Sunday, April 25, 2010

Remember That One Time When I Taught a Cooking Class?

As William Bell, and then Otis Redding, The Byrds, Taj Mahal, Peter Tosh, Brian Eno and The Mother Hips, once sang: You Don't Miss Your Water Till Your Well Runs Dry.

Those boys were waxing metaphorical about a lady. I'm just talking about my oven.

I don't even know how often I used my oven at home, but now that I don't have one, it seems every amazing-sounding recipe I stumble upon, every comforting dish that I crave, requires one. I have never been much of a dessert baker, but the one thing I consistently preheated for was my all-time favorite oatmeal chocolate chip pecan cookies. I would often stir up a big batch, roll the dough into logs, freeze them, and slice and bake fresh cookies when the mood struck. You can keep a man with this recipe. A hot one. Who plays Scrabble.

So, when I was invited to teach a cooking class to a group of Japanese people, one of the first things I asked was "Will there be an oven?"

The cookies were an obvious choice, but deciding the rest of the menu was trickier. Suddenly, I lost all of my cooking confidence. First it was my fault: What if my recipes suck and they chase me out of Kanazawa waving dry, flavorless chicken legs? Then it was their fault: What if my delicious recipes don't appeal to their mild, Japanese palates and they chase me out of Kanazawa waving torch shaped hunks of wonderfully stinky blue cheese?

I wanted to present dishes I've made many times, that have an Americana quality, that are easy to make and don't require too many exotic ingredients. Finally, I settled on a menu: seared pork chops stuffed with garlicky spinach and blue cheese & roasted garlic, yogurt and scallion mashed potatoes. We'd have French bread and butter to nibble and the cookies with tea for dessert.

The cooking class was held in a community center in Nagamachi, Kanazawa's old, preserved samurai district, and I was completely blown away by the massive kitchen. It was equipped with half a dozen cooking stations, each boasting a gas range, digital oven, a sink and plenty of counter space. My current home kitchen is the size of a coffin and moonlights as a hallway, a place to store my shoes, a laundry room, a body waxing station (what?) and contains approximately zero counters.
As we got cooking, I realized I was in a bit of a delicate situation. I had to instruct a group of mostly older, experienced, home cooks who, for the most part, don't speak my language. When I caught the sole gentleman in the group violently stabbing the already mashed potatoes with a wooden spoon, I gently told him that they were done. He didn't understand, and with a sweet smile on his face, continued to maniacally assault the mash. I tried again. And again. Nothing could stop him from his hateful stirring. Jesus! Did his wife leave him for a potato? Was he having a french fry flashback? Pound pound pound! Finally, I did what many Japanese have done to me, a gesture I absolutely abhor: I crossed my index fingers into an X and held them in front of my face. He immediately released the spoon. "Finished?" he asked. "Finished." I answered.

Our crew worked together to crank out the dishes, and before long we were sitting on low stools, ready to eat, watching the blue cheese happily ooze from it's porky caves. I felt nervous again. Is the pork gonna be dry? Why didn't I make a vegetable side dish? Am I only contributing to the stereotype that Americans only like meat and potatoes? But, soon enough, I heard the familiar chorus of "oishi!" and relaxed into my lunch.

The abused potatoes survived their attacker, most definitely lump free and tangy with yogurt, and the cookies were just as they should be: crisp on the outside and soft and gooey inside, with the occasional crunch of a nut.

Perhaps my current state of singledom can be single-handedly blamed on my lack of chocolate chip oatmeal pecan cookie production. Yes, that must be it. Seeking: hot, Scrabble loving, man with oven. I'll bring the cookie dough.

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