In these last weeks, there have been a lot of firsts for me: breaking down my first chicken, mastering the double broiler, and tackling the charcoal grill. Outside of the culinary classroom, I took my first Capoeria class (Brazilian martial arts), started a new book (that is not about Spain, Jewish history, or food) and began a fine dining catering job. But let’s be serious – would you rather talk about Columbus or clams? That’s what I thought.
The more I learn about the different ways to work with food, from developing a recipe in the kitchen to the best method of hoisting a tray of plates onto your shoulder to carry out to a dining room full of guests, the more I realize what it is about food that makes me tick.
I keep bouncing back and forth with the culinary school idea in my head. My issue is that I’ve never seen myself working on a line, or polishing off plates as the head chef in the kitchen. Yet I have always envisioned my early twenties in Boston, studying my way through grad school, and juggling various culinary jobs on the side…the goal being to keep my foot in as many pots as possible.
So far, a few of those hopes are in progress. I’m near Boston, I feel like I’m in school (since my days at ATK are full of tasks, lessons and of course, successes and failures – like the array of cupcakes I made today), and I’m in the midst of a few other food-related positions on the side. From the outside, you might say I’m off to a good start.
The thing about these jobs is that I still find myself going back to the beginning: ingredients.
I love learning how to use new ingredients. Whether it’s blanching hari covert or steaming clams, I’m into it, especially if it means I get to pick them up at the farm where they are grown, or uncover them in the sand at the beach. (To all the boys out there who my father convinced me would be lined up outside the door by now, armed and ready to whisk me away – sorry, I had to – if you read closely you’ll find the key to my heart is a very simple one).
My point is that the majority of my culinary education has come from watching other people cook. And for that reason, I wish more than anything that I could have met my father’s mother.
My grandmother was a wonderful cook. On holidays, my father makes her chicken soup – a rustic medley of chicken (bones, and all), celery, carrots, onions and broth – accompanied by noodles, kashi, and squash. Think Spanish puchero, Jew style. It’s heavenly. Literally. It tastes like you’re walking on a cloud…of chicken soup.
I grew up with this soup – in cold winter months it was the perfect remedy to the sharp chill outside. For me, it is a way to feel connected to her. That simple feeling – of connectedness – is the reason why I love food. It isn’t about how fast 270 people can be fed at a wedding, or if you’ve found the key to assembling the perfect trifle. It’s about the story. I’d rather have a meal that was generations old, than one that was ordered out as one of three hundred at a busy restaurant.
And that’s why you chose clams instead of Columbus.