You'd think as a food writer dating a chef would be a dream come true. Gourmet meals would abound for dinner every night of the week and all you'd have to contribute was an occasional hand and maybe wash a dish or two. In reality, however, your executive chef ends up making sandwiches for his own dinner or binge eating Rice Krispies cereal as more than just a treat.
Regardless, it was a match made in heaven...at least on paper it appeared to be. Vince was a sous chef at a "3 to 3 and a half star restaurant on Yelp" (his words not mine) in Baltimore. To me, Yelp stardom merited a certain caliber of esteem but for him it seemed to denote an heir of ”it's not that serious". Nonetheless, on one of our first dates he obliged me with a visit to his 3 star venue. I was pampered by a rare table side appearance from the chef, a special off the menu entree, and free wine; he really knew how to knock me off my feet.
Things were going splendidly. I was content to spend obscene amounts of time talking about challah bread and the best tomatoes to use when making creamy tomato soup for as long as we were both intrigued by the topic. We dined out occasionally and he wasn't the type of guy that shied away from dessert either. Sugar was not the enemy; in fact I realized his sweet tooth was larger than mine when I witnessed him drench his 3 stack pancake in at least a cup of syrup and on another occasion when he refused to share his Krispy Kreme donuts stating that "There are some things I just don't share". All I could do was laugh; it was honestly a statement I would, and have, made before so I had to respect it.
One particular evening we were chatting and the subject of dinner came up. "I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to eat" he said.
“The options are endless. You’re at work and can make whatever you want” I replied.
“I know. I think it’s going to be rice krispies”
“That’s not dinner pumpkin lol. That’s a snack”
“Well this will suffice”. I couldn’t fathom why someone with the ability to make something as great as Beef Wellington would settle for puffed up rice.
“You cook these fancy meals for everyone else and make sandwiches and bowls of cereal for yourself?” All he could do was laugh in response.
That was the moment I decided to cook for him. It was intimidating but I couldn’t go around letting a chef that specializes in fine dining live off processed meat and ciabatta. It seemed best to keep it simple on my first attempt. Spaghetti, my old faithful, perfectly fit the bill. I committed to really make an effort when I made it this time. Usually, I half ass throw my ground turkey, sauce and noodles together but my taste buds could always tell when it wasn’t made with love and enthusiasm. I sashayed through the aisles of Harris Teeter, carefully selecting my brands of whole grain pasta, sauce and onions; I briefly considered adding in some fresh herbs but quickly concluded that was doing too much too soon; have to make sure I keep some surprises for later.
I carried my cargo home and precisely placed the items on the counter. I filled my stock pot, a term I had recently learned compliments to the chef - I was previously calling it my spaghetti pot - with water and waited for it to boil. Once bubbling royally, I added my Barilla whole grain pasta and coconut oil to the water and proceeded to over salt the whole shebang. I learned that technique from Darius Cooks and have used it faithfully since its discovery; never was a bland noodle ever consumed in my house again. After seasoning the meat, I chopped the red onions into what I interpreted as julienned, and threw them into the skillet to sweat. I like to use culinary terms that I actually don’t know the definition of when I cook, so I’m going to say sweated the onions, when really I probably just sautéed them. In went the ground turkey and out came my British accent and awful Julia Child’s impersonation; it just happens when in the kitchen. All the best chefs are Brits: Julia Childs, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, so it only makes sense to mimic the best.
It all came out to be a successful pot of pasta and Bolognese. After assuring him there was no sugar added to the sauce, I packed a to-go container, confident that he would think it was the Andrea Bocelli of spaghetti.
When it was time to present my culinary masterpiece, I was suddenly overcome with nervousness.
“Here. I bought it for you but don’t eat it while I’m here in case you don’t like it. I don’t want to know”
He laughed and said “Well if I don’t like it I’m still gonna let you know”. I guess that made sense. No need in continuing a façade; it’ll just end up being a lot of fake moans of pleasure and wasted Ragu.
“I don’t really eat spaghetti. The last time I ate it I made it”
“Well why did you let me make you spaghetti if you don’t eat it?!” I exclaimed, reliving the meticulous process I just endured to make the best spaghetti he’d ever have. “And what do you mean the last time you ate it you made it? That still doesn’t provide much of a timeline?”
“Because, I mean, I eat it! And even if I don’t eat it all, I have a roommate that eats spaghetti”
“I didn’t cook spaghetti for your roommate” I retorted.
“You can’t give me something and then try to tell me what to do with it. It’s like a homeless person asking you for money to get food and then after you give it to them they go get a beer. You can’t control that. And the last time I made spaghetti I made everything; the sauce, the pasta, everything from scratch”
“Fine.” was all I mustered up. That conversation didn’t prove to bolster my confidence at all; it only served to solidify my role as the prep girl in our relationship. I was not quite ready to take the cooking reigns as executive or even sous chef on our team.
I resolved to avoid asking him about the spaghetti from here on out. Whether he liked it or not would forever remain a mystery to me; I don’t fancy having my feelings hurt from my own doing. I held out for about a week and then curiosity got the best of me when it came time to prepare my meals for the upcoming week. Wondering if I should consider his stomach in this cooking endeavor, I reluctantly asked “So…did you eat the spaghetti?”
"I was going to eat it but then I ate a sandwich instead". What is with this guy and sandwiches?! Maybe this was actually a blessing in disguise. I was so worried about impressing him with elaborate dishes and complex palette choices when really all he wants is turkey and smoked Gouda on rye.
I decided to let it go. His proclivity for meals hidden between slices of bread was baffling yet comforting at the same time. If my hardest job is making sure he has a grilled cheese waiting for him when he gets home from work...I guess I can’t complain too much about that.