Sunday, October 14, 2007

Risky Behavior

My home kitchen is tight. There's barely enough room for me, let another another cook. Still, I love cooking with others in my tight kitchen. At my best, I groove around others, slinking my way to the sink and back to the stove in a swift, graceful dance. On the actual dance floor, I'm a disaster. In the kitchen, I'm an evil Baryshnikov.

This is how Anthony Bourdain describes the kitchen dance: "If you're a saute man, your grill man is your dance partner, and chances are, you're spending the majority of your time working in a hot, uncomfortable confined, submarine-like space with him. You're both working around open-flame, boiling liquids, and plenty of blunt objects at close hand--and you both carry knives, lots of knives. So you had better get along."

I've pretty much loved every bastard I've worked with in the kitchen. I'd better, because I'm no fighter. I don't stab. A lot of guys I've worked with in professional kitchens were stabbers. I'm talking about the kind of guys who actually like to stab things and people. I remember John, a saute man, who stabbed his own pinkie clean off in the middle of a busy, Friday afternoon lunch shift. He bled profusely. He was pale, clearly freaked. I scooped up the bit of pinkie and rushed him to the hospital. On the way into the hospital, he stopped.

Do you think I have time to bust a smoke? he said.

So we stood there as John, losing blood, smoked.

I love that guy. I love the sense of chaos and criminality he brought to the kitchen. He was back at work that night, his pinkie bandaged, working the line.

The home kitchen, of course, is more calm. That's why I do everything I can to increase the sense of chaos. Perhaps this is why I don't get along with my wife in the kitchen. She's a measured cook, precise and willing. She creates beautiful, loving dishes, full of tenderness. When I'm not involved at all, she creates transcendent risotto, immaculate roast chicken, the best beef burgundy. I, however, mess with her mojo. If I'm around, things fall apart. I'm her terror.

I'm the type of cook who likes to fuck with people and food. Sure, I put love into my cooking; it's just that my love expresses itself in risk. I like smoke. I love fire. Blood turns me on. I love cranking the music up really high, darting back and forth, sweating, cursing, spitting, and getting naked, if it's hot enough. Mostly, I love when I take a piece of food, compare it to a body part, and then do offensive things with it.

And still, it all ends up tasty.

This past Friday, my kitchen buddy Mikey came over.

Mikey also revels in chaos. Mikey brought over Rodrigo y Gabriela: we pumped it up and danced. We were cooking for my wife and my buddy, JJ. It was a festive night. The celebration was simple: we celebrated food and each other. Mikey made quinoa chowder, slow-cooked baked beans, and Cajun cat-fish. I made an epic sweeta potato mash and BBQ chicken on the grill (with homemade BBQ sauce.)

The entire night I was evilly waiting to cook the catfish. I knew the catfish would destroy us. And it did. Mikey threw it in a cast-iron pan and the kitchen, the apartment, hell, the entire town, filled with noxious smoke. We coughed and sneezed and complained. Mikey just stood right over the pan, as if his own dying demanded his full attention.

Within minutes, he was utterly destroyed.

The meal was outstanding. Everyone loved everything, except the chicken. I willfully undercooked it. The others refused to eat the chicken, but I ate it, with absolute braggadocio, as if I were tempting the gods to obliterate me.

I ate two chicken legs--the center of both, a bit pale, teasing opulent rawness. To me, chicken legs tastes best just at 160 degrees--the center might be a bit undercooked, but the rest is a sort of divine specialty. It's the best chicken will ever taste. Also, it does strange things to you. I ate it and felt virile, alive, vampiric.

Epic Sweeta Potato Mash with Coconut Milk

Mikey uses the word "epic" a lot. If something defies expectation it is epic. He also uses the word "ridick" (as in ridiculous.) These sweet potatoes could also be considered ridick.

And oh, by the way, "Sweeta" is how my acupuncturist refers to sweet potatoes. She's a brilliant, caring lady from China. She tells me, "No more sweeta potato!" I'm not sure why.

4 medium sweeta potatoes, washed
1/4 cup coconut milk (full fat is best)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Adjust an oven rack to the center position. Preheat oven to 4oo degrees. Arrange sweet potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Bake until a knife tip slides easily into the flesh, 60-70 minutes. (Sometimes, sweet potatoes can take up to 90 minutes or more to cook, depending on the size.)

Meanwhile, warm the coconut milk in a medium saucepan over low heat. Season the coconut milk with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

When sweet potatoes are cool, slip the skins off and place into saucepan with coconut milk. Mash the sweet potatoes in the saucepan. Season with extra salt and pepper.

Alternately, for an exquisitely creamy texture, pass the sweet potatoes through the holes of a food mill directly into the coconut milk and mash.

Serves 4-6


Toby said...

Food Vibe is the best damn blog ever. I love the sense of celebration in this post, the sheer mayhem and chaos, out of which came such culinary perfection as you describe so vividly. Awesome write.

dsc said...

I am a “bit” of a control head in my kitchen, (other’s kitchens as well)

My first date with wife number one, she invited me over for chicken cacciatore and opium on December 8th 1980, an important date, not because of the first encounter.

