Sometimes in my job it is difficult to remember that I am at work. Yesterday, for example, after I got all of the various components of lunch service up to the counter, I felt exactly as though I had been getting ready for a dinner party. When I am getting ready for guests, I like to make everything just so. I imagine flavors and combinations. I evaluate the dishes I want to use and think about my mother and grandmother as I choose platters and silver salt spoons. I try to avoid ironing at all costs but sometimes the right cloth needs a good press and in the end the effort is always worthwhile. I consider the preferences of my guests. One friend has gout, so no nightshades on the menu. Are we a group of meat eaters? Anyone gluten free or avoiding dairy? I love to fuss over my friends and I love the acts of setting the table, finding the crystal, and watching the clock.
At Chewonki, I go through a similar regime. Of course there is no silver to be considered, but I do think about who I am cooking for, whether to slice or chop the onions, how to incorporate certain ingredients, which dishes to use, and of course, timing. I go through the usual doubts too. Everything from the temperature of the meat to the tenderness of the pasta can send me reeling. There is a constant tension as the various aspects of a meal are coming together, and that clock is ever ticking. Maybe that tension is necessary to the creative endeavor.
Inspiration for this “post” came yesterday at lunch in the dining hall, as a staffer said “oooh beets, yum yum.” It reminded me of a video I had seen not too long ago of Julia Child. My brother and I were constructing a Cassoulet, a rustic dish of confit of duck, sausages, roasted pork and slow cooked beans, all simmered in a rich broth and fresh herbs. We have a deep love of this dish as our father made it for our family most New Years Eves. On this day however, we needed Julia, as our father is no longer here for us to refer to. We knew Julia would have something to say about Cassoulet and indeed she did. The best part of the video however, was near the end when she began to taste her creation. As only she could, she said “num num”, with a big smile on her face. How do you express your delight upon tasting something delicious? For me it is a guttural “mmm mmm”.