much more good old-fashioned fun, but darn it all. Something inside told me not to.

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I probably never would have found all the ingredients though, or at least not without saddling up my trusty steed and heading out for a long ride on the dusty trail in search of some of the more interesting tidbits. Then there’s also the fact that for sure the kitchen staff would have run for the hills themselves if I’d proposed the idea of Son-of-a-Bitch for lunch.

Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack is sort of like Son-of-a-Bitch Stew, or it’s not. It’s not when it’s a pastry, a dessert – like the recipe Alan Simpson mentions enclosing in his letter. But the other way is like an Extreme Son-of-a-Bitch-Stew. You get real, with this thing. Here’s a recipe for Son-of-a-Bitch Stew from Clifford Wright.

What I remember most, but what I can not find written anywhere (did I imagine it, as I loped across the imaginary plains on my imaginary horse?) is that the Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack (the one that is not a dessert) (the one you get real with) was cooked in a cow’s stomach. Therefore the name.

Though that Son-of-a-Bitch is still calling my name, the words are fainter now as time goes on by. Now, when I read the ingredients list, no low growl emits from my throat – the growl that says “I Will“.  Now, the corners of my mouth turn up a bit in delight at the unbridled sheer macho joy of the whole thing. And I say to myself “Maybe. Just maybe. Someday.

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Clifford Wright’s “Real Stew” book (source of the recipe above) is here on my bookshelves. And although I winnow constantly, it has been – and will always be – a Keeper. 🙂
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Yeeeeeeeee-haw! Rawhide!

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(This is part 3 of 3 parts – the first two parts of the story are composed of the posts of the previous two days . . . 🙂 )
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new-one-again

This is what Lenotre taught me to make that day.

And that was the day I decided to not quit that job. And it was probably the day I decided I could actually become a chef, also.

So it is the Strawberry Cake that I remember most, about all of it – when someone says ‘Lenotre‘.

You had to be there to see all the results – among which were some line cooks with slightly different attitudes.

But the best thing really was that buttercream.
Mille remerciements a Gaston Lenotre.

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(Part 2, continued from preceding post)

No reason, really – why I should have been repulsed by that little scene on the table. The Chef was married but then so was the Sous Chef. Inequalities of power happen all the time. The Chef was gorgeous in an older woman sort of way – the thought did creep into my mind momentarily of her three children but then again it was said that hers was an open marriage. The Sous Chef was much younger than her and biddable. That’s exactly why he was Sous Chef. His wife was the ugliest woman I’d ever laid eyes on in my life. Still is, if I remember right. Why, I can’t explain. It was nothing precise or explainable. She was just plain scary-looking. Ugly. But the fact remains that watching the Executive Chef lean back onto the table laughing with her mouth in a wide open grimace, her legs grasping the chunky chested Sous Chef who was also rather grinning in a frightened sort of way – was repulsive.

It had almost been the last straw. I’d almost quit the job.

The ingredients that went into this recipe of being a professional cook in a restaurant kitchen were so different than I’d expected. I’d thought “Oh! I love to cook!” “Oh! I can do that job!” “Oh! I want to work in a restaurant!” and so, I’d applied for the job and regardless of the fact that I’d never cooked professionally, won the job after a horrendous first day where I thought I’d surely die from exhaustion, where I’d gone and laid down a little kitchen towel on the floor of the dirty white-trash-looking staff bathroom, far in the corner of the worst-lit longest corridor, and I’d laid there curled up for ten minutes to gather the strength to go back and do the job. Lifting fifty pound mixing bowls over my five-foot-two shoulder to pour batter into the prepared ten cakepans in a sweltering kitchen had not been my forte at any time before that day, and it was a bit of a mouthful to bite on.

I’d almost quit, but there was a triangle in the kitchen that I’d either walk out on or break out of victorious. And I was just angry enough to want to emerge victorious.

The triangle consisted of the Chef on one side. The line cooks, Roger and Frank, on the other side. And little Colette the French waitress who somehow had ended up in this eccentric place called Connecticut who ooh’d and ahh’d over the new offerings on the pastry cart (“I am glad someone knows how to BAKE” she would announce in tight short tones. “It has been HORRIBLE“) along with the Salvadoran busboys, who detested the line cooks and who loved cakes and pastries and taking a side wherever a side was to be found. I didn’t want to walk out on Colette and the Salvadoran busboys.

Roger turned up the volume on the radio set tuned to the hard-metal station to a screeching blast that day when he saw me walk in, and started to bob his head like a sick old duck in time to the bass notes. Frank pouted. I walked to the pastry station and right there on the spot where the Chef’s behind had been sitting several days before, I threw down upon that spot my weapon, and got ready to begin the attack.

My weapon was sweet.

My weapon was brilliant.

My weapon was a book.

