By Pat Larsen
For Capital Region Independent Media
I came from a large family of female cooks starting with my grandma, mom and aunties, who whipped up magic in the kitchen every day back in the 1950s.
From the simplest of stews made with vegetables and beef bones to Sunday’s pot of sauce and meatballs, we ate like kings, or at least thought we did. Food was life and life was made up of the LOVE that came from the pots and pans on the gas stove in the tiny kitchen back in Brooklyn.
No better building blocks than these for creating an education for future cooks and my sisters and I took full advantage of the days when we were invited to participate in learning how it was all done.
As a matter of fact, I really never thought of myself as a cook. It’s just what was done. As each new day blended into a new season and then a holiday before a year ended, the act of preparing food was as natural as keeping the house tidy and putting a load of laundry on the line to dry.
How did I know each of these experiences would eventually add up to the woman I am now and give me a true sense of purpose for being a part of the family dynamic?
There’s a light-hearted tale often retold in my household that my husband gained 50 pounds the first year we were married due to my cooking. Well, not exactly in relation to my cooking but in fact due to the amount of food I cooked for each meal for the two of us.
Apparently, the proportions of food prepared were different for the 12 that sat at my parents’ table. How was I supposed to know that math was involved in creating a smaller version of a chicken dish? Two roasters is what I knew to prepare and so I did. Of course, my husband was being kind and indulged me by eating one bird by himself so as not to insult my level of expertise. Geez, the money we could’ve saved back then.
Here’s where things got interesting. Apparently, other households, i.e, his family of six, didn’t make a crazy amount of food and once the large family plate hit the dining room table it was every man, woman and child for themselves until the plates were clean. If you were late to dinner, apparently Saltines would have to suffice if you could sneak them out of the kitchen before getting caught. Thank goodness lateness wasn’t a federal crime.
Fast forward to years later into my marriage, I recalled my husband taking an interest in cooking. My response was often, “Run along, I got this.” No one in my family let the men cook. There were just too many qualified ladies already taking that job and doing it amazingly well.
Let’s see if I can recall the exact order it always went in.
Sunday was sauce and pasta day. Monday involved chicken soup; Tuesday was a delicacy, often an organ meat like tripe; Wednesday we sat down to pasta and beans. I forget Thursdays, but Fridays whether it was Lent or not was fish fry from the fresh catch. Saturday was almost always freshly made pizza. And there you have it — my life and times with food growing up.
Here we were in the mid ‘90s and my husband inquired of me, gently approaching the possibility and oh so respectfully requesting that he make dinner.
When I got up off of the floor, I responded pretty directly with, “What do you want to cook?” (the implication being, “have I failed you?”, “did I miss making your favorite on your birthday?”). Neither was the case.
He had begun watching a cooking show on PBS and saw men cooking up some pretty interesting things that he wanted to try.
CUE DRUM ROLL HERE… “What do you want to make,” I replied.
Are you sitting down? I don’t want to be responsible for any shocking results here.
He wanted to try making “pad Thai” for dinner for us.
CUE WIDE EYED STUNNED SILENCE from me…
What else could I say? “No” was not on the list of choices that I was reading in his face. More like step aside honey, there’s a new chief cook and bottle washer in town.
That was the beginning of what is now what we lovingly call “Guy in the Kitchen.” Breaking through stereotype barriers and serving up international cuisine became his specialties. He’s great at it.
He even shops for stuff like lemongrass and banana leaves to wrap his pork specialties in. (My grandma must be rolling…with laughter I bet!).
Who knew this was even a possibility. Give a guy a wooden spoon and let him loose and see what happens in your kitchen.
P.S. Chris’s middle name happens to be GUY hence the title of the column.
He loves having me be his food stylist for his beautifully crafted meals that we showcase on social media. I’m the envy of all 80 on my friends list.
Check his work out on my Facebook page under Pat Larsen. I give him full credit.
Pat and Chef Chris live in Greene County, NY, with their two adoring pups. Pat teaches fitness classes and wellness programs for Baby Boomers and seniors. Contact Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text at 518-275-8686. Bon appétit.