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The Chef

by Marcelle Soviero

 


Marcelle Soviero has published essays in the New York Times, Salon.com, and National Public Radio, among others. She teaches writing in Connecticut where she lives with her husband and five children. 
 


My husband Eric eyes me as I plug in the crockpot. He does not say, “not again honey,” even though he knows what’s coming, the same meal I make every Monday. The one night I cook. Slow cooker stew – beef, carrots, onions and cream of mushroom soup –  served with rice or noodles, the only part I vary. I’m a dedicated crockpot user. “It cooks all day while the cooks away” I say to Eric with a wink. Then we’re both off to work.

I don’t have the attention span to cook well, to watch pots on various burners. “What’s burning?” Eric will reflexively ask, even when I’m simply scrambling eggs. I’m ashamed at how stricken I am in the kitchen. I’ve had public catastrophes, most notably my first Thanksgiving with Eric’s family, marshmallows flaming atop blackened sweet potatoes.

I’ve tried over the years to improve. Once I attended an Italian cooking class where we made pasta from scratch, something I imagined a great grandmother on my fathers side must have done.   Inspired after the 8-week class, I went to William Sonoma and purchased a top-notch pasta machine. A contraption that, never having been used, came in handy one snow day as a toy to flatten play dough.

My ineptness in the kitchen only highlights Eric’s culinary prowess. I take after my mother, queen of the one dish meal, and her mother, my grandmother, who was known, on more than one occasion, to ruin a baked potato. Eric, however, is held to higher standards, he hails from a family of fine cooks; they refer to string beans as haricot vert.  He plans our meals and reads cookbooks straight through, the way I read novels.  On the rare occasion we don’t have every ingredient in our kitchen, Eric makes something savory simply from planko breadcrumbs and some stray zucchini.

He is a master of haute cuisine. A man who, unbelievable to me, sees cooking as a way to relax at the end of the day. He’s empowered when ensconced in our small but professionally clad kitchen, no doubt happy knowing he will nourish our large family, give us all a daily dose of love. I am in awe, and possibly jealous, of his talent really.

But Eric and I clash in the kitchen. Eric is the most easy going man I know except when surrounded by heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil.  We agree on the importance of family dinners -- which we sit down to every night with our five children -- but our approach is different. For me the gatherings are more about spending time together. Chicken nuggets, though not pretty on the plate, are fine. For Eric, family dinner is more about sitting down to a real repast.

It’s Tuesday, a school night. Eric, classically handsome with his thick hair the same color as our stainless steel appliances, makes a red wine reduction sauce. “I’d rather drink it than reduce it,” I say. I don’t see the sense in taking two hours and twelve pans, to make a meal that will be eaten in a flat six minutes so I nudge him. “What time are we eating?” I ask. I am antsy and hungry, it’s after 7:00, and I’m ready to get the kids to bed.

My husband takes his time, surely wanting to eat earlier, but he can’t help himself in the process. He clarifies the butter, stuffs and sautés, debones and deglazes. He inhabits his ingredients, considers texture along with taste, the panache of colors on the plate. I watch as he peels the skin off a tomato, and I wonder if the amount of care that goes into a meal really does matter, if fine dining every night will impact my children in years to come.

I try to move things along. I make the mistake of offering to help. “I’ll dice” I say, the inept sous chef, and though I have diced many times before Eric shows me again, setting me up with a cutting board and Henckel’s pro paring knife.  Then I remember. “I bought these,” I say taking out the pre-diced onions I got at Stop ‘n Shop. “Those are red onions. We need white ones. I’ll do it honey,” he says gently pushing me aside.

It is 8:15. I ring the dinner bell, our five kids straggle in, somewhat unaware of the culinary artistry they are about to partake in: Blue cheese crusted steaks, Portobello mushrooms in red wine reduction sauce, and frisée salad with hazelnut dressing. Eric serves the meal. Each dish is a plate-sized still life. Perhaps the careful preparation does make a difference, I think even though it’s almost bedtime. I give a toast to Eric now as I do each night.  “Thank you for cooking,” I say. And I mean it.  Every time.
 


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