Chapter 1 - Love of Cooking
The scorching skin almost immediately starts to bubble and I can't help but look down at my hand. My lungs taking in an extra breathe in both surprise and rage. "Fuck you, mother fucker!" is all the can come out of my lips with all the power that the extra breathe of air can give me. The Chef calls out the next order followed by, "We are in the shits, get a glove on it and get back at it." My hands shake, the pain starts and my hands shake even more. I look at the burn, as the latex glove slides over the blister causing it to tear and bleed. I get back on the line and I keep cooking, we are in the shits and there is a rule, whether it is written down or not, besides losing a finger, everything can wait until we clear the rail. And it's these moments that I love the food industry. Bonds and brother/sisterhood forming, the knowing that in a few hours, the crew will grab a drink, laughing and poking each other as only a family can. Someone will laugh as they recount story of what my face looked like as the oil inflicted the burns on my hands or the burnt dish that someone else messed up. This feeling is addicting, a job done, satisfaction of success and the knowledge that we aren't alone in this. Every burn, cut or mistake everyone in that kitchen as lived through the exact same thing. Bonds form and for some last a lifetime and for others they are broken as soon as distance or a promotion gets in the way. But for me looking back at these moments, I know that this was the very best of times and in a weird way the worse.
The water starts to simmer, steam leaving the pot and me staring down at the cloud of mist. I add the macaroni and stare into the space of nothingness. Trapped by the thoughts of the eternal questions that plague all teenage boys, 'I wonder when I'll have sex and with whom'. I stir the macaroni and start making a bechamel sauce. Convinced that both Shannon and Sara like me, though as history proves neither did, I start to add the cheese. The process of making a cheese sauce so unspectacular that my mind again drifts and I'm slowly skating towards the Stanley Cup tears streaming down my face, the fantasy that played so often on the neighborhood streets finally coming true. I hold the Cup with both of my hands, feeling the weight both actual and legend and with the pride of a large group of lions I lift the Cup towards the heavens. I just scored the final goal and I have an incredibly hot wife cheering for me from the edge of the lake as I begin the skate around the lake. I pour the macaroni out of the pot, add a little cold water to stop the cooking process and stopping the noodles from sticking together and dry them off with a towel and add them to my creamy cheese sauce. I sit down in front of the TV and turn it on to the food network and while the host talks my attention drifts off towards the pasta. I enjoy with my whole heart this moment, my fork grabs the pasta and with a slight twist, pulling the pasta towards my mouth. Steam lifting off of the noodle and I get my first whiff of the finished dish. The forks slows down and a little puff of air floats past my lips as I place the pasta in my mouth. The creaminess of the sauce combined with the sharpness of the cheese and the consistency of the pasta creates the perfect bite. Slowly, as my mouth starts to move and air flows over the pasta and the air traveling faster then the sauce, I first experience the air, the edges of my jaw tingle, I know what comes next. I feel the smoothness as my teeth grind the first of the noodles, the sauce creates a slide and the whole process quicker then desired comes to an end. My eyes close with pleasure, air pushes from my chest, joy slowly wades over my face and I just sit in the moment.
Wrongly convinced that real Chefs don't read cookbooks, I struggle to advance my cooking skills as seasons and time flip through the calendar. Limited by thought and more by ability I fall into a slow pace of grilled cheese and ready to go soup and the meals start to become cumbersome. And then like the star of David hope emerges from the darkest of nights. We started to date, at first it was a clumsy gathering of friends coupled with some kissing and holding of hands but soon there was pressure. The, no more bases can be rounded without us getting to know each other better pressure. I relent I pick up a series of cookbooks each aimed at making me a better cook. Time and burnt pans pass through the night of the big date. The pressure starts to mount, sweat hits my brow I put together the risotto, stirring in the stock with grace and ease, I pull the pot from the burners and focus on the Tiramisu and later admit I was confused by the reality that not all of Europe have the same national dishes, I keep on cooking my French, Italian and German supper. After my ladyfingers start to bake, I turn to the sausage. Nothing says romantic dinner then phallic shaped meat.
The doorbell chimes, butterflies attack my stomach lining and I bounce to the door. She smiles, confident and calm, knowing that she alone controls the night. I smile awkwardly, move to the side and give her a kiss. Lip-chap, this is it. We walk towards the kitchen I know that the next hour may for well be the very best or perhaps if the Gods demand the very worst. I take her to the seat, I grab the beer that I stole from my fathers supply, pretending merrily that I am so mature looking that I just walked into the liquor store and bought it. As our glasses touch, there is a slight clank sound but otherwise, silence. A smile emerges from my lips and I ask if she is hungry. Awkward. She nods, unsure if she read my thought thoughts and agrees with me that I am awkward but I gamble and go to the kitchen and grab the risotto with sausage. She smiles and looks at the mountain of food I have placed in front of her. She picks, I worry. We take a pause. Lucky for me the beers start to work and my charming personality starts to take over the night. I bring out the masterpiece, The Tiramisu. She slowly starts to take a bite, her face swims into a smile and this is the moment I fell in love with Cooking.