BACK OF THE HOUSE: Random thoughts and dishes
Babies want the same foods over and over. Infants crave boundaries and sameness – a safety in which to flourish. It is the crazy parents who feel the need to inject variety.
I stare at the computer screen and feel I have absolutely nothing to write; the cursor pulsing to the rhythm of oblivion. Nothing. Nada. Writer’s block comes unannounced and without any grounded meaning. Of course, there must be something to write about, the world of food is vivid and rich, the characters in industry kitchens and the piracy ‘under the hood’ is a veritable treasure trove of stories. And yet I am empty, a feeling not lost on any person who creates dishes and provides food daily – let’s call it ‘cooking block’ for ease of transference and a sense of simpatico.
I spent the day asking my brigade what I should write about. They had difficulty with suggestions, too. Outside of the ridiculous (which is a favourite jumping off point for anyone who does this job for a living), I was left with nothing. I immediately reverted to my kitchen at home; my wife finishing a second early coffee and wondering what the heck she is going to send our three boys in their school lunches. Because it doesn’t end. And neither do the home meals. What should I make for the family for dinner, we had salmon on Monday, chicken on Tuesday, pasta on Wednesday ...
When our boys were just babes, Wendy was gripped with the same challenge. Tormented by how to bring variety to an infant’s diet, she would comb parent magazines, TV suggestions and on-line resources looking for a spark. This task felt insurmountable, a toddler meal-Grail quest destined for failure. Until her father, a pediatrician, came to the rescue with the very wise acumen that babies don’t crave variety. In fact, babies want the same thing over and over. Infants crave boundaries and sameness – a safety in which to flourish. It is the crazy parents who feel the need to inject variety. So this thought brings, at least, some solace to the feeling of relief in knowing what we had for dinner last night might just be as delicious tonight. It also eased the guilt and monotony of puréed lamb and vegetables, day in and day out.
As a professional chef, there are two approaches to the dilemma of not knowing at all what to cook. I can either default to something out of my repertoire, or the repertoire of classics which I have made familiar to myself, or I can look for something new. If I go the route of default, I will dole it out with a Gladwellian insistence that to be a true master of the craft, a cook must practice and experience the exact same cooking over and over: 10, 000 hours! How many chefs have quoted the inestimable Paul Bocuse by stating that: ‘One does not know how to cook a chicken until they have cooked 200 birds’?
If I go for something new, I try to ratchet off the pressure of certainty and, instead, pursue crazy and floating strings of ideas, hoping to land with something tasty. Perhaps I will pile together random words: a country I hope to visit, my favourite colour, a pastime. I will couple this stream of consciousness with what is in season, and what grows together. If I need a buttress, I will pull on my background in French classics. And, hopefully, voilá: something new. If not, what we had last night sure was tasty!
Ross Midgley moved from P.E.I. to Niagara in 1999. Since then he has held the lead position in several of the region’s top kitchens. He is passionate about his family, all things Niagara and good rock ’n’ roll. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.