May 31, 2001
The Way to a Woman’s Heart
I began cooking some years ago, drawn to the kitchen's rocky shores by the twin muses of economy and romance, shall we say (because it sounds so much better than the twin demons of cheap and horny).
This siren's song promised that the best way of getting a woman back to your place at the end of the evening was to get her there at the start of the evening and keep her there as your dinner hostage -- uh, I mean "guest."
I liked that I could express my creativity and show her my sensitive, nurturing side, while at the same time cutting the cost of a date by more than half and almost doubling the chance of getting lucky. The sheer economy of this plot was beautiful. Why hadn't I thought of it before?
My culinary skills are entirely self-taught. I did not learn how to cook at my mother's knee. There was no chance of that growing up at my house. My father likes to say that Mom thinks the word "cook" is a noun, not a verb. (As in, "The cook made it.")
As a result, when I first got started, I had no knowledge of culinary things, of mise en place (advance preparation of ingredients), or demi glacé. I didn't even know how to do that neat trick where you throw all the stuff in the sauté pan up in the air and catch it again before it goes kablooey all over the stove top. That's a very important trick to master if you're going to impress your date with your savoir-cuire (knowledge of cooking).
I asked a friend who used to work in a restaurant what to do.
Q: How long should I cook it?
A: Until it's done.
Q: How do you know when it's done?
A: Cut it open and look inside.
Q: Isn't that cheating?
A: Why don't you order out?
There is also the "expletive" method, which involves touching the meat to ascertain a certain amount of elasticity, which corresponds to a degree of doneness. This looks great and will almost certainly have you uttering expletives when you burn your fingers doing this. Works for baked potatoes too.
Cooking isn't especially difficult. Basically, a recipe is no different from the instructions that come with a model airplane kit. Follow the instructions until you know what you're doing, then throw them away and follow your instincts. Real men never follow a recipe. (Unless you're baking, which is like building a real airplane. I don't bake.)
The most important thing for the bachelor chef is to look like you know what the hell you're doing. Being in command of the kitchen is being master of your domain. This begins with having a sharp knife, many towels on hand, and a little dish of kosher salt. Kosher salt has three important properties: 1) It is easy to handle, which is important when you need to add a pinch of salt. Pinch is good, shake is bad. 2) It tastes better than table salt. &'9;3) It fulfills the Jewish angle of this story.
You should also taste everything as you go along. Pass a little spoonful to your date and ask, "What does it need?" They love this. If you've done your job up till now, she should be absolutely swooning that (a) you're making dinner for her, (b) it tastes pretty good, (c) you asked her opinion and (d) you're heterosexual.
This is a really good time to kiss, refill her wine glass and add a pinch of salt.
A quick story about Emeril Lagasse. I met the Food Network star ("Bam!") about 10 years ago, before he was famous. We were at a party in Hollywood and he was happy to be recognized outside the food world. I prodded him for one pearl of kitchen wisdom, one thing that I could take away with me and use. I was like one of those comics where the guy travels for days to get to the guru at the top of the mountain and asks about the meaning of life. He said: "Seasoning, Jeffrey."
Friends, I have been to the mountaintop, and the answer is "Seasoning." What would life be without seasoning? It would hardly be worth living. But make sure you cook it until it's done.
Even though I got into cooking as an excuse for a cheap date, I now cook because it's relaxing and the passion I bring to it comes out in the dishes. Besides, I'm virtually guaranteed a good meal, and all the big laughs always happen in the kitchen.