Monday, February 3, 2014

Reflections on Teaching Strangers How to Cook

I've been having these experiences lately where I can't keep my mouth shut.

It happens almost every weekend at the grocery store.  I'm minding my own business, doing my shopping, when someone standing near me picks up a vegetable that I just learned to prepare a new way.  Or they will stand staring at an item with a giant question mark floating above their head.  And I just....can' it.  The teacher in me wants to help.

And so I open my mouth and:

"Have you ever tried roasting that?" (speaking of cauliflower)

"Do you know what's really good with that?" (dates) (and the answer is "bacon")

"My mom used to make those for us all the time..." (a girl wanted to know if I knew how to cook artichokes)

And this week, it was regarding steak.  An adorable old man was hunched over the bargain meat case with me, staring with a critical eye at the New York strips.

"That's a high price," he commented and pointed to the "$12.99/lb" on the package I had in my hand.

"Oh, but it's on sale!" I joyfully corrected, and pointed to the "$8.99/lb" at the bottom of the sticker.

"You're gonna go for it?" he asked.

"I can't help it," I said.  "Sometimes you've just gotta have steak!"

He laughed.  "I never seem to cook it right," he said and watched as I picked up a thick marbled steak.

I could tell he wasn't sure about the choosing process, so I hunkered down next to him.  "Get a nice thick one," I said and pointed.  "That one's good.  It's got some good fat streaked through the meat.  Do you have a cast iron skillet?" I asked.

He nodded as he picked up the steak I had pointed to.  "Okay," I said.  "Salt your steak really well."

Another laugh.  I could tell he was thinking of what his doctor would say.  "No, really," I said.  "Lots of salt.  Then get your pan really hot.  Do you like your steak rare?"

His blue eyes looked into mine.  I realized that we were now huddled shoulder-to-shoulder over the meat case.  "Mmm, more medium-rare," he said.

"Okay.  Five minutes a side, then let it rest for a few minutes.  Best steak you will have ever had,"  I promised.

He laughed again and then smacked me in the arm with his steak.  "You sound like you know what you are talking about," he smiled, and then wandered off to his cart.

Do I? I thought as I watched him go.  I guess I do, to a degree.  To some I'm a culinary moron.  But to others—the ones I want to reach? I guess it feels good to hear them say that.  And it feels even better to know that I've helped one more person take those first foodie steps like I took.

And still take.

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