Twice a month, when my daughter, Ella, spends the weekend with me, my apartment turns into a cooking school. Ella is thirteen and started to make cookies and scones a few years ago. She moved on to tarts, fresh tagliatelle, and, lately, croissants. Early on Saturdays, before heading to our local green market, we have impassioned conversations about her dinner plans. Pork adobo with citrus and coriander, she asks me, or red lentils simmered Ethiopian-style, with fresh tomatoes and berbere? And then she’s sure to ask if she can bake. I’m already thinking of the scabs of flour I’ll be scraping off my counter on Monday morning, and of how much pâtisserie I’ll have consumed, but I give in. I love watching the skill and authority of her fingers in a bowl of flour, eggs, butter, and chocolate; her intensity as she pipes ganache from a pastry bag or dusts éclairs with finely ground pistachios.
When she’s not cooking, she often watches shows like “Chef’s Table,” the sumptuously produced Netflix series featuring sombre, admiring portraits of culinary stars. With painterly cinematography and introspective voice-overs, “Chef’s Table” pays professional cooks the kind of homage once reserved for artists. Most of the dishes are impossible to replicate in a home kitchen—who has the time to make Enrique Olvera’s thousand-day mole, or even find all the ingredients?—but Ella doesn’t watch the show for recipes. She watches it for the spectacle of mastery, much as other teens hang out on YouTube watching Lionel Messi’s greatest goals or Yuja Wang playing “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
The show’s self-serious musings on the mysteries of food make me cringe a bit, but I was once fluent in that idiom. From the time I was nine until well into my teens, I was determined to be a chef. I ran a catering business out of my parents’ house, in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and did apprenticeships with notable chefs. So when I watch “Chef’s Table” I can’t help experiencing the slight pang you get from seeing someone living the life you chose not to live. Could I have been a contender? When I was cooking, food was everything to me; I haven’t known as consuming a passion since. The kitchen is where I learned the only foreign language I speak: brunoise, pâte feuilletée, and demi-glace were among the first French words I knew, and they retain an incantatory power.
体育投注平台I started to cook after my friends—at least, I thought they were friends—began to bully me for being overweight and Jewish. Pudgy was my nickname, and as they threw change at me in the hall I learned that to be a Jew was to love money. I punched one boy in the neck when he called me a dirty Jew, and felt very pleased as he fell to the ground. But the problem of my weight couldn’t be handled by vigilante justice. I wasn’t ashamed to be Jewish, but I was embarrassed to be plump. While vacationing at the Jersey shore with my family, I began to hide food, furtively removing items from my plate and placing them in a napkin. I would bury much of my dinner in the sand outside the house my parents had rented. I counted calories, and spent hours appraising myself in the mirror, measuring my progress.
This wasn’t much fun. For one thing, I was depriving myself of the pleasures of my mother’s cooking. Some families are brought together by faith; we were brought together by food. By secretly not eating, I was isolating myself. As I grew thinner, I felt both proud and terribly lonely. Toward the end of the summer, my parents became aware that I wasn’t myself; in photos from that time I look gaunt and unhealthy. When we returned home from the shore, my parents took me to a child psychologist, Sidney Hyman.
体育投注平台Dr. Hyman was in his late fifties, wore a bow tie, and liked to crack silly jokes. He didn’t ask many questions, but I remember playing a lot of board games with him. I’d become very serious, and I think he wanted me to rediscover what it was like to have fun. Trying to have fun is what started me cooking. I opened a cupboard, found some chocolate—I’d hardly touched any since becoming obsessed with my weight—and decided to make what I called fudge. I put the chocolate in a plastic container and placed it in the toaster oven. The container melted a bit, but the warm, liquefied chocolate was delicious, and the fact that I’d melted it myself was exciting: I had transformed something.
The next thing I made was a simple chocolate cake. It came out well, and I even treated myself to a slice, although I was still carefully counting calories. Before long, I was spending all my free time in the kitchen. I worked my way up to more elaborate confections, like dacquoise, a hazelnut meringue layered with buttercream frosting, and then to making savory dishes. I especially liked sauces, which, in their textural variety—thick or thin, translucent or cloudy, syrupy or velvety—taught me the subtle poetry of haute cuisine. I became fascinated by emulsions, the mixing of liquids that happens in fancy sauces like beurre blanc and hollandaise but also in the simplest vinaigrette. I pored over my mother’s cookbooks and magazines, reading about the great chefs who had defined what it meant to cook seriously. On weekends, friends would come over to sample new dishes. I became a connoisseur of local food shops and butchers. I ordered magret de canard体育投注平台 from a supplier in the Hudson Valley. Each month, I would prepare a dinner for my family, which I would “advertise” a few weeks in advance by tucking a menu under my mother’s pillow.
When I was eleven, I launched a catering company, Adam’s Edibles, leaving xeroxed copies of a handwritten menu outside our neighbors’ doors. I started with desserts and pastries, but a year later I expanded my repertoire: