Monday, March 2, 2009

Recipe for Obsession

I love food. Maybe that’s stating the obvious, I work with it all day, so I should love food. But I mean love, a borderline obsessive love, as I have stated previously. As a pastry chef, one could assume that I have some sort of one-sided relationship with bittersweet chocolate truffles or sticky toffee pudding, but that is not the case. The truth is, I barely have a sweet tooth. No, what I dream about while rolling out pie dough are crisp cucumbers sprinkled with sea salt, a dash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon. I may be whipping up cream, but what I really want are pillowy mounds of mashed potatoes. Just about anything pickled or brined, particularly olives, make the top of my list. On a regular day I throw a bowl of chocolate on the double boiler and stroll nonchalantly into the walk-in for a few cornichons out of the jar on the shelf next to my tiny pastry area. I then walk out with a quart of milk or a flat of eggs, just so it doesn’t seem too obvious. Of course I nibble on strawberries as I hull 25 cases of them for an event, they smell amazing, But I beg for the scraps from the other side of the kitchen. They may look enviously at me as I carelessly toss extra cake crumbs in the trash, or mindlessly pop a brownie edge in my mouth, but I want what they’ve got. I once worked with a chef who would hand me a cup full of wild boar bacon every few days, without my asking for them. I never really finished the whole thing, not every time anyway.
Anyone who works in a kitchen knows that constant snacking is inevitable. Taste taste taste is rule number one. But I reached a certain point a few months ago when I realized that containers overflowing with bacon, while delicious, and they were wild boar after all, might not be the absolute best thing for a girl. I came to this conclusion while shoving a piece of chocolate chestnut flan in my mouth at 7:30 in the morning, and not particularly enjoying it. Remember, I don’t even LIKE dessert that much, I just felt like I would absolutely collapse from starvation, and it was right there in front of me. “Why are you doing this?” a little voice from somewhere deep inside my stomach asked, while my mouth was full of pudding. “You don’t really want that,” she said. “You’re not even a chocolate person. You really want a salad or a sausage or so just stop it!” And she was right. I was willing to admit it to myself, although she could’ve been nicer about it.
And in that moment I made the terribly difficult decision to listen to that voice.
Everyday for lunch we get all the leftovers, the wagyu beef tenderloin, the truffle scented mashed potatoes, the creamy three-cheese polenta, whatever doesn’t sell. But special occasion food is meant to be just that- and a Wednesday afternoon family meal at 3:30 after only having 2 customers all day is absolutely not a special occasion, and certainly does not need to be marked by eating a pound of butter. For the everyday, I just don’t want that stuff. I want tomato and cucumber salad, I want yogurt, I want a hard boiled egg, sprinkled with a bit of fleur de sel of course. And I never, ever want dessert. Perhaps I am crazy, but I also realized that I want to live long and be healthy. That is why I now bring breakfast and lunch to work everyday. It’s difficult to explain that I work in a place that actually feeds me for free for something that most people gladly hand over hundreds of dollars for, and I brown bag it. That way when I actually have something to celebrate, it will be that much sweeter. A recent conversation with my fiancé, José, who is a chef as well, really emphasized the point. At a black tie wedding at the Waldorf, he turned to me and said, “I’m just so tired of lobster and caviar” and then went back to eating his meal. Do you realize how hard it is to plan our own wedding?
Planning my menu for the next day is a challenge that is so much more enjoyable than shoving the first thing I see in the morning down my throat. So I shop consciously now, and plan carefully, and I still snack all day, but just differently. Yesterday I roasted cherry tomatoes with garlic and herbs, and ate them on crisp flatbread. Later I sliced ripe mangos, squeezed a lime over them, threw on some salt and chili, a perfect snack, the combination of salty, sour and spicy that I crave. I grind up eggplants for baba ganoush and chickpeas for hummus at night, lightly pickle small Israeli cucumbers, pack everything up for my 6 am train ride to work. This is what I really want, what I’ve always wanted anyway, so it is in no way a sacrifice. My relationship to food hasn’t changed, but it’s become more satisfying, and no longer as selfish. Yes, I adore food. I still seek out the perfectly fried french fry, the most flavorful thai curry, the spiciest salsa and crunchy tortilla chips, but in moderation. And I’m happy with where we are right now.

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