The Supermarket Gourmet
When people hear I am a chef, the first thing they ask me is what I like to cook. I am certain they are looking for some exotic or complicated dish like Beef Wellington or Crepe Suzette. But to be honest, I usually say that if I am eating it, it is always something easy like roasted chicken or a pork chop. It’s the simple things done perfectly that I enjoy. Other than that, I really like working on a new preparation or technique and getting better at it. The second question I get is: “How did you make that?”
It’s a tricky question. Most people believe that when a chef doesn’t share a recipe, he is protecting some kind of secret that, if given out, will ruin them. The truth is, a real professional cook can taste a dish and figure out how to reproduce it. But nobody ever puts anyone else out of business by reproducing the Flaming Moe. Blooming onions are a wonderful thing and a great money maker, so why don’t we see them on more menus? It is about branding; if you want a blooming onion, you are going to Outback Steakhouse, not Buck’s Place.
Another reason is the same reason Copperfield doesn’t give out his secrets: it ruins the illusion. There is no real mystery to running a good restaurant: provide good clean service and make the food the best you can. A secret recipe is not going to help you here. Once people are in on the secret though, it ruins it for them. When I was on the cruise ships working a rotation as pastry chef, one woman was constantly stopping me and telling me how wonderful my food was. All the food was mostly made from scratch, and I enjoyed her adulation. She finally cornered me and asked me about the turnovers I made every morning, and told me how it reminded her of the pastries of France. I finally broke down and told her I used phyllo dough to prepare them. It was like Willie Nelson told a fan he was lip-syncing his whole career. I had somehow tricked her with my shenanigans. The rest of the cruise, she wouldn’t talk to me or even make eye contact.
People do not want to hear that my famous vinaigrette I make for my pasta salad starts out with Giant Eagle brand red wine vinaigrette. Sure, I doctor the heck out of it, but it is a spoiler that most people cannot handle. Perhaps culinary ignorance is bliss.
I don’t include recipes in this column, because I choose to use my time to encourage you to become better cooks—and you do that by cooking and exploring your own creativity. I give you a little information and inspire you to seek out other outlets to learn more.
If you have any comments or ideas about a future article, please feel free to let me know at RGuyintheKitchen@aol.com