I grew up like most spoiled, picky kids. I literally ate nothing but chicken fingers at restaurants until I was 14. But in the years that followed, I had a ton of small experiences that shaped the way I see food. Nothing beats a culinary discovery for me. Cooking food is looking at a tree. We all start at the trunk, with this very rudimentary knowledge. How to boil water, how to preheat an oven, or how to mix ingredients in a bowl. For too many, that's the beginning and end of their cooking journey. If only folks could be patient enough to reach that first branch of expansion. It could be anything. A new technique, a new ingredient, or something so altogether transcendent and unknown and you can't even label it. I personally call that last one building on your culinary philosophy. But more about that in later musings. First, I wanted to share the story of how I reached one of my first culinary branches.
One Halloween, family-friends of mine were running a haunted forest (a place where bored folks come pay about $20 to get the absolute crap scared out of them, in a dark, remote, and poorly lit area of nowhere) in the woods behind their house, in which I was working. (Yes, this is a perfectly normal thing for southerns to do. 3 members of my family circle partake in separate ventures all over the upstate.) So anyway, after a long night of handing out cases of PTSD and soiled trousers, we all turned in for a good night's sleep, which after turning in at around 4 am, was about 4 whopping hours.
The next morning we all felt like we were dying. The whole house was starving, tired, and sore. Believe it or not, chasing people through a dark forest with a chainsaw is not easy work. Leatherface, Jason, and Michael are in much better cardiovascular shape than you'd think. Freddy isn't mentioned because he cheats. He only attacks you while you're sleeping. But I digress.
That morning, Sonnya (a God mother of sorts) made breakfast for everyone that was still there. She made waffles, bacon, and eggs. To this day she's made the best Belgian waffles I've ever had. She also introduced me to to the best waffle topping to ever grace this planet (future post). When it came time for my eggs to hit the pan, she asked me how I wanted them. I gave her a kind of disgusted look and said, "Defiantly scrambled."
She asked me if I'd ever tried an over easy egg. Of course I hadn't! That was raw egg yolk. Like gross chicken stuff! In a million years I couldn't imagine eating something so unnatural and grotesque. The notion of egg yolk oozing all over my breakfast literally made me nauseous. But, as social pressure goes, I was not so gently talked into my first over easy egg. I watched it bubble and sizzle. I watched the egg whites start to turn from transparent, to translucent, to beginning to turn white and solid, with the edges starting to crisp ever so lightly. The giant yellow booger in the center was unchanged and just as terrifying. She flipped the egg and cooked it just a few seconds longer, then slid it out of the pan and on my plate.
It seems the entire table was involved in the decision of how they should be consumed. I'm grateful for this great conference of wisdom. The eggs were first covered in salt and pepper, then cut into pieces with a fork. Then, they tossed the egg whites in the yolk like a salad dressing. I was nervous for that first bite. However, I'm glad I took the plunge. It revolutionized breakfast for the rest of my life. The salt and pepper mixed in the egg yolk like a perfectly seasoned sauce. The excess butter that cooked the egg also joined the yolk, for my first introduction to a simple hollandaise sauce. It also opened me up to other types of soft yolk eggs, like poached eggs and soft boiled eggs. That day at the Oneal's kitchen table grew a new branch that reached a lot of unexpected heights.
There have been many branches like this in my culinary life. You never know what new things you'll see if you only reach for that next branch, or even that first branch. I encourage everyone to let yourself be adventurous sometimes. Every once in a while, give in to the peer pressure and eat something outside of your comfort zone. As long as you have to eat to survive, you might as well know what food has to offer. I'm forever grateful to the Oneal family for everything they let me experience with them over all those years. Sonnya was an early inspiration for what got me into cooking in the first place. Food is art, and she taught me several new colors and textures. I'll take those lessons with me to every kitchen I ever cook in.
Anyway, God bless everyone. Stay healthy and try to eat well during these unprecedented times. Can't wait to get out and cook with (and for) you folks real soon. Take care.