Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Book Report

Even though I spend all day learning about and preparing food, I still like to read about it in the evenings. I’m hoping that speaks well for my decision to change careers (I can assure you that I NEVER spent my evenings reading about corporate transactions or tax shelters).

The Making of a Chef (by Michael Ruhlman)
Mastering the Heat at the Culinary Institute of America

When I judged this book by its cover, I was unenthused. I was expecting a pompous account of how some arrogant chef had suffered and struggled through culinary school to become the wonderstar he is today. Instead, this book is really charming and funny. The author went to the CIA for the express purpose of writing the book. He had an abbreviated schedule (I think he did it in about 9 months rather than two years) but took regular classes and was graded just like his classmates. He’s conscious of the fact that he’s playing a dual role of student and reporter, and that his teachers aren’t likely to forget it. Despite the fact that he doesn’t plan to work in a restaurant after “graduation,” Ruhlman is disappointed when he doesn’t feel he’s put his heart into the food he’s serving his teachers and fellow students. This book is a quick and fun read and gives a great glimpse at the realities of culinary school.

Insatiable (by Gael Greene)

Damn, she slept with SO MANY famous people. Elvis! Roger Verge, Jean Troisgros, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Eric Rothschild, and a porn star. Before and after her trysts, she ate some of the most incredible food in the world (and was paid to do it!!) Insatiable is the story of a woman who devoted her life to pleasure – food and sex. This book is too much for one sitting (like foie gras, a little goes a long way), you’ll need to space it out over a few days at the beach. Every time I start to think of something critical to say about Gael Greene or her book I realize that I’m just jealous! Wouldn’t you want to spend your days sampling delicacies from the best restaurants in New York and your evenings working off the calories with Burt or Clint?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Pity Party

There’s nothing like being greeted first thing in the morning by a great big dead roach on the bathroom floor. I normally consider myself a pretty tough cookie, so why does a little (well, smaller than me) bug provoke me to fits of sweating and squealing and gagging? Why do I need 14 paper towels to pick it up? Why must I first toss experimental paper towel bits at it to prove that it is really dead? Why must leap and shout obscenities while conveying the paper towel wrapped carcass to the trash? (Sorry neighbors.)

Since I’m already feeling really sorry for myself, I share with you one of my most pathetic recent dining experiences. I traveled to a small town – when I arrived, all of the restaurants were closed. Here was my dinner the first night…

Yes, that is Taco Bell. I ate it at the table in my stinky and damp hotel room. Fortunately I had the sense to bring wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the sense to save some. The next night was even worse. A series of meetings and events conspired to thwart my dinner plans a second time.

Dinner #2

Orange Fanta and Cheetos from a vending machine in the hotel lobby. It’s a wonder my skin didn’t break out in orange hives immediately.

Poor me. As you can tell by this post, today I feel like a miserable orphan in a Dickens novel. This morning is clearly some kind of karmic retribution for yesterday’s lovely morning, when I rode in an elevator with George Clooney. (At least he REALLY looked like George Clooney, and he was wearing sunglasses indoors. Who does that?) It took all my strength to refrain from licking his arm, and I may have drooled on my shirt a little bit.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Home Improvement for Short People

This Sunday we put up shelves in the Raisinhater kitchen. See…

This may not seem like a big deal, but hoo boy it was. First of all, I am not so handy. I am decent, but no Bob Vila. J. Raisinhater, my devoted husband, is REALLY not so handy. At all. When we moved in together he had no idea what I kept in that little red metal box, and was astounded to find that I owned tools. On Sunday morning, before we even drilled a single hole in the wall, he was ready to call our building maintenance crew and beg or bribe them to come up to our apartment and do it for us. I explained that this would make us the building laughingstock for just about the next ten years. Still I had to pry the phone from his white knuckles while threatening him with the tool he soon learned was called a “hammer.”

After much sweating and measuring and sticking of tape and drilling of erroneous holes into some kind of major building support beam type thing, the shelves went up. The kitchen is 100% bigger. I now no longer have to remove 18 pots and pans from the oven and store them on the bed whenever I want to roast something. The stovetop is no longer littered with homeless cooking apparatus.

The only catch – no one over 5’7” can ever enter our kitchen.

Here's the photo I took with my hands on top of my head.

We had to install the shelves low enough that we could reach everything without a ladder. J and I are not so tall, so the shelves are less than 6 feet from the floor. Just about eye level for the rest of my family. Welcome guys – just put on this protective helmet before you go get more ice for your drink!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Chicken is Power

Here I am in the kitchen of the Marriot Marquis helping make Willie Mae Seaton’s famous fried chicken for the James Beard awards. (I'm on the left, doing the breading.)

We didn’t get the elusive recipe – she prepared the batter earlier in the day under super-secret conditions, but we battered and fried about 3500 chicken wings to serve to the guests at the awards.

I manned the table for a while and we were SWAMPED – as soon as the award ceremony finished people made a beeline for our station (they’d been studying the food station map in their program) and we were cleaned out in minutes. We quickly learned one important lesson – Willie Mae’s fried chicken = power. People would trade just about anything to get special access to our chicken. We spent the night well stocked in Café du Monde beignets and champagne.

While we waited for reinforcements from the kitchen, I snapped a few photos. Here’s Ming Tsai’s butt. (I’m a little shy about asking for photos, but I’m not afraid to snap ‘em when people aren’t looking.)

And a sculpture by none other than the Ice Man himself, who showed up in leather pants and seemed to have a special fondness for my one of my classmates.

The party was enormous, the champagne flowed freely, and we stayed out WAY too late. Class the next morning was a bleary and miserable experience, especially because I had to kill and dismember some lobsters, but the experience of serving fried chicken wings to Florence Fabricant, Emeril Lagasse and the Ice Man doesn't come along every day.