Looking forward to cooking with others

Looking forward to cooking with others

People who love to cook are often people who like to get together to cook with other cooks. I wonder if there is any other endeavor with such a chance for egos to bump one another or for stout competition among friends. Unless there is someone in the group who is the acknowledged “best” among them, surely there is plenty of side eye and critical face twisting from behind shoulders.

I got tired of PBS taunting me with interesting-looking programming and gave them enough money to get access last week. I wanted to plunder their old archival cooking shows and binged all of the '90s Julia Child series, “Cooking With Master Chefs.” I hadn’t seen any of them since they were new, and they’re as good as I remembered. I’ve always been glad I bought the excellent companion cookbook back then and have cooked most everything in it since.

Then there was the two-part “Cooking in Concert” with Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, another '90s gem I wanted to see again. It was a live coking performance by the two cooks, taped for a PBS begathon fundraiser. It’s much more pleasant to watch without the constant interruptions to ask for money, though I guess I did finally respond, even if it took 25 years. It was watching the two of them together that got me thinking about the times when cooks gather.

There’s a bit of politely seeking the opinions of others, followed by doing what you want. “Do you think this is enough garlic for this sauce?” one might ask. Whether the response is too much garlic or too little, the cook is going to put in the amount they like, and the others must recognize polite rhetorical questions when they hear them.

“Do you take the green germ out of the garlic first?” All the while taking the green germ out of all the garlic.

“I wouldn’t put that much butter in there. Don’t you think that’s an awful lot?”

And then there are the assigned tasks given out by the host cook. I spoke recently with a fellow who had cooked for decades with friends every week, and he said it was his assignment to prepare whatever fish was on the menu, even though, or perhaps because, it was a task for which he had no interest. I’m sure this gentleman prepped a mean fish, regardless, but sometimes a member of the group is given a small task to keep their opinions focused elsewhere.

“Can you please chop these tomatoes, Margaret?” And then there’s the question of how to trot out the politeness anew to redirect Margaret yet again while her tomatoes are rechopped properly. “Maybe you could pour the wine, dear.” I think that level of politeness couched in brass knuckles is only achievable in the deep south.

If you have a kitchen large enough to accommodate extra bodies, by all means bring other cooks in to make a memorable few hours together. In our previous house, the kitchen was painfully tiny and poorly arranged, but my best memories there are of cooking with friends in that closet of a space. Now we have a larger kitchen but have yet to have other cooks in for a tomato chopfest, and the past year of contagious evil has prevented any of us from attempting such a thing.

There are dishes that lend themselves to a group effort better than others, especially those which can be broken down into small tasks that can be safely assigned, even to Margaret. You need to know people’s skill level going in so you know who to trust with more complex tasks, like the great cook assigned to take care of the fish. I know at my house, cooking with my wife, who is the best chef in the state, I’m happy to take whatever chore she assigns and had better make darn sure not to screw it up. With that kind of talent in the house, you take great pains with your tomato chopping.

It won’t be long until enough of us have the magic vaccine to allow friends to gather and cook and learn from one another once again. I’m looking forward to it.

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