Mise En Place
A novel by
She is grinning like an idiot as she quickly swirls extra virgin olive oil around the skillet. A sprinkling of minced garlic, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper are tossed into the pan and the oil begins to sizzle and pop. Now, a splash of white wine and the fragrant liquid begins to steam and the sizzling intensifies. A stream of relentless chatter is bubbling out of the hostess’s mouth, which is still stretched impossibly wide by her unnatural smile. This is the same sauce my grandma made me when I was young. Make sure not to burn the garlic! Ooooooo, it smells so yummy! See how simple this is? Cream, butter, and a mound of fluffy, shredded, and intensely flavored imported cheese are added in a final burst of exuberant cooking mania, and the rich, velvety sauce is complete. She tosses in the soft pillows of gnocchi which have been gently boiling in a nearby pot and flips the contents of the skillet into a thoughtfully chosen ceramic dish. An artful sprinkling of chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley (never curly!) and more cheese complete the rustic masterpiece. A few minutes under the broiler and you’re sure to please your entire family! Now, on to the salad!
Sometimes I fucking hate the Food Network.
I love being The Opener. There is a stillness and sense of wondrous possibility I feel about the restaurant like no other time of day. Great food will be cooked here today, and I will initiate the orchestration of flavor, texture, smell and sensation through my actions. Later, when I am tired, achy, sweaty, and my clothes smell like a delicatessen, I will forget the love of the food. I will want to be hosed down the drain like all the other crud that has been smashed and ground into the floor mats. But for now and the next hour, the kitchen is mine. Everything is clean and where it belongs, and the morning routine can begin.
One of the best things about opening is I get to pick the music in the kitchen. The soundtrack for today is XTC’s anthology, Chips from the Chocolate Fireball. It’s wonderfully psychedelic and fun musical poetry, but most importantly it sets a good pace for the prep work ahead. Other current favorites include Tom Wait’s Rain Dogs; the Cole Porter tribute album, Red, Hot, and Blue; and just about any Talking Heads album. This is Food Network Falsehood Number One: no one ever listens to music while they are cooking. I know it’s so you can hear that gently sizzling garlic, or the rhythmic chopping of the chef’s knife against the cutting board, or the delightful crooning of the beautiful hostess as she babbles incessantly about the virtues of fresh tarragon, but it still pisses me off.
End of page 1