Men — feeling persecuted, stressed, frustrated, insecure, ego-battered, unloved and unappreciated? And that was just yesterday? I know the place to vent your suppressed hostility, or let your inner child run wild: the kitchen. Where else can you chop, cleave, core, crush, dice, grate, grind, mash, mince, peel, pound, pulverize, shake, shred or whip? Or later, bake, barbecue, baste, boil, braise, broil, caramelize, flame, fry, roast, sauté, sear and toast? And it’s legal.
The Food Network trumpets Iron Chef, “Get ready for the seaweed and giant eels to start flying!” A surprise ingredient is introduced per episode, then a challenger and the Iron Chef face off in a “frenetic culinary battle.” Very Japanese. Very male. Past episodic ingredients: octopus and liver. Flying liver?
This calls for an American culinary icon to entice men out of their funk and into the kitchen arena. Announcing Gonzo Chef — because real men cook. The web site wordsmith.org defines gonzo as “having a bizarre, subjective, idiosyncratic style.” Sounds like good guy descriptors to me. There is even a web site: gonzochefs.ca.
First, we need a point man, a searing leader. Short-order cooks, dessert, pastry or sous-chefs need not apply. Sorry Gordon Ramsay, you’re good, but you’re no Gonzo Chef. Besides, Gonzo Chefs don’t berate. Serrate, yes.
Send out a casting call for the hulking, simple, certitude of a Dwayne Johnson, spiced and diced with the irreverence of comic columnist, Dave Barry — sort of like The Walking Tall sheriff, in an apron.
Second, stock some Gonzo Chef essentials: broom, Band-Aids, dustpan, mop, paper towels (cooking is messy), apron (unless you weren’t planning on wearing those clothes again in public), goggles (for chopping onions), manual can opener (electric is for wimps), and timer (trust me on this one). If you favor grill marks and don’t have a grill, a blowtorch is optional.
Third, tools. Check out mealtime.com for the cutlery equivalent to Craftsman Tools. While there, select from stuff like shrimp deveiner, meat tenderizing mallet, garlic press, lobster and crab cracker, meat slicers and George Foreman Grills. For cheese aficionados, a cleaver for cheddar, hatchet for aged Gouda, and chainsaw for Parmigiano-Reggiano Parmesan. Makes me quiver just thinking about them.
Fourth, you’ll need a cookbook. My favorite is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Prefer something spicier? Check out Wild Women in the Kitchen, 101 Rambunctious Recipes and 99 Tasty Tales, or the Eat Dangerously cookbook, a guy’s unflinching devotion to the use of heavy cream, butter, rendered fat, salt, sugar, whole milk and The Heart Surgeon Full Employment Act.
One caveat with cookbooks: any dish with more than ten ingredients and ten steps, and the eyes glaze over. How to Cook Everything lists hundreds of 30-minutes-or-less recipes — my kind of cookbook.
Some cookbooks flaunt beautiful plates sculpted by food stylists and expensively photographed. Don’t bother. Gonzo Chef could care less about a “nice presentation” compliment. Besides, in a few minutes, that carefully crafted nice presentation will be traversing a very unattractive intestinal tract.
Certain terms will never be found in Gonzo Chef’s cookbook: diet-anything, lite, fat free, low calorie, decaf, skim milk, sugar free, sorbet, artificial, food dye or reconstituted. Gonzo Chef never serves apricots, Brussels sprouts, beets, couscous, hummus, lima beans, prunes, tofu, turnips and white zinfandel.
Finally, some clarifying cooking definitions are in order. Demi-glaze is not what they used to make Demi Moore look angelic in Ghost. (Demi is perfectly presentable without glaze.) Endive is not the final Olympic diving event. Cheesecloth is not a loincloth. Chickpeas are not chicken droppings. Julienne is not a girl’s name. To be clear, clarified butter is not easily explained. Pearl onions are tasty but have little value. Puff pastry is not rapper Puff Daddy’s favorite breakfast. French Press is not a wimpy reporter. Passion fruit is not an aphrodisiac. Skate is not how you made it through school. Stock is not that funny money bartered on Wall Street. Tongs — calm down, I said tongs, not thongs. Tart is not a female version of a tort. Grouse is not a complaint. Simmer is what you should do after the dinner’s ruined — then order pizza.
Complete these steps and you’re good to go. In your new life, you too may become an accomplished lemon zester or receive compliments like “nice dicing”. And when asked, “How was your Thanksgiving?” Your retort is, “It was best turkey I ever prepared.” The best ego-inflator of all: “May I have that recipe?”
Coming soon to the Food Network: Iron Chef versus Gonzo Chef. Bet your yen on Gonzo Chef.
Check out my web site: Keith Frohreich