Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Of Men and Their Mid-Life Crises

"The Saucier's Apprentice" by Bob Spitz W.W. Norton & Co. 323 pages $24.95 (50 cents, PV Library book sale)

Ah, poor Spitz, you murmur. Turned 50, had a nasty divorce from his wife of 14 years, took up with a really cold bitch (alternating warmth and disinterest)... What to do? What to do? Spitz did what any right-thinking American male would do -- he set off for Europe and a diverse group of cooking schools!

Treating cooking like therapy, he tried to learn as much as he could. He "cooked" (trimmed green beans, brushed mushrooms) in the kitchens of two great French chefs; he attended various schools ("The Club Meds of the '90s!") and discovered if that he could relax, quit trying to be a perfectionist, that he could actually enjoy cooking!

It's an amusing enough account of his travails, but I could have done with a lot less angst, soul searching and similar moody issues.

I did learn a few things though -- the test for a French chef is: Make me an omelet. "How simple!" you cry in astonishment. Er, not exactly. You have to use enough butter that the eggs don't stick to the pan but slide easily; you have to develop a wrist technique that allows the omelet to fold over on itself (three folds.)

To peel a tomato, you don't have to make an X top and bottom, immerse it in boiling water for 20 seconds, whip it out, skin it and then put the tomato in an ice-water bath. All you have to do is dunk the whole tomato, pull it out, run cold water over it and it will peel easily. No need for the ice-water bath because only the skin gets hot; not the core.

He concludes that French cooking is detailed, intricate and that Italian cooking is much more casual. Some of this, a little of that -- as long as it tastes good! And isn't that true for all of us?

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