Hey, if you are going to be snobbish about it, forget adding me to your list of fans. Daniel Humm, executive chef of Eleven Madison Park in New York says that people who do not have a certain “level of skill” should relegate his new cookbook to the coffee table rather than near their cook top. According to a short article in the National Post, he says that the recipes in his book require (besides skill) a “significant time commitment, a reasonably equipped kitchen, and a healthy dose of persistence”. So I assume making a meal in fifteen minutes is not a significant time commitment, and the attention span of a baby rabbit and the skill set of an impatient “get in on the table so we can chow down kind of cook” are not the proper credentials needed to cook from “Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook”.
Well, Monsieur Humm, methinks your cookbook is not for me. Actually, that is not altogether true—as I treat reading cook books as kind of a hobby. I love to read about food, about exotic ingredients combined in unusual ways to create magnificence, all the while stirring 1% milk into my macaroni and cheese and warming up meatballs from the frozen section of the grocery store.
I have long made fun of my skills as a cook, and I have a friend who calls me on it, saying that she thinks I use my “phantom lack of skills” to ward off any criticism of my cooking. And she is right. I am not a bad cook—my family is not starving, and I can be creative in my own right—but I am not a particularly confident cook. I attended a small get together on Saturday night—a casual dinner party, and having volunteered to bring dessert, I had visions of all kinds of delectables I could make and offer to my friends. I usually volunteer to make the salad, but in my new quest to “take risks” I offered to bring the finale to the dinner instead.
I told my sister of this unusual offer to make dessert and she promptly emailed me an easy and foolproof recipe for dessert that she was sure would be a hit. She is aware of my skills, so sent something that had very few ingredients, and even fewer steps. I think that part of my problem is that I am a languid (synonym for lazy) cook, as well as a little unsure when it comes to feeding anyone outside my family (which includes my siblings and nieces and nephews, who are kind about my efforts).
I was determined to try the recipe. I made a list of the ingredients and was all set to buy them and “compose” a homemade dessert. Then I got cold feet. I perused the bakery section of a local grocery store and found a sinful dessert that would be sure to please. I considered buying the caramel chocolate mousse cake and putting it on a plate from home to “make it seem” as if I had baked it. But then, I decided on two things: I should practice baking before I tried the recipe on my friends, even though I knew my sister would not steer me wrong; and, to be honest. I presented the cake unapologetically in its original packaging. These were good friends—they would understand. And they did. But they did not know the angst that went into “buying” dessert.
I never judge when people bring “prepared” food to a potluck, as I understand their trepidation. I suffer from it too. To those of you out there who either do not care what people think about your cooking (good for you) or are such good cooks that you have great confidence from years of success, I honour your commitment to “homemade” and enjoy it immensely. There is also a faction out there who is unabashedly unapologetic—as they should be. They bring offerings that may not be “from their hands but still from their hearts” and I honour you too. We are all talented in different ways and being made to feel guilty because you do not make your offerings from scratch is just not hospitable.
So, this holiday season, as we all venture out to our potlucks, go with what makes your season bright and not stressful. If “homemade” is not your forte, that is what grocery stores and specialty shops are for. Some of us will reject Chef Humm’s cookbook except as a form of light reading, and others will relish it as an instruction manual that will garner rewards, which the Chef says is possible, if you follow the recipes “exactly”. By the way, I am going to try my sister’s recipe and report back—just not under the pressure of producing a grand ending to a great meal.