Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Art of Home Cookin'

Out of all the survival functions that we've transformed into art forms (archietecture, fashion, etc.), cooking is my personal favourite. I've been preparing meals, in one way or another, for most of my life, and the process has become much more than a daily necessity. I come from a family with varying degrees of culinary proficiency. Growing up, it was almost always my siblings or I making our nightly family dinner, my parents had worked out a sweet deal for themselves in that respect. My mom couldn't be a considered a cook, just an eater. If she's fed, chances are she'll love whatever you put on the plate. If she has to cook, she finds the quickest route between hunger and a full stomach. There is absolutely no art in the way she cooks, and while she does have a few recipes that she can make really well, I definitely didn't inherit my love of cooking from her. Then there's my father, who has an adventurous spirit when it comes to cooking, but isn't the best at execution or technical finesse. If he's making dinner, he'll take everything from the fridge, chop it up, fry it, and call it dinner. Sometimes his experiments works, other times, they don't. My sister is the baker of the family. She can make an impressive dinner, but she has severely strict dietary restrictions which prevent her from making anything extravagant or truly tasty. Her true talent is in baked goods, most of which she can't enjoy herself.

Then there's my older brother, who is the superstar chef of the family. While my childhood and teenage years provided experience in making great home-cooked meals, my brother took it three or four steps further, he earned his Red Seal in the culinary arts. He loves creating meals the way I love creating stories. Initially, his life-plan was a tedious, suicidal-thoughts-inducing career as an accountant. When he was offered a promotion that would solidify his position as a number-cruncher and would involve moving to another province, he had a choice to make. And he chose cooking. He quit his job and enrolled in the culinary arts program at VCC in Vancouver. This led to an apprenticeship at the Four Seasons hotel, which led to various cooking gigs all over the lower mainland. Currently, my brother works as a 'chef mercenary', taking the chef jobs that others would avoid. At the moment, he's cooking on the Fraser Titan, a boat that skims the bottom of the Fraser River. To commit to the isolation, boredom, and hard work that it takes to run a kitchen for a boat load of hungry workers, it's clear that he's serious about that hobby of his. His style of cooking, when he's choosing the menu, is well-executed, fun, whimsical food. He has a very clever and sarcastic personality that translates into his culinary style. I have the privelege of being able to both cook along side him at family functions, as well as enjoy the product of his talent and passion. I always try to learn a tip or trick along the way as well.

I also have professional experience as a cook, but not nearly at the same level as my brother. When I was graduating high school, I landed a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant called The Frogstone Grill. Yeah, it had a frog theme, statues and pictures all throughout. It was a pretty cheesy place, but the menu was creative and unique. I didn't love dishwashing, nobody does. But I did the job for a year and worked my way up the ladder to a line cook, starting with the daily prep list. This is where I learned a lot of the kitchen slang, techniques, and short cuts that I still use in my home cooking career. I eventually became the Assistant Kitchen Manager, but that was due to bullshit politics more than my abilities as a cook. Though, I could definitely hold my own on the line. Like high school, the job at Frogstone was less about formal education, and more about learning how to survive in close combat with strangers. Aside from all the hard work and drama, my time there is a period of my life that I look back on very fondly, I met some sweet people, some of who are still my friends now. After 3 years at Frogstone, I moved on to Starbucks. Yeah, that whole story is for another day, if I ever decide to talk about it.

After 3 years at Starbucks, I was pretty stuck for a job, so I took an easy line cook position at The Buffalo Club Bar and Grill. I didn't make a huge impact on that place, and it made even less of an impact on me. The menu was boring, most of my co-workers were self-obsessed assholes, and the schedule sucked. After eight months there, I moved on to the Pitt Meadows Golf Course. I spent the summer running my own concession kitchen, cooking exclusively for golf club members. The food consisted of burgers, wings, and nachos mostly. Nothing too exciting there. But having the responsibility of being in charge of my own prep, and having to cook all on my own, was a great learning experience. After the summer ended, I moved upstairs and helped prepare and cook for the banquets. This is where I truly lost my passion for professional cooking. The food itself was impressive, and I really enjoyed working for the Executive Chef, but the rest of the cooks were way too wrapped up in the politics and manipulation game. Since I was the lowest man in the food chain, I often became a pawn for other people's purposes, not a great feeling. Still, I learned a lot about the fancier side of cooking and gained some technical cooking experience. Plus, I could make a hell of a fruit or meat platter. A few months passed, and I put in my notice at the end of the season. That was the last cooking job I had. Cooking is so much more fun when it's for myself and people that I care about, when I'm setting the menu and the schedule, and when I don't have to work until 1am.

One of the people I met at the Frogstone Grill was Guy Dudeman, one of my best friends. A while after we both left Frogstone, circumstances arose that resulted in us becoming roomates. Basically, my roomate announced she was moving out the same day that his mom told him he had to find a place of his own. In the years that we lived together, we grew together as home cooks. I wasn't nearly as passionate about making a satisfying dinner until I teamed up with Dudeman and experimented on making the most ridiculously extravagant and satisfying home-cooked meals. Our specialties include: baked sandwiches, any sort of fried or grilled meat, stuffed hamburgers, barbequed skewers, and the list goes on. We have a very similar philosophy when it comes to food: The more love, the more spice, and the more time you put into a meal, the more delicious the final result will be. I don't think that cooking should ever be a hassle or a chore, it should be something that people look forward to. It's science, art, and survival all wrapped in one. Have fun with the process!

 My personal culinary taste is quite simple. I like a lot of 'North American' delicacies, such as a hamburger and fries, pizza, steak and potatoes, etc. However, just because something is traditional, doesn't mean you have to follow the rules. I always enjoy experimenting with old favourites and learning new techniques along the way. When it comes to the cuisines of other cultures and ethnicities, I'll always try something at least once. I haven't been too adventurous lately, but I'll always love Mediterrenean, Chinese, and Japanese food. My attitude towards food and cooking comes much more from my brother's influence than anyone else in my family. Sure, making a meal can be fast and easy, sometimes you're just feeling lazy and hungry. However, when I commit to making a dinner, whether it's just for myself or my girl, my friends, or my family, I try to make an experience out of it. I don't just suffer through the process, hoping for the best. I make a playlist on my iPod, set the lighting in the kitchen just right, and give myself enough time so that I'm not totally starving and can enjoy the process. The smell of frying garlic, the sizzle of the pan, the rhythm of the knife on the cutting board, it isn't anything to take for granted or rush through, it's an art form and should be treated as such.

My specialties, when it comes to a home-cooked meal, are: pasta, breaded chicken fruity salad, and anything involving a grilled or fried meat with a starch. My pan fried chicken dinner is my ultimate specialty, I have that one mastered. I don't like to use recipes, and I don't like to get too complicated with the ingredients I use. From growing up with my chef brother, and a million hours of watching the Food Network, I understand the higher concepts and more complicated techniques, but I don't necessarily like to use them. I cook from my heart and soul, and while I don't have technical training like my brother, I feel like I have the instinct of a true foodie. I like to think that with the same 15 ingredients, over and over, I can keep making delicious and unique meals for years to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment