Saturday, June 21, 2008

conversations with cooks

The conversations we have with one another can be strange, surface-seeming at first. To play the game usually you have to find out where someone has worked, who they've worked with, and if you know people in that city it becomes the game of who-and-what you know. I spent some time last week in Boston having lunch at a server friend's new restaurant, and when his chef and sous chef came out to chat us up, we fell into cook talk. Where you've worked. How hard you've worked. Getting out of the hotels. It's a shorthand banter. I asked the sous chef where they got their fish from, and he started complaining about the deliveries being inconsistent. Same Thing With Our Egg Guy, I commiserated. He Can't Commit To A Number Of Cases. You shrug; what do you do? What can you do? I asked him about farm raised or wild, we discussed salmon.

When regular people find out I'm a cook, the questions tend to fall along a couple lines. They go for the how-did-you-get-into-THAT? tact, especially if they know I'm a writer with a masters degree. Or the cool-where-do-you-work (oh-i've-never-heard-of-it)? Then there's the what's-your-specialty? question. It gets interesting when people ask you what you make, because a lot of the time when I answer them directly (brown butter sponge cake, coffee pastry cream, cardamom ice cream) I am fairly certain they have no idea what the process involves. I can try to talk about what it's like to roll truffles between your hot hands while trying not to get cocoa powder everywhere to melt the chocolate. Or what it feels like to stand next to a hot stove in the unexpected heat wave drinking water all day long yet always needing more. Or what it feels like to shape fifteen loaves of bread quickly, so some brunch cook can have the space next to you, and then later to take them out of the oven with the pizza paddle and pile them up strategically so they don't fall. But I'm never really sure what information gets translated. I think part of the appeal of food television cooking shows is that it always looks easy...or at least manageable. Do you need the visuals to understand cooking? Or if I describe the process of making anglaise for ice cream base what do you take away from it? Are desserts less approachable than savory food? How does food media and food writing affect the conversations cooks have with one another and with others?

8 comments:

cheesemongerswife said...

cardamom ice cream...that sounds so good. I bet it would pair beautifully with my grandmother's baklava...and nice strong cup of Lebanese coffee....I understand what you mean by 'conversations with cooks'...also happens with supporters of said cooks....almost like a battle at who knows more about whom in a culinary popularity contest. god forbid people in the community have different opinions.

cheesemongerswife said...

oh...one more question...how long would one steep the cardamom in the cream to make said ice cream....I'm going to steal your recipe. hee hee.

Busy all the time. said...

hi there-

i miss good baklava. and do tell, what is lebanese coffee? i've had turkish, and arabic. i imagine it's similar.

re the ice cream...it depends on what you want. toasted cardamom, or not toasted, or both. i would steep a bunch of pods, maybe a cup to start, taste it after one half hour and if it isn't strong enough, add more.

cheesemongerswife said...

Lebanese coffee is the same as Turkish...but we hail from Lebanon so, ya know. We drink it with LOTS of cardamom, though...I like my sweetened as well...but some folks like it bitter.

Anonymous said...

i totally agree that TV skews the way people view cooks and professional kitchens...if its not some over the top friendly TV chef cranking out meals in 1/2 hr that usually take 2 or 3 hours to prepare you have gordon ramsay breaking down contestants worse than a CIA interrogator in hell's kitchen..granted some chefs can get pretty nasty..even in kitchen nightmares i dont think you get the full kitchen experience...anywhere there are cameras and the staff is aware a show is being filmed they will act differently...ratings baby! ratings! i dont think it is possible to 100% truly understand and appreciate the overwhelming stress, elation and pure insanity of a kitchen without actually working in one

Anonymous said...

also i have gained a new appreciation for dessert cookery...i am currently in culinary school but have worked in the industry...and let me tell you hefting around flour, sugar, even baby hobart bowls filled with doughs, creams etc; pounding, rolling and shaping is SO physically draining..hats off to the bakers and dessert cooks of the world..i think im sticking to the line

Busy all the time. said...

anonymous-

well, it is always nice when savory cooks have an appreciation of the line, and vice versa. these days i've been making lots of jam for my savory sidemates...precision, for me, is the biggest difference between the two sides. if my chef has me make something it's, oh, some of this, season it with these flavorings. like WHAT, chef, and HOW MUCH?...

Anonymous said...

yeh...i find baking to be a very scientific albeit delicious process...my partner in baking class was SO anal about getting EVERYTHING in at the exact time it said in the recipe and the exact amount too..i think i forgot 2 or 3 times to add in salt...as in the product was in the oven and there would be the container of salt lying out on the counter, he would ask why its there and i would just smirk at him and say "cause i forgot to put it in" and he'd FLIP..i think the fact you can adjust and are encouraged to go completely by your senses is what i enjoy most about savoury cooking...although there is also the downside that eating is such a subjective experience in that everyone's tastes are so different...so if something tastes like its got just enough heat to me it may taste too spicy for you...meh...thus is the world we work in eh?