I was a scrawny, strange, unpopular child. I was a scrawny, strange, unpopular teen. I’m a not-so-scrawny, strange, controversial adult. I’ve never really done much to inspire envy in others.
That is, until I pestered SFR into letting me write about food.
It turns out that writing food reviews is, according to my unofficial polling, the fantasy media job of approximately 80 percent of all people. It’s a glamorous life—wining and dining at all the best restaurants, treating one’s friends to five-course meals and dropping it all on the company’s bottomless expense account.
At least, that’s the fantasy that people envy. Sadly, the company’s expense account has a bottom. It’s more of a plate than a bucket, times being what they are.
But it’s still a really cool job. The pleasure doesn’t come so much from gorging myself gratis, but from having a professional motivation to learn about and try to understand food, food systems and, best of all, making food.
Eating out in restaurants is wonderful—and in Santa Fe we’re blessed to have the bar set so high—but cooking and eating at home is the best.
There are the predicable benefits to eating in private—nudity, carefree plate licking, cheap cocktails, putting pot in your brownies if you want—but it’s also true that the more one eats at home, the better the experience of eating out becomes.
I have no natural talent with food preparation. Some people are born with a sense of flavor that allows them to cobble ingredients together like they are tossing notes into a symphony. Others, like myself, are forgetful and easily confused. I don’t have any kind of instinct about the border between making a well-flavored vodka sauce and an accidental Bloody Mary.
So, I’ve had to train myself. I can follow a recipe like nobody’s business, but I now only seek out cookbooks that explain process, technique and the reasoning behind the recipe. By repeatedly slamming my head against these books, being gleefully willing to fail and diligently asking dumb questions of all the real chefs I know, a violent kind of osmosis has been initiated.
A basic understanding of food is percolating into my brain much in the same way heavy metals and radioactive contaminants are slowly percolating down into the aquifer: in near-geologic time, but persistently. Every once in awhile, I even have a lightbulb moment about vinegars or gluten strands or how lame my life was before I had a candy thermometer for deep-frying things like cheese balls, chocolate and pot—you know, if I want.
As a result, my experience eating in restaurants has improved. I used to wonder if there was fennel in the soup or cumin in the beans. Now I have a hunch about when it might have made sense for the chef to use sherry vinegar instead of balsamic or what gives the bread a crisp, mottled crust and an amazingly sensual center, or when a cheese ball was fried at 325 degrees, 350 degrees or 375 degrees. Frequently I feel I’m able to guess whether or not the line cooks are stoned.
Through diligent, brutal homeschooling, I’m slowly gathering the ability to dissect culinary decisions in restaurants and then apply them to experiments in my secret underground bunker.
OK, I don’t have an underground bunker but, if I did, I would want it to be stocked with a modest but powerful stove, a few cast-iron pots, a hand-cranked pasta machine and all of the books that slowly wedge useful information between my stubborn ears.
Oh, yeah, I’d also like it to have an escape hatch so that I could still go out to eat. Then people would be really jealous.
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