A bunch of years ago, my friends Liz and Andy held a Murder Mystery party, purportedly set on the Orient Express. We were all suspects of having killed someone and we had little cards saying how we would behave. Oh, I remember parties! With people! Those were the freakin’ days!
Anyway, to ensure the full evening’s experience, the mystery instructions came with recipes. I was in charge of making the Coq au Vin, which is CRAZY because at the time my cooking ability was limited to “chicken breasts with a cup of white wine and a can each of Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Celery, oven, bake.”
Not bad, but not very cheffy, either. For the Coq au vin, which incidentally includes mushrooms, white wine, chicken, and celery but is much nicer, I found myself standing over my very unimpressive two-burner studio apartment stove, with mushrooms and garlic gently sizzling in my only sauté pan. This was the first time I ever felt cheffy. And the only time, for years and years, afterward.
So what is cheffy?
Some things are cliche-cheffy, ur-cheffy, like crushing herbs in the hands to then toss them into a cooking pot. Or wafting the aromas from a dish toward you, and taking a big whiff. Any smelling or tasting of the food while it cooks is, inherently, cheffy. Remy looks totally cheffy here:
Since I’ve been cooking more I’ve come up with my own cheffy tasks. Feel free to add your own at the end!
Using a stick blender in a pot of soup
Chopping herbs, and even picking them off a plant
Toasting seeds like cumin, sesame or others in a hot saute pan
Drizzling oil or ice water into the food processor through its little tube
Stirring to avoid curdling or burning, like risotto or carbonara sauce – bonus if you remove it from and put it back on the heat a few times
Swipe left for my patented carbonara process, and swipe right to see the finished product. Please note the glass of red wine helping me work, as well as my smashing Aoxomoxoa t-shirt – I will MAKE THIS DISH for you if you know what that is.
What are your cheffy moments?
Perhaps not so cheffy but necessary nonetheless
On a Saturday afternoon in August with temps well into the 90s and going nowhere but up for the coming ten days… is NOT when you want your aircon to zitz out. But that’s what happened to us last weekend. There were popping sounds, there were burning smells, there was the arrival of the obligatory “guys with tools who nevertheless can’t find their butt with an oven mitt.” They came by, stood around, turned things off and on, and repeated their questions and judgements as if that, alone, would hook things back up again. While they did this the refrigerator started to jiggle and rattle like it was beat-boxing. (See next week’s post for key information on why I know what this would sound like.)
All of this is connected, gentlemen. I know my French is sub-par, but it was unnerving how many times I’d say something in clear, simple French – like “The fridge is bouncing and rattling” or “I smell burning paper coming from the A/C vent”, only to have them walk around me, look and smell and open and shut and test, and then say something really brilliant like, “There’s something wrong with the fridge, too,” or “Hey, that smells like burning paper.”
The best moment came during the Testing Phase, when they were shutting off given circuits in the circuit breaker box and then going around the house to see what turned off. (Not that this was even moderately helpful – I think it’s just what they knew how to do, so they did it. On Saturday you can’t be too picky about the team you get.)
Side note, with photo
They did NOT label the circuits in the circuit breaker box as they painstakingly identified them – thus ensuring another round of this same game at some uncertain future time. My brother would be appalled:
At left the wires in my mom’s circuit breaker box before Kyle got ahold of them. Swipe right for the after. The boy can tidy. You can’t see it there but all those little fellas are perfectly labeled with what plugs they cover, too.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
These guys couldn’t buckle my brother’s tool belt. At one point I found them looking distressed in the kitchen, as if thwarted by an unmovable force. Does the oven work? they asked me. Well, there’s really only one way to tell. But they were, all three of them, standing far enough from the oven, in an awkward semicircle, to ensure that neither they nor the oven could pass coronavirus germs to each other.
They didn’t know how to turn on the oven and absolutely did not want to try.
I guess that made me feel cheffy? That I knew how to make the oven heat up? It’s not like warming up the Space Shuttle, for pity’s sake. But they looked like they were being required to give a woman an orgasm or something. Come on, dudes! Man up! Grow a pair! Turn on the oven! Did they think they’d look effeminate in front of the others if they reached over, pressed the dial, and saw the tiny light come on?
I would argue that a much more emasculating activity was just wandering around the house turning things on and off for no reason, but that’s just me. Am I being a bit bitchy? Well, yeah – that sometimes happens when the simple lack of a penis makes all your speech inaudible and your logic dismissable. When My Time comes and I’ve got to leave this earthly garden, I think I’ll want those two hours back, the ones that gave us no more information (but some more burning and danger) than we had at the outset, punctuated by these mooyuks being afraid to touch the womanly appliance of an oven!
In better cheffy news
Three new dishes this week! After the refrigerator started behaving so weirdly (above) I remembered I had once promised myself to defrost the freezer. Instead, I’ve gone on stuffing it with… stuff, while the ice does its damnedest to crowd me out completely. So I’m using up what’s in the freezer (none of it very old – I’ve only been cooking a few months) in preparation for a fridge clean-out day.
And that’s good fortune, not because there’s anything particularly great in there, but because some of the stuff I pulled out happened to coincide with some recipes in my go-to website (NYTimes Cooking, which costs $40 a year but has been a big help. They’ve got a lot of basics on there, like proper chicken poaching or how to make pizza dough.)
So here’s what came of it. First, a seriously moldy oldy, straight outta the elementary school cafeteria… Sloppy Joes!
That picture’s not all that attractive, actually, and nothing particularly cheffy about it. (Though it was delicious.)
So I’m just going to bust out the next one, which has not been seen in a school lunch cafeteria in this hemisphere, ever: Chicken bulgogi in lettuce wraps, with a very cheffy late-recipe drizzling of sesame oil:
Oh yeah – we have AVOCADOS! THERE IS JOY!
Hard to beat that one. But tonight was yummy too and had lots of cheffy moments, like toasting dried peppers to make the necessary chile oil; the timely application of food processor blades; folding in bits of beautiful cilantro, and frying little strips of shallot.