Food, I.M.H.O.

Culinary Magic From An Unlikely Cook

A bowl of chicken curry, with flatbread and salad on the side.
A bowl of chicken curry, with flatbread and salad on the side.

When the aroma begins to float out of the matchbox of our Brooklyn kitchen, and diffuse through our apartment, I suddenly feel ravenous, even if, only a while earlier, I’ve had a generous plateful.

Simmering gingerly, over a delicate, diminutive, bluish-white gas ring is a bulky, dull black pot of a meat not famous for being naturally favorable: chicken. And the stirrer of that cauldron is one not known for her ardor for cooking, but one, who, by her own reckoning, possesses a “limited culinary repertoire.”

All the more surprising then, that she should, foist a dish, truly magical, irresistible, and incomparable. M. doesn’t mind firing up the hob to heat up a canned soup or waiting by the toaster as the frozen waffles turn to breakfast.

But would she knead a mound of white flour into dough to bake a fresh cake or turn the pages of an Italian cookbook to pick a new pasta preparation to try out? Not her avocations.

Yet, on the days she undertakes her now-cherished endeavor, her enthusiasm slops out of her. She snags her tatty, oversized, gray T-shirt out of its hiding place, and slips it on. That’s her pinny. The kitchen door is then shut tight.

If I have an ear pressed to the wall, I could hear all manner of sounds from behind it: the faint ting of a spoon, the soft splat of a marinade being ladled into a container, the hissing of tap water let loose, the sucking sound of a soda bottle being opened.

What goes on within the perimeter of the kitchen is something I can only guess, for that area is cordoned off with her unspoken orders. M. can neither cook under surveillance, nor against the ticking of 21st century clocks that appear to contract time, making people rush though their lives.

The space, where food is prepared isn’t a newsroom, a factory, or an investment firm. It doesn’t, therefore, need to run on efficiency, but spontaneity, she reasons. It must also be free from the tyranny of rules like the ones that bind (most of) us to wear black socks with black shoes, and to eat pork chops with a steak knife.

During her two-hour-long culinary expedition, the kitchen door swings open thrice. Like a dutiful cuckoo, M. emerges to make three short announcements: “I marinated the chicken,” “It’s cooking on low heat now,” and “It’s ready!”

Next, she enters the room with the meal: a bowl of the chicken curry, a fist of salad for one side; a flatbread, another. I can’t wait to dive into them. When the morsels of supple white meat, dunked in an oleaginous liquid hit the tongue, they melt just like butter on a hot pan, suffusing the taste buds with an explosion of flavors.

The zesty gravy, a rich strew of garlic, onions, yogurt, and a mélange of spices, has a bite that will make Tabasco blush, but you’ll want to mop it all up, down to the dregs.

What was, in hindsight, just a fluke, a gastronomic accident, is today, indeed, her magnum opus that she’s justifiably proud of. It’s a curry fit to enter a contest.

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