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Cooked, I Did
By Stephen Geez
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Rated "G" by the Author.
A lighthearted look at those who give, and those who recieve
I cooked for a friend.
I put a lot of effort into surprising him, gathering the best ingredients, plundering my collection of rare spices, then executing many of my painstakingly long slow careful just-so preparation techniques that I’m told might well eclipse many other people’s best efforts at fine cookery.
And he wrecked it.
Seriously, the situation got away from me, and before I could protect my culinary delight, he’d smothered it with great gobs of fake cheeze spread, the kind found in a plastic tub. No joke.
Later I asked Chef Kent Casey, my favorite from among that top tier of professional meal-makers, if any similar trauma had ever befallen him. He laughed—in a hollow sort of way—and said it happens to all artful cookers, more than you might think. He recounted several terrifying ordeals from his personal hall of fame, such as occasions where people who haven’t even tasted the food succumbed to inexplicable compulsions to empty salt shakers onto it, or to contaminate delicate sauces with a godawful onslaught of ketchup. His greatest aggravators are the pickers, the type determined to sequester and dismissively reject every unfamiliar morsel lest it poison palettes with anything remotely exotic.
So what really matters here? Is it that the recipient gets to enjoy his meal however he likes—or at least thinks he wouldn’t dislike? Or is it that the giver gets to see his presentation tasted as intended, results be what they may?
I think the answer is both, meaning everybody’s enjoyment matters, and somewhere in that delicate balance both parties must assume some responsibility.
The giver is responsible for at least attempting to understand the effect his preparation will have on the recipient. It’s rather like being sure not to give natural leather-and-fur jackets to those who abhor animal exploitation for mere decoration. It’s like not surprising a predictably seasick loved one with an extended boat trip. It’s like not making donations in others’ names to causes they would never support.
Givers must consider social factors. Long long long before people understood concepts like pathogens, toxins, and bacteria—and long before we developed sophisticated methods of food procurement, storage, and preparation—the safer practices of what and when and how we eat became embe dded in myriad cultural norms and sometimes even encoded in religious doctrine. Much of this endures today, imposing restrictions, cultivating our preferences, and influencing our local markets’ selections. Just try traveling the world with a group of snobs and you’ll likely soon hear some variation of, “Why, we don’t even eat those!—and I sure wouldn’t eat that part of one!”
Givers must consider individual needs. We now understand the importance of monitoring our diet’s effects on conditions such as allergies, diabetes, and peptic ulcers. Many of us need to accommodate dental limitations. Even lifestyle choices strongly affect someone’s enjoyment of a meal. Opting to eat “Vegan” is but one example of too many ingredient-limiting subsets to list. One ladyfriend who always enjoyed accompanying me to fine-dining establishments strictly adhered to her Not while it’s looking at me! diet.
We avoided whole lobsters, unfilleted fish, and pig on a spit.
Inviting people to my home for dinner, I usually inquired in advance about their preferences and limitations so I could adjust, either by altering my intended menu or at least adding suitably robust alternatives. Good hosts don’t rely on guests to broach the subject. Nobody wants to prepare a princely feast for someone who rejects every course to munch forlornly on plain celery, and only after verifying that it’s from a fully unionized all-organic profit-sharing environmentally conscious cooperative—and that each stalk was harvested humanely.
Recipients must consider which, if any, of their needs require them to be pro-active. If you’re sending a peanut-allergic child to a birthday party, you better make sure the hosts are aware, understand, and care—and know emergency procedures. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to pin a note to little Jimmy’s sleeve informing everyone that he prefers not to eat anything blue or red—or round.
So let’s say you begin preparing a meal by heading out before daylight, traveling great distances to gather the freshest, rarest, impressively perfect ingredients. Then you spend all day orchestrating a symphony of gustatory delight, only to have someone obliterate your delicate béarnaise with half a bottle of Burnin’ Bertha’s Hellfire Hot Slather. Whose fault is that?
Well, again, both parties’. Both are guilty of a failure to communicate, a failure to pay attention. As the giver, you can’t assume someone is aware of or even cares about your degree of effort and what it means to you unless you talk about it. As a recipient, you can’t assume gross alterations would be welcome—at least without an offer or delicate inquiry. Even if nothing is addressed directly, you should both be able to read the situation and deduce what’s going on.
If you are showing what you can do and that you care enough to do it for your guest’s enjoyment, then his or her obligation is to eat it as offered, even if it proves not to be a favorite dish. It’s not like you expect anyone to take home and prominently display your impressionistic multi-media rendering of a donkey’s butt.
However, if you are simply trying to make a friend happy, then you do whatever it takes, even if that’s blow-torching a big of slab of sinewy carcass and prizing open a vat of fluorescent orange pseudo-cheeze glop for coating it. Why, subjecting yourself to a shared meal of that mess can be quite the expression of caring, an act just as potent as finessing a five-star gourmet extravaganza.
And if someone who prefers politically neutral peace-and-harmony celery over chemical-drenched gristle-and-fat by-product pulls you aside and demands, “What did you do?”
Just swallow hard, smile, and say . . .
“I cooked for a friend.”
* * *
© The Fresh Ink Group, LLC, 2011
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