Sure, I’ve been known to watch the Food Network, but that doesn’t mean I’m a foodie. And while it’s true I once worked for the National Restaurant Association, I’m far from a restaurant critic.
The fact is, my taste in food and my culinary skills are about as lowbrow as you can get. When I worked for the NRA in the 1980s, I had the good fortune of visiting some of the best restaurants in America. But I would joke with friends that I was always happiest eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Left to my own devices, I’ll eat a Hot Pocket and a bag of Cheez-Its. My top choice for breakfast for many years, well into my 40s, was Pop-Tarts. I view the kitchen as the domain of others. I can stir, microwave and check on things, but my biggest contribution is usually washing the dishes.
I once took an adult education class called “Clueless in the Kitchen.” Our teacher was extremely sympathetic towards beginning cooks, and we had a lot of fun learning our way around the kitchen. This spurred me on to take “Northern Italian Cooking.” That proved to be too much too fast. Our instructor was a real chef who expected us to know a lot about cooking. At the beginning of each class, he would give us a quick demo (like here’s how to make pasta from scratch) and then order us to our kitchens. We’d scramble, just like on “Iron Chef,” to make all of the things on his list in the allotted time we had to cook.
I am in awe of those All Star chefs who can whip up a tantalizing dish in just 20 minutes. I love those supercilious judges (the bigger the ego, the better) who say things like, “Your sautéd leather shoe is surprisingly tender, but you didn’t use all of the ingredients. Where’s the okra? I’m not tasting it.”
Watching other people cook all these years has led me to formulate some basic laws of the kitchen that I believe have universal application:
- Know your place. If you don’t have a job in the kitchen, stay out!
- Respect others. Taste is subjective. Learn to appreciate other people’s cooking. Better yet, just learn to appreciate other people.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. Some of the best things in life are the result of trying new recipes and ingredients.
- Comfort food is good for the soul. Sometimes grits ‘n gravy are better than a gourmet meal.
- Be a hospitable guest. If someone cooks for you, at least offer to do the dishes.
- Extras can make a difference. A good bottle of wine (or two) will do wonders!
- Invite someone to dinner. Life is short. Share a meal. It won’t kill you.