Monday, December 26, 2005

Kitchen Confidential

I am a kitchen poser. After years and years of really wanting to be a true expert in the kitchen (at least at the amateur level), I am finally coming to terms with this.

Right away, I know there are those out there who will argue that I'm a good cook. My mother is one. But then, she has to say that... it's part of being a mother. My mother-in-law is another, but I think she also has a bit of the "mother" condition. I also have many friends who praise my cooking... I have very good friends... we've already established this.

Understand that I am not saying I am a bad cook, not by any stretch. I'm actually able to produce many tasty meals from scratch, and I can even bake passably. I've never made a loaf of bread that resembles "dwarf bread" of the Terry Pratchett Discworld series. I've even made some cakes that people thought were downright tasty. And the cookies I just made tonight, although they are a little softer than I thought they were going to be, are downright heavenly. But then, there is chocolate in them, and really... how can you go wrong with chocolate cookies?

Still, I am learning with every passing kitchen experience that I am really a far better souschef, or sometimes even a prep cook. A souschef, for those who don't know, is the second in command in a professional kitchen. The prep cook is basically the lackey who does all the chopping, sifting, sorting, and general preparation work before the evening even begins. Whenever I am in the kitchen with any of my friends who cook, I immediately fall into this role, even if I'm the one who planned the entire menu.

When Sophie helps me for my Holiday Party each year, I end up gathering ingredients, then passing them to her along with the recipe to make the magic happen. When I cook with Cathy... well, that's just a bad example, because as long as pronouncing French cooking terms isn't part of the job description, Cathy could actually serve as the Executive Chef, if not the Chef de Cuisine in many a neighborhood restaurant. (If all these terms are making you curious, check out the kitchen heirarchy.) And then this weekend, even with my own sister, I fell immediately into the role of hunter and gatherer rather than chef.

Granted, some of this comes from the fact that this was my kitchen, and therefore I'm the one who knows where everything is. But still, the reason I still consider myself a poser lies in the little things that happen around me when I'm in a kitchen. For example:

1) Burns - I know this happens to everyone, but it happens to me in the stupidest way. I burn my hand on the oven rack as I'm placing a tray on it. I place a pan that was broiling in the oven on the counter, remove the oven mitt, and then casually grab the handle to move the pan elsewhere. I dump the wrong thing into a pot of boiling water and immediately reach in to pull it out. Folks, this is the sort of activity that most people with an IQ between 80 and 100 would still not do. And I do it regluarly.

2) Recipe Surprise - I read through the recipes ahead of time maybe 40% of the time. This alone makes me a disaster in the kitchen. But I ALWAYS read the ingredient list. And yet, almost every other time I cook, something suddenly appears on the list that completely mystifies me. Perhaps I forgot to buy it (lemons were the culprit this week), or perhaps I never even noticed it. Or perhaps it was something I was supposed to make ahead of time that I completely forgot to make. This happened once when I was making lemon cheesecake that called for lemon curd. It's not exactly something you can run to the corner store and buy, nor is it something you can "whip up" really quick. Needless to say, I made a plain cheesecake with a bit of a lemony taste thanks to some lemon zest. At least I did buy the lemons that time.

3) Recipe Dyslexia - I have been known to skip a step and then go back to it without realizing what I've done. Needless to say, this often requires completely starting over or, more likely, giving up.

4) Bad Timing - I know this is hard for many cooks... timing. It takes a lot of experience and skill to bring out all items at the same time and have them warm and fresh. This is especially difficult if you only have one oven. But I am often so far off that we have been known to eat two hours late... or we may eat the potatoes after the dessert course.

Oddly enough, even with all these little issues, I still love cooking, and I will continue to love it. It's wildly therapeutic, which few who have really watched me cook can believe because of all the cursing and banging of pots that I do while in the kitchen. I wonder how I can continue to love it so. But I wonder even more if I can every graduate from poser and become a real cook!


Anonymous said...

As someone who has eaten at your table numerous times, you hardly need to worry.

Sous-sous chef Sophie said...

As someone who has eaten at your table numerous times, AND someone who has assisted you in your kitchen at times, I have to say ... you're an excellent chopper!!! Hehe... joke aside, I think having a prep team and an assembly team makes the whole process a lot quicker, especially if you are lining up recipes. And at least, you are not bossy (even though being in your OWN kitchen gives you every right to be).

Cathy said...

I knew I should've taken French in high school! Oh well. I'm developing quite a legend amongst your blog readers. Thanks for the compliment. I think you're a great cook. You just need to have more confidence, and take it easy on yourself!