The name of my weapon was ‘Lenotre’s Desserts and Pastries‘.

(To be continued . . .Part Three Lenotres Cakes)

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Some people remember the past through things they ate. Memory, place, time, flavor, people . . . all become woven together into a fabric not to be unravelled.

Just as when in those moments a piece of music will insinuate through melody an entirely different time layered upon the present in a sudden spark that floods the current reality with meanings imbued from the past . . . and those meanings are every bit as real in the ‘now’ as when they first were formed . . .

Not that memory is not a questionable thing. It is. But some memories are less fractured than others – one can only hope that the retrospective glance is not looking through the prism of the past less clearly but more clearly, with the focused light of objectivity found through years passed – something not be attained by banging at it, but nonetheless sometimes to be found seredipitously.

I remember the past not so much from things I ate, but more from things I cooked.

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The kitchen was hot that day. It often was, if you happened to arrive in the afternoon for work rather than in the early morning before the ovens and stoves and grill and fryolator and steamer all were operating at a pace similar to an animated Disney movie – at times almost ridiculously fast, almost out of control.

I could go in to work at whatever time pleased me, as the Pastry Chef.

At this upscale suburban Connecticut restaurant dropped as if with a bucket of hope from the sky into the center of a large black concrete parking lot with many yellow lines painted for the many anticipated diners-to-be, the pastries were ‘important’ but not all that important. Pastries and desserts weren’t important to the Executive Chef  – as the reputation of the place was to be focused on the food – not on the pastry. Pastries and desserts weren’t important to the owner of the restaurant because the Executive Chef had been bought at a dear price, and had to be coddled. Pastries and desserts weren’t important to the waiters and waitresses because in all the time past, they had not been stand-outs as part of the meal but merely follow-ups. In other words, there was no good tip money involved with the idea of dessert since the desserts themselves here in times past had not been worth the effort of  putting on a song and dance in order to up-sell.

The guys behind the line did their usual little dismissive dance when I walked into the kitchen. Roger’s prematurely almost-bald head flicked sideways away from his saute-pans for the briefest moment, the steam on his gold wire-rimmed glasses blending with the sweat on his forehead – the forehead behind which was a brain with an investment of some tens of thousands of dollars in the form of a Master’s Degree in Philosophy which had never been used in the form of a job (and which it seemed to me was not used in daily life either, if his attitude and behavior bore witness to what was inside his mind). His soft shoulders angled forwards and backwards in an I-dare-you shimmy, ever so slight while his legs inched slightly more apart, edging his crotch forwards toward the stove as if he were going to fuck it – as if he could fuck it if he just wanted to – which of course as we all know, no girl could ever do.

Frank was more abrupt. He could be, since he was a CIA grad. Slamming the oven doors closed and slapping a towel on the line, he sneered slightly in my direction with a cross between amusement and derision, and moved even faster than he had been before, his beard and moustache and his simple huge-ness of stature giving him the air of a strong but somewhat out-of-place furry black bear. He watched, bluntly, as I walked over to the ‘pastry station’ – the stainless steel table in the center of the kitchen where he’d piled anything extra he could not easily find any other space to put so that I’d have to move it all while feeling his gaze upon me the entire time, his eyes slowly chewing me up, same as they had been each day I’d walked into that kitchen – which at the time was for all of three long weeks.

As I lifted the piles of sheetpans, shifting them onto the racks where they belonged, a vision rose of a scene I’d walked in on at closing time the previous week – the Exec Chef was sitting there right in the middle of my nice clean stainless-steel assigned pastry-making table, pulling the sous-chef towards her then wrapping her legs around his chest as he slightly-squirmed, slightly-enjoyed it. She was drunk.

Better moving piles of sheetpans than having to see that again, I thought.

You have to wonder why one would even want to continue making pastry on that table.

But then Gaston Lenotre entered the scene.

(to be continued – part two Entre Lenotre)

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When the stakes are measured in billions of dollars, ‘love’ is an action word.  The action isn’t that of a gentle hand drawing little hearts and initials on a sheet of notebook paper . . . and it doesn’t involve pounding your chest and bellowing out Tarzan-like cries. Love, in this case, is an action word meaning the highest level of performance even the most demanding perfectionist might think they could dare to expect.

Life at this honored merchant bank was to be part of a well-oiled machine constantly fueled by this devotional love.

This love offered the ones who participated in it easily defined, measurable, numbers-based results in terms of compensation, benefits, and annual bonuses . . . but that was simply the cherry on top of it all.

My job was to make sure the love could be tasted by those whose rank allowed them the privilege. Tasted, smelled, felt – the love would seep into their beings from not only the foods placed before them to eat . . . but the concentrated essence of the emotion would be magically pulled from the very air somehow, to enter into every single one, individually, as they stepped onto the deep Oriental carpets signaling my domain.