She did not make rue with the cornstarch and created tiny tasteless dumplings in the sauce. I kicked her out of her kitchen, immediately drank her milk directly from the container, dribbled erotically down my chest and then left the toilet seat raised. She was not impressed.

I recreated the chicken cacciatore, correctly of course. Big mistake, she never cooked me a meal since then. (One meal I fucked up in my life later was chicken cacciatore; I used icing sugar instead of flour to coat the bird before searing.) We got stoned, made love, special bulletin, “John Lennon has been killed outside the Dakota in New York city”. I stood up, punched a hole through her closet door, got dressed and left. She married me soon afterwards.

If you are going to eat undercooked chicken eat kosher chicken, it is salted and bled.

Weirdest, not most dangerous thing I cooked was a peanut butter pizza after some good Afghani.

I like blood too.

Jacqueline Thea said...

Fabulous, raucous, delicious post! I'm glad you went on to share your secret recipe as I was just about to ask!

On another note, I really enjoy this blog as you convey a genuine joy and appreciation of food that I'm only now beginning to appreciate for myself. I'm great with others as it's a central part of our (my friends and I) lives; however it's when left to my own devices that I fall apart. This blog lifts me, motivates me, re-minds me.

Thank you.

Seth said...

dsc (David):

I always brine my chicken, so it was salted, but not bled. I like blood too much. It adds to the carniverous appeal...

Karen said...

Yes, Seth, you do like chaos in the kitchen. More than anything, though, you like absolute control! The only reason we don't get on in the kitchen is because you're unwilling to cede any of it.

Sometimes I will decide to make a special dish for Seth. I'll be in the kitchen in full-swing prep mode, listening to good music, enjoying the aromas... In bursts Seth who immediately starts re-chopping what I had already prepped, stirring my pot, making little judgmental grunt-sounds and giving me "tips" on how to do thing better. It kind of ruins the mood.

On the other hand, when I help Seth in the kitchen, I [have to] understand that I am the paltry, junior, inferior, sub, sous-chef and just do as I'm told!!! I still enjoy it though...

candace said...

The meer mention of chaotic cooking made me thrilled... I too battle a measured and ordained cooking partner.His onions are always quartered and sliced one half inch wide, his measuring spoons are prepped and ready next to a flat edge in order to level ingredients. I dash of this and pinch of that, if you will. It really is fabulous how explosive the arguments can become behind the laughter.
I wish I had been present to sabotage and consume along with you and the ever ridick Mikey.
When is my turn, anyway?

Seth said...

Karen: Those little judgmental grunt sounds are not judgmental at all. They are sighs of power.

You will do what I say.

Seth said...

Candy: I actually like precise measurements--it's just that I hold all that in my head. I know how much a pinch equals. The problem I have with Karen, probably, is that I am so precise in my standards that she possibly finds it unbearable.

Your turn will come...with wine.

dsc said...

To kosher a chicken, and eating blood is unkosher, salt is used to draw out the blood.

Steve said...

This blog is triumphant.It inspires me to be bold.I feel braver and more handsome than ever. I need to be hosed down.

Life in the kitchen is life on the edge: in the creative moment.

When I grill, I always like to flip the burgers and whatever else I am cooking with my bare hands. It thrills and evokes something so primal within me.

Burn marks on my fingers
like an endless afternoon.

Sometimes cooking is best done dangerously.

Seth said...


That's the funniest goddam comment I have ever read.

Bocephus said...

I am totally going to try out those potatoes! I've had a love affair with sweet potatoes for a long time now. Whenever I serve mashed potatoes, it's always a double-potato mash. People dig it.

nesrine said...

my stomach and spirit has a huge crush on what you guys write

hold on
where's my camera...

Mathilde said...

Siiiii! I could comment forever on this blog Seth!

As a Kitchen control freak anonymous I relate to this story and to Karen's graceful withdraw of power in front of such a macho cook. I state the name of "macho" because to me it refers, not to the gender of the chef, but mostly to his attitude in the kitchen, power being one of them, boldness and strenght being the ones which enables him to keep his seconds dutifully under orders, or simply out of the kitchen.

Both my parents are members of th KCFA, but in much different ways.

My mother is the type to arrive at 7pm to cook a paëlla and "frangipane" with cream and raberries for 8 on a Monday morning, but will leave the kitchen as a war zone. No matter, nobody will notice after she has served them a "second" desert of homemade grappa macerated cherries…

My dad keeps his macho way by never being caught of guard with "canard confit" (homemade) in the fridge, never will you see him doing anything last minute, since he prefers, I suppose, the cocktail hour to entertain his guest than the "digestif".

Both are macho cooks though because they don't really mesure anything except their capacity to endure the stress, or thrill of cooking with a public. Let's make it clear that community cooking is, for both of them out of the question, regardless of their different means.

And so I find myself realizing that… my parent's macho cooking is what thought me how to put together a cake in a cabin in the country, drunk, at 2 in the morning, forcing a bunch of men to take turns into whipping the eggs white with a fork.

Now is that feminine or macho I ask you…

But I know my mom can drink my dad under the table anytime!

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