a cook’s life.

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I think of myself at times as a niche cook.

I fit in where other people are too big, or too clunky.
I’m good at that. Filling in the cracks.

Which is what happened last night.

My friend asked me a couple of months ago if I’d be interested in catering an outside event for 35 people.
Hors d’oeuvres + five courses = a good time

I say yes. I really have no other option. Saying yes to things is the only way, I think.
I purchase a large country ham from Benton’s up in Tennessee.
I source my grains and peas from Anson Mills over there in South Carolina.
My quail is from Georgia.
And well, I am a dude from Mississippi who learned to cook in Oregon.

I prepped and cooked and stored two hors’doeuvres, and five courses in my tiny apartment kitchen. Not to mention three allergy people, having me make four separate courses.

I started cooking on a Thursday and didn’t stop until 11:30 on a Saturday night.

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We had been watching the weather, because it’s Mississippi in the summer time. It’s going to rain, it’s just a matter of when. So we pushed our host to really consider moving it inside. He kept insisting that we try to have it outside. We kept saying he should REALLY move it inside. He kept saying to wait. So, we did.

And it rained. And rained and rained. And blew out our fires. My friends at my back, holding our tent down as the thunderstorm raged above us. Beside us. Underneath us.

The dinner party had relocated to under the gazebo while I was mid-way through cooking my pork belly dish.

Saron, my friend and our event coordinator, ran under our kitchen tent and we pushed around a few options involving some restaurants that were closed, that would house us on such short notice.

So, we called my boss and he okayed that we move to my other place of business. We hustled and yelled and got soaked. But now we were in our element. Ovens. Sinks. Warmers. Thank God.

The party had congregated in the front of the restaurant. Wet, but laughing from all the strong drinks. We pushed together tables. Turned on some music and started to assemble.

Five courses.

Sorghum Molasses cured Pork Belly, with charred peach, soy/honey vinaigrette, benne seed

Chicory Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, Gorgonzola, Radish

Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Louisiana Jasmine Rice, with Crispy Duck Skin, Scallion

Quail with Sea Island Red Peas, Black Garlic Puree

Banoffee Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate

I walked out of the kitchen at 1:30am. So proud of my team for hustling and keeping a good attitude. This was one of those situations where you reap what you sow. And I’ve worked hard to treat my people well and with respect and dignity, and it showed. That’s what makes this stuff so insanely rich. I am never poor in company and friends. Goodness gracious.

Having maybe eaten two or three times in the past three days, I collapsed on my sofa.

I reached for whatever I had in my box from the night containing most of my mise en place.

Rice crackers and pimiento cheese.

I fell asleep with my hand in the container.

Stood up, brushed my teeth and fell into bed.

The life of a cook.

Ya know, it’s not so bad.

Hospitality Don’t Come Easy

Food

I get a lot of joy out of feeding my friends.

In a similar way my mom loves taking care of her kids and how she’s so very intuitive to peoples’ needs.

On the occasion that I get to plan a small to medium sized intimate meal, I get a little pumped up. Because I’m not gonna lie, it’s fun to impress people. I get the rush of stretching a culinary muscle all the while saying, “Yeah, I used a whole bottle of wine to make this…”

It sounds silly. And it is.

But a lot of it is intuition. The hospitable bones in my body come from my family, no doubt.

Just know, there is hope if you feel overwhelmed having folks over. A lot of times, it can be — but it doesn’t have to. Especially if you like the people who are coming over. If not, do what I do and hide in the kitchen. (Because there’s always junk to do in the kitchen, am I right?)

I like to be helpful, so let’s talk about some things that have helped me.

First off, you gotta know if folks can eat what you’re planning to cook. If someone is vegan, you’ll probably have to go out and buy a whole new set of groceries (if you aren’t regularly eating vegan). When in doubt, use a lot of olive oil and bread. That’ll get them happy, only for a little while though. “Josh, be sweet…” Okay, okay.

But seriously. Cook accordingly. Nobody puts baby-vegan in the corner.

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Beverages.
This also asks of you to pair accordingly to the food you’re cooking. If a dish used an entire bottle of red wine to make, it’ll probably pair well with red wine. If it’s spicy, you may want to focus on less intimidating beverages. Maybe good, light beer, or something with citrus and alcohol.

Always offer water. Especially when alcohol is present. Some folks need to switch gears sooner than others.

Watch their glasses. If they’re empty, make cozy eye-contact and fill em’ up with chosen/offered beverage. Keep cups full until you see the night winding down.

If you’re making something sweet, a lot of folks enjoy a sip of good coffee or hot tea. (or more alcohol) Decaf is probably good, but let’s not get too crazy!

Have a clean kitchen.

This is a lot of work. To cook, host and keep it clean. But it helps, especially as your guests leave. If you don’t want to do their dishes after they leave, at least rinse them well, and stack them neatly so there not so intimidating the morning after. Trust me, it helps.

Mise en place.
This is a big restaurant kitchen thing. It means “putting everything in its place”. It is, by far, the most important tool for cooks (besides whiskey). It translates well into the home kitchen. Basically, have all your stuff done before guests arrive.

You don’t want to be mincing garlic and entertaining at the same time. At least I don’t. Plus, that makes dinner last forever. Don’t fool yourself. If people are coming to eat at your house, they pretty much expect it to be almost done. Do not throw something on the stove that takes three hours to cook right as guests arrive. Unless it’s an all-day thing, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Having all your ingredients ready to go for quick assembly is key. It helps you keep a peaceful mind, all the while throwing down some killer food.

Stick with food you’re comfortable with cooking.

Unless they are close friends who love you regardless of how much you put reduced balsamic vinegar on everything, do as Michael Scott says and ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid.’

Keep a good flow.

It’s important to time your dishes, just as a restaurant would do. You want time for the drinks to settle in. You want people to be HUNGRY. Offer them little snacks. Not too much bread. Nuts are good. Things that are salty are good. Nothing too over-powering though.

You want your main dishes to shine. And no doubt they will when your tipsy friends are saying your roast chicken was the best they’ve ever had.

Because you put in a lot of work.

It’s not always easy to predict what others need. But the more you do it, the easier it’ll come to you.

So, call up a few buds.

Give them at least two beverages to start working on.

Keep that kitchen clean.

Have yo’ stuff ready.

Fall into the ebb and flow.

Laugh a ton.

Stress, not so much.

When you’re in the presence of dear ones, take it in.

Because that’s all that really matters.