In other words, they were spoiled.

They were well spoiled, and babied too – dubbed with a marvelous sense of laudation from the instant they entered my turf. That was my job, as their executive chef. And what a wonderful thing it was indeed.

As I remember it, the love was really flowing that day.

My pre-service rounds showed a kitchen humming with activity. The cooks, sous-chef, and dishwashers moved together with competent precision in a coordinated dance. Divine aromas arose from hundreds of recipe ingredients being tossed, chopped, seared, caramelized, and steamed. Across the corridor from the kitchen the private dining rooms had been made ready into a shiny perfection, solemnly waiting for guests to arrive to be held, to bask in their warm embrace.

The men began to arrive. In twos and fours they walked with sure and ponderous intent . . . all of them, gentlemen. It could not be any other way here. The code was set as firmly into the place as a well-done tattoo on the arm of an old sailor.

The softest of a rich, muffled peace reigned as drinks were served. China and silverware clinked like a forgotten song, and the deal making began.

I returned to my desk, and stuck my nose into a cookbook – seated warily ready to meet and greet as the need or desire arose. People like to meet the executive chef.

The kitchen did not need me – the chef was pleased to take full charge of everything he could. My job was to plan, to devise strategies, to solve problems with staffing or money, to create menu plans, to create new recipes, to write policy and procedures manuals, to meet with all those who wanted to meet to talk food, their food, the food they wanted so much to reach the highest summit of perfection, my job was to implement operational plans to make things work better, always better – to create a higher love quotient for both kitchen staff and guests.

A ragged panting noise sounded from the hall, but it didn’t make sense. Ragged panting simply didn’t happen here. Jose fell around the corner of the long hallway through the door right into my office, gasping for breath.

“There’s a guy on the floor, he fell off his chair, he’s turning funny colors!” he managed to grunt out. I ran after him halfway back down the hall to the dining room with the open door.

Four men stood gathered together in one corner of the dining room, all staring rigidly at the fifth one who had been with them at the table. He now lay crumpled, twisted off the chair, flat on the floor.

He was old, tall, thin. His hair was a delicate soft white. His face was (as Jose said) turning a funny color. There was a bit of saliva coming out the corner of his mouth. His skin lay flaccid and pale on his cheeks.

As I bent to take his pulse my hands were trembling. I felt as if I might fly right up into the air from shaking so much. “He has a heart condition,” one of the men said. “Who are you?” I asked him. “I’m his brother. And his partner,” he added.

The dining rooms hostess entered the room in a rush, and she and I started CPR, talking the steps out loud together as we leaned over the old man who lay passive and flat on the  thick beige carpeting. It was the first time either one of us had done CPR “for real” – that is, on a person, rather than on a plastic dummy.

His airway was clear.  I took his mouth between my palms – so feeble-looking and lax – and began to breathe into him as Kathy did compressions on his heart. Time suspended itself in thin air, just as his breath and heart had.  There was no time.

I wanted his brother to help. “This is your brother, asshole!” I wanted to scream at him. “It could as well be you. Is this how you would want to be treated by your brother if it was you? Get over here. Talk to him. Hold his hand. Call his doctor. Touch his hair. Get out of the fucking corner and down on this floor!” But his brother was frozen in the corner with the other guys. They were cardboard cut-outs, immobile, shocked into standing in place by what was happening in this room where these things did not happen.

The EMTs arrived after forever. And when I looked up from where I was kneeling on the carpet, up over my shoulder back towards the four stick-men in the corner, I was startled by an odd sight.

Their eyes were not focused on the man who had been their brother, their business partner, their friend and peer. Instead they were honed with machine-like precision upon something else. It was my behind that had captured their attention. They were all staring with attention from their immobility in the corner, directly up my skirt.

One life was gone. Massive heart attack, the doctors said later. Nothing, really, could have saved him in that moment. They took him away, and the men in the room awkwardly dispersed. There was going to be no more lunch at that table, that day.

I walked out the door and up the thick-carpeted cherry-paneled hall hung with oil portraits to the ladies room.
Then closing myself in a cubicle, I cried, sobbed, without making a sound. My mouth opened in a scream, tears like a waterfall poured out from my eyes and when I could stop I did. Then I went back to the dining room.

The walls gleamed softly, dressed up finely in their washed heavy silk – a silk that lay quiet, a silk that never screamed. Did it swear? It may have, from time to time. Maybe at those times the soft deep carpet would cool the wallpaper’s surprise. Maybe the large windows like huge gray eyes where the East River could be seen in slow steady transit – choppy little waves here and there – reminded the wallpaper that life goes on, one way or another. The sun rises, the sun sets. Another day would come filled with usual things: love, sex, death, money, food and, of course, as always, questions of dress.

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