|Broccoli Part One
||[Nov. 18th, 2011|11:46 am]
So, I was up at 5am this morning making a dish for the Potluck Thanksgiving lunch we’ll have today at work. Ah, nothing like the scent of 8 pounds of broccoli and three heads of sliced garlic roasting in the oven to…kill your appetite for the morning. |
Although that didn't kill my appetite as much as it honed my desire to throttle my fellow drivers.
I made the broccoli (again) because it was requested. It’s become my signature dish. Again. When I was a personal chef, it was always my most requested dish. I had customers who had standing orders for it. Customers who didn’t need my regular services anymore, but from time to time would order a boatload of it to stock in their freezer. Back when I was married to someone who didn’t really cook, HIS office regularly requested it for their potluck events.
Hey, it’s easy, it’s relatively cheap, it can be served at room temperature, and generally speaking, most potlucks are in need of a green vegetable.
But it’s a huge embarrassment to me – that THIS is what I’m known for. A trained monkey could make it. If I can attach any skill to it at all, it’s being able to cut the broccoli so that it all cooks evenly and the stems get roasted well enough before the florets burn too much. Seriously, first-year culinary student stuff.
I’m capable of SO MUCH MORE. But it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it can be made ahead of time, it can be made last minute. It taps right into the middle of why I waver between being comfortable calling myself a chef (or in this case, ex-chef) and feeling like I’m an imposter when I do.
There’s usually an ongoing debate in personal chef circles about whether we are entitled to call ourselves chefs – or are we really cooks. And of course it’s completely arbitrary. A chef is a head of a kitchen. Are you still a chef if you’re the only one in the kitchen? I usually argued “if you’re the one doing the menu planning, the ordering, the cooking, the…everything…and making a living at it for several years, then yes, you are.”
The debate often eddies around professional training – and that’s where some of my imposter feelings come from – I console myself that there are plenty of well-regarded chefs who learned as they went along. And I’ve eaten in enough restaurants and venues, competed enough, networked enough to know that while I’m not in the upper quadrant…I’m not in the lower quadrant, either.
But the broccoli reveals a whole ‘nother reason why I haven’t and won’t ever pursue a restaurant career: my passion for creating great food, and even entertaining, is tempered by the need to be efficient, to make it look effortless. I think that’s why I enjoyed being a personal chef so much. Since most of the time you carry your kitchen with you, equipment, food, seasonings/condiments, utensils…everything, it’s perfect for someone who’s driven to travel…and cook…light. A couple of us used to compete on the basis of how little you could carry with you and still get the job done. Our throw-downs would be to look at a menu and say “I can do that in a saute, a skillet and two bowls.” And of course, the whole point of the job is to cook all sorts of food, package it, put it away, clean up and vanish – so when customers came home, there would be a vaguely good smell in the house, and no other sign that anything had happened…until they opened the fridge and found it full of food.
When I entertain, I want everything to be done ahead of time. I want the food prepared, the table set, everything perfect and ready before guests arrive. The whole menu is designed to require the least amount of last minute fuss possible. You’ll never attend a dinner party at my house and have a stir-fry, or any other last minute preparation. Sometimes I think that’s sort of dumb – rejecting all of that potentially great food because I’d have to be preparing it right before it was time to eat. But then I think, hey, what I really want to be doing right before we eat, is enjoying a cocktail with my guests. I’ve mellowed, certainly, pushing the envelope, allowing myself to even prepare an entire dish while guests are in the house. But I can’t guarantee the mellow – having on more than one occasion sent guests back to their car or house when they showed up before I expected them – so, I usually don’t trust it show up when I need it.
So, while I rebel against the garlic-roasted broccoli, I should just accept what it says about me.
Except that, actually, I don’t even really LIKE broccoli.