“Here’s what I want you to do: Pick up your paring knife…good…now pick up your potato…”
The chef teaching this Sur la Table cooking class is pacing from station to station. As he talks, he peels the brown flesh from the potato and lets it fall to the floor. “I want you to do what I’m doing. And when you’re finished, your potato should be shaped like this…”
He holds up his example: It is starchy and white, shaped like a perfect football.
I look at the knife in my hands and want to laugh.
I am not meant to wield a knife. Case in point: During a speech class once, I stood in front of the room to teach the finer points of pumpkin carving. I received a “C+”—something I wasn’t used to—and when I asked my professor why, he shrugged. “It wasn’t the speech,” he said. “That part was fine. But you and that knife? It just made people nervous.”
My potato sits heavily in my hand like a broken toy. I kind of swipe at it for a bit, then set it down. When I look to my left, I see that GB’s potato is perfect. Smooth surface, not a hint of peel, and shaped to meet all NFL regulations.
The chef peers over GB’s shoulder and lets out a low whistle. “Nice job, man. You could throw a spiral with that thing.”
That was years ago, before the boys were born. Back then GB and I cooked together a lot—the hard-core gourmet stuff, too: dishes requiring vermouth and brandy and rues and braising and God knows what else. We’d spend Sunday afternoons strolling up and down the grocery aisles, selecting the best ingredients, tossing them in the cart. Then we’d go home, throw on some music, unpack the bags and get down to business. I’d do the prep work, GB would do the hard stuff, and we’d talk and talk and talk.
Those were great Sunday afternoons. We laughed a lot. Plus there was always something ridiculously satisfying about chopping the hell out of a celery stalk. You don’t need knife skillz for that—you just need a knife.
After the boys were born, we traded our Sunday afternoon hobby for something a little less hands-on: The Food Network and The Travel Channel. Emeril’s smellovision. Those arrogant Bobby Flay throwdowns. Inna Garten + Paula Deen + butter. Giada and her adorable little kitchen.
And then, Anthony Bourdain, who is—to me—the maestro of the whole celebrity chef operation. The Thom Yorke of the kitchen. The JD Salinger of gourmands. He’s the guy who kicked us off spectator mode and back into the kitchen, this time with two eager boys to help us.
That’s why GB dug our old pasta maker out of the basement this weekend and set it up just to remind us what it can do.
Step one: Wash hands. Pose for picture. Hope the watermark on the pic will protect it from questionable websites.
Step two: Measure ingredients. Spill all over Mama’s clean floor. Say “Oh no!”—then pretend like nothing happened. Keep mixing.
Step three: Take break. Mess around with stuff. Show off Yoda tats.
Step four: Knead dough. Show off Silly Bandz.
Step five: Start cranking.
Step six: Keep cranking.
Step seven: Crank some more, muttering under your breath that your Play Doh noodle machine is faster.
Step eight: Go outside to play, come back inside to tell Mama something, forget what you wanted to say, tell Mama the sauce smells great and this was just the best day. Give her a hug and run outside again before she can get emotional and hug you until you can’t breathe and tell you what a good boy you are.
It was a great Sunday afternoon. We laughed a lot. Plus there’s always something ridiculously satisfying about kneading the dough and cranking it through a pasta cartridge and letting it dry and boiling it and slathering it with stuff and eating firsts and then heaping on the seconds. Not to mention how nice it is to simply spend this time together.
Cooking with GB is great. Cooking with GB and his clones is even better.
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