I’ve worked in many restaurants in my, albeit short, time in the public work force, but in that time I have had some wonderful opportunities. I have also been spoilt. It’s a bit of a comedown to have pasta for three days in a row after having lagonstinoes, fresh swordfish and prime cut steaks at my fingertips—and that I could have for lunch daily. (Actually, as employees we were not allowed to have the more expensive things very often, and I didn’t like the swordfish anyway.)
With so many raw ingredients available I wasn’t going to stick to the menu items for my lunch. I began to experiment. I’d add fried corn, onions and bacon to the leek soup; one of my favorites was to take the house-made raspberry vinaigrette and fry chopped bacon, onions and our own linguini, and then top it with shredded asiago cheese. I once made shrimp cocktail simply to see if I could make cocktail sauce; it wasn’t on the menu and I served it to the human resources manager with the hopes of him suggesting it to the chef.
The best thing was when the chef wanted new items. I had brought in my own bananas one day and made some banana bread just for the staff (I had a soft spot for the waiters and made them special food often), a few days later the chef asked for the recipe and featured my banana bread on the Sunday brunch menu. For the restaurant’s 100th anniversary (which was around Christmas) chef wanted to do a special menu and asked me to find a good coconut pie recipe. I went through all my cookbooks and found one, and then I tweaked it to my liking and served it to him. We ran that pie through the following spring; one of our customers liked it so much he bought a half of a pie and had us ship it to his home in California!
What’s the point of all these ramblings? There is none, I just want to reminisce.
Seriously though, with the opportunities that I’ve had I was able to learn how to cook by taste and smell. It’s like the way Remy cooks in the movie Ratatouille. I’ve also learned what certain foods taste like and what tastes go well with what.
So, now that we’re poor and have no food, I can cook what food we do have and make it taste good. I can take five or six basic things and pull together an interesting meal. A popular dinner is to take a few vegetables and some pasta and fry it all together with some pseudo-sauce. For instance, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar and oil make a half decent lemon vinaigrette; substitute sour cream and milk for the mustard and lemon juice and you come up with a tasty white sauce. I’ve also played with spices—as we have them. Coriander is a wonderful compliment to curry.
To wrap up, aside from the ego-trip that this turned out to be, I’ll say that just because you’re poor doesn’t mean that you have to eat a mundane rice casserole every day.