Losing Touch

“He REALLY loves the meat”. One snickers, the other one makes motions indicating his sucking on something long and stiff. That’s why I dislike foodies. I am standing at a booth at the local cooking and restaurant fair, trying hard to ignore the gawking masses, preparing a 26 lbs brisket for its cure. I didn't consciously notice it until then, but yes, my left hand is gliding over the side, feeling the muscle, learning its ways, and telling my right hand where to cut and where to pass.

It looks loving because it is. Lots has been written about respect, and love, and honor, when it comes to cooking. But those are words. Easily abused, easily faked, easily forgotten. This is more, it’s my work. It’s my zen, my conversation with the animal and its offerings. I can spot a fake chef on TV in seconds by how she or he handles their product, long before the awkward cutting motions or weird preparation give it away.

I thought about this “incident” today. There’s a brisket on my counter, ready to be smoked, and I catch myself stroking over it. It’s not theatrics, there’s no one watching, and it serves a very real purpose, one that saved my bacon (well, brisket, if you pardon the pun) more than once and did so today again.

Between two layers of fat I find the cook’s biggest enemy. Today’s butchering is mostly industrial, saws and water cutters, high velocity streams of ice cold water that cut through muscle like a hot knife through butter. But some is still done on table saws and with knifes – and those pieces are liable to catch a bone splinter or two in the process. Most are washed off or easily detected, but some hide. Like this one.

Losing touch with one’s food isn't just a sad case of losing part of one’s life and identity – it’s something we cooks can not afford. So, yes, it’s love, but it also, as much, is the knowledge that we can be betrayed by our product at any time. Sometimes a tender touch does more to ensure a working partnership than a firm grip.