Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cooking with Your Heart

We had another “big brother” moment two weeks ago when Netflix sent us a movie that we had never ordered. It seems that our queue had run out, so the company just chose a movie for us that matched what it considered to be our profile. That profile seems to involve indie movies with a comic or black comic edge. Not a bad call. In this case, we were sent a movie called “Today’s Special,” a comic look at families and restaurant dynamics. The star is Aasif Mandvi—one of the sardonic commentators on “The Daily Show”— who, this time, plays an Indian-American chef who has plans to go to Paris to study French cooking but ends up running his father’s rundown Tandoori Palace in Jackson Heights, Queens, instead.

Mandvi’s character is a chef who cooks using only his mind. That’s why he is passed over for a promotion and why he is fleeing to Paris. When circumstances force him to stay in Queens, he comes in contact with an unlikely mentor who explains that true cooking requires using your mind, your heart, your stomach, “and sometimes a place lower down.”  I will not destroy the plot any further for those who might have the movie in their queue, other than to say that an important part of the message of the movie is revealed when the mentor posts a sign in the restaurant window announcing Today’s Special as “Trust me.”   

I decided for a “trust me” cooking moment at a Chanukah party we hosted for close friends and family last week. My job was to make the latkes. I narrowed my recipe choices down to two: (1) traditional – grated potatoes, onion, egg, matzoh meal, lots of oil; or (2) calico—traditional with the addition of grated carrots and chopped scallions. I leaned toward choice 2, in part because the picture of the brown latkes with streaks of orange and green looked appealing and in part because I thought trying something different would be—er, different.

When I mentioned my idea to my mother, she did her best Queen Victoria imitation and was “not amused.”  “That sounds terrible,” she proclaimed. “Why would you do that to your company?” She would probably have felt even more justification for her negative opinion if she knew that located on the same page in Food.com where the calico latkes recipe was printed was one for “healthy shrimp jambalaya.”

Nevertheless, defying Jewish tradition, both in choice of recipe and in deciding not to listen to my mother, I proceeded to go ahead with my original plan. And it must have been a success. My potato, onion, egg, carrot, and scallion mixture filled a very large bowl, and I made more latkes that I figured our party could possibly eat. By meal’s end, however, nearly all of them were gone. Now, this is not necessarily the sign of a great latke recipe. In my experience, the number of latkes eaten by a group of people, and Jewish people in particular, is nearly always equal to the number of pancakes that emerge—warm, crispy, and glowing with oil—from almost any frying pan. But I did receive an email from our friends’ daughter proclaiming that the carrot-and-scallion latkes were excellent. Proof enough for me!

Just as in the movie Netflix chose for us, children—whether they be Indian, Jewish, or New England WASPs—all want to plant a sign in front of their parents that says, “Trust me.” At no time is that trust more necessary than when you choose to doctor up a traditional holiday dish with non-traditional ingredients. But even I don’t trust that there can really be something called “healthy shrimp jambalaya.” 

1 comment:

  1. The Netflix algorithm strikes again. We also saw and enjoyed “Today’s Special” courtesy of Netflix. Our membership is on hold as we now have Comcast with HBO, FLIX, Showtime, Sundance and Encore. Most of TV is not worth watching, but with that many choices, I have recoded movies to keep us busy for some time.

    “Trust me” is probably good advice, especially in self talk. But not from investment advisors named Bernie.