Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?"

When I had my first date with Jen, I wooed her with food. She showed up one Sunday morning, the day after we celebrated my birthday with a group of friends, bearing a pumpkin instead of flowers. She thought it was nicer. I agreed. The plan was I would feed us brunch -- the thing she now calls my fourteen-egg omelet -- we'd chat for a while after which we would go see a movie. It seemed that brunch was over before we knew it and we had to decide if we wanted to go to the 1 pm showing of "Shall We Dance" or to the 4 pm one. Since we were enjoying the quiet time in the comfort of my home we opted for the later showing. By the time the movie was over it was dinner time so the hostess in me (or was it the cook?) said "Why don't we pick up a bottle of wine, I make us dinner and you can go home afterward?"

Dinner was a creamy shrimp fettuccine, my signature dish back then. I groan when I think of it now. Looking back I think I must have overcooked the shrimp because I put it in with onions (I wasn't using shallots back then) and garlic and then made the cream sauce over it instead of removing the cooked shrimp and adding it at the end. Jen loved the dish and so did I. I think we didn't know any better. This was a girl that would have pork chops and salad for dinner at least twice a week. Pork chops always made a presence in her fridge and she would cook them on her George Foreman grill after seasoning them with salt and pepper. Served with a salad and there you go. No sauce, no starch that I remember, nothing.

Fast forward five years. I am now a cook and my skill has improved greatly since those shrimp in a cream sauce. Jen has developed her palate and, although still reluctant to try certain things, she can now recognize overcooked rice and pasta, whether a dish is bland or not, and she can even identify certain spices in foods if I quiz her. She is becoming a more refined diner and although I am still not allowed to cook pig's feet , she won't go anywhere near livers, sweetbreads or other ... offal, I am still proud of the way she's changed.

I am also proud of the way I've changed. From eating Rice-a-Roni in Columbus, OH and thinking they were the cat's ass, from making pasta sauce out of those Knorr packages and thinking they were so good that I'd even invite people for dinner and serve them, to a cook whose dish was so surprising in a latest cooking competition among our kitchen staff that the Chef is eager to put it on the menu next year. I didn't exactly follow a recipe so I hope I can replicate it when needed.

I now make my own stock, as a matter of fact my turkey stock is simmering on the stove as we speak, I think shallots are a cook's best friend, think nothing of deglazing with wine or adding Calvados to my apple compote and am seriously considering buying a meat grinder so I can grind my own meat thus controlling what goes in my ground beef for example.

And if I've come this far in five years, just imagine what I could do with a little bit of formal culinary training, with a little more than what I picked up from watching the likes of Anthony Sedlak, Michael Smith or Laura Calder on Food Tv. I can't wait for the next five years!

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