As chefs I think it's easy to forget to cook for ourselves. That sounds ridiculous doesn't it? For most chefs their lives are devoted to cooking, to expressing ingredients, to making great food. What Alex and I do is a little different, we balance expressing our food on our time with helping other other chefs better execute their food on their time. And still somehow at the end of the day we are often scrambling to come up with something for supper.
Looking back to my younger days, no mater how nice family meal may or may not have been, as a young cook my most significant meal of the day was usually a burger and fries wolfed down with liberal amounts of beer at bar at the end of my shift. On days off we'd go for broke at the city's best restaurants to experience the different cuisines and to learn from what was on the plate and from what happened in the dining room. Still, when you gather a group of ravenous cooks to talk about food the conversation rarely revolves around fine dining or cutting edge ingredients. When we're truly hungry we talk about the food that resonates with us, the food we'd be happy to eat at that very moment. Burgers and pizza may be a given but depending on the company and the time of year, dishes range from porchetta to pupusas, banana pudding and fried clams, lobster rolls and shepard's pie, visceral pleasures rather than intellectual.
On the other hand, my most memorable meals run the gamut from utterly finger lickin' down home to fine dining. They are unique moments when the stars align and the food, atmosphere and company come together to create something completely satisfying on every level. Those meals are few and far between, and all the most precious for that reason. As chefs we choose the moments we wish to pursue and as diners we do the same. Choosing a restaurant may seem difficult but some days the hardest thing in the world is to cook for ourselves.
Don't get me wrong. There are definitely meals when I relish my solitude. Cooking for myself can be a true indulgence, everything exactly the way I like it with no compromises for anyone else. In this case, I'm speaking of meals at the end of the day or the week, when I'm mentally exhausted, my stomach is gnawing at itself from the inside out and I'm looking at the clock wondering what on earth to make for dinner. Nights when I want something simple and delicious, preferably cooked in one pan and eaten on one plate for easy clean up because I am one of those neurotic people who cannot sleep if there are dishes in the sink but I am cooking for at least one other small person who must be satisfied as well.
So what do I make on these evenings? It's almost embarassing to say. The dish a throwback to my Aunt Marie who always kept a box of noodle soup mix and one of pastina in the cupboard for emergencies. She would prepare the soup with enough pastina to turn it into a pasta dish instead of a soup. She would pour it into a deep bowl and just before serving she would add a generous knob of butter and grinding of fresh black pepper. Served with a spoon it was salty and rich and utterly soothing. I use organic canned chicken vegetable soup so that I can pretend there is some nutritional value involved and instead of butter I prefer layers of swiss or fresh mozzarella cheese, melted and stirred into the noodles. Amaya will happily share this and be perfectly content with her supper. It's a meal for when Alex is away and the metaphorical wolf is prowling at the door. By the time dinner is over I am relaxed and mellow, comforted by both the meal and the memory of the woman who inspired it.