I spent today cooking and listening to NPR. It’a almost Thanksgiving, and I can’t get the dried ancho chilies that my mom makes into a paste and puts under the skin of the turkey every year. It bothers me. I rarely spend that much time in the kitchen anymore, because it’s hot and I’m lazy. Today, it was fun to chop, wash, bake, and use an incredible amount of butter. Sharpening knives and making a giant mess brought me back to when I used to cook for a living.
A million years ago, I worked in a big kitchen in Arizona. I was a line cook, at the literal bottom of the food chain. I made salads, sandwiches, and desserts. Not rocket science. If they were really slammed, the let me on the grill. It was a kitchen full of characters, including but not limited to: a Russian dishwasher who hit on my mom, two 18 year old, racist douche-canoes who I would still like to kick in the nuts, a Iranian lawyer who moved to the US and had to work as a line cook and at Target to make ends meet, a breakfast cook who made perfect eggs but rarely spoke, and Mama, who either loved me or was plotting to kill me. I never really knew.
I liked working in the kitchen, it was one of my first big life choices that held some weight. I had just left the University of Oregon, with majors in Spanish and Women and Gender studies. Naturally, I decided to not use any of my education and instead, beg my way into a professional kitchen. (I am starting to think I have a mild addiction to bailing on my education, because I sort of see a pattern here.) Though I will say, I did use my Spanish skills in the kitchen, and my Women and Gender studies experience helped me get extra mad at all the terrible, sexist, garbage people that slapped my ass or called me “fresh meat.” Which happened, and it was gross.
The kitchen didn’t work out for me, in the end, thought it wasn’t all bad. One time my Iranian friend, Fatima, made me this amazing yogurt salad with raisins and herbs and nuts, it was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten. I have tried to re-create it a thousand times to no avail. I also got to take home the left over prime rib on Sunday nights, have memorized countless recipes that feed 200 people, and found out that every “grilled” sandwich is just fried on the flat top with clarified butter. That’s right people, your sandwiches are fried in butter, that’s why a tuna melt tastes so much better in a restaurant.
I made a lot of fun mistakes, I threw a knife at one of the idiot racist kids (not sorry), and have a lot of stories banked for when I write a book and never return to Tucson. I still love cooking, but after chopping, tossing, taking out the egg, and doubling the avocado for country club folk for a year, I realized that I have to cook for people I love, and not for the Tuesday bridge group. I also realized that you should not kiss anyone you work with. (That part will go in the book.)
The house smells like garlic right now, and I think I might too. No matter, I am happy to stink of garlic for the people I love.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and you eat so much that you have to lay down on the floor after, like a true American.