Kent made dinner for me last Friday night, which was kind of a big deal because he totally does not know how to cook, not even a little eensy bit. Or at least, not beyond omelets and burgers. (Which he has never cooked at the same time, in case you just threw up a little thinking about the last time he may have cooked dinner.) But as part of the Columbia MBA program, Kent has been attending mandatory interviewing-networking-wanky-schmoozy events, and came home convinced that he needed “one to three very specific hobbies and/or interests,” after being told exactly that by the interviewing-networking-wanky-schmoozy chairpeople. And my husband, raised on chicken covered in cream of mushroom soup and weaned on New York take-out, decided that his “very specific hobby/interest” would be French cooking.
Not just cooking, not even dining (because frankly, eating the French cooking of others seems like a highly specific and enjoyable hobby), but French cooking. “Sweetie,” I asked gently, “What if someone asks you about French food?”
He shook his head. “No, it’s fine. I’ll tell them I’m learning to cook French food. Learning to cook is different from being a gourmet chef. Trust me, it’s fine.”
I nodded and agreed that learning to cook was different from being a gourmet chef. “Okay, you’re right. But maybe - maybe - you’d like to actually learn how to cook?”
Kent had already thought of that. “I don’t have to go crazy or anything; I’ll make a few things from your cookbooks, and then I can tell people I’m a beginner and that I am learning all about French cooking. It’s perfect.”
“What’s ‘braising’?” I asked him.
“Braising. What does it mean?” I asked again.
Kent was getting annoyed with me. “I don’t know, it’s like a sauce or something, I guess.”
“Baby,” I told my husband, “I think it’s great that you want to put cooking on your resume. But you need to let me teach you a few things. It will be fun, I promise.”
Over the snorting and hysterical laughter, I did manage to make out Kent saying, “There is no fucking way! That you teaching! Me! To cook! Is going to end! WELL!! BWAHBWAHHHAAAAAA!!!!!” Something about “control freak,” “huge fight,” and “broken wine glasses” followed, but I had already turned and left the room.
“Fine,” I called back to him. “Good luck with that.”
But before too long, Kent had sat down with the Balthazar cookbook (which was my first anniversary gift to him, earlier this year, as Balthazar is his favorite restaurant and the first anniversary is “Paper”) and was flipping seriously from page to page. Finally he set the book down and said, “Friday night, I’m going to make you dinner. A French dinner, from scratch, from this cookbook.”
So he picked a dish from the cookbook and read the ingredients to me. I started to tell him the process: first you make a roux, then add cream, etc, etc. Kent interrupted me. “What did you just say?”
“Um…first you make the roux, then you add…”
“Roo?” Kent interrupted me. “ROO?” I started again, explaining the basic butter-and-flour foundation for a sauce, but was soon waved off by Kent again. “Never mind, I’m going to do this by myself, without your help, and it’s going to be great.”
Then, thirty seconds later, “Roux!” he called out, surprised. “ROUX! That’s what you said! That word is in here! And you knew it…?” Staying out of it, I sipped wine and wished for sushi.
Kent proved me wrong, though. On Friday night I came home from work and found him already working in the kitchen. And I let him have the kitchen to himself while I puttered around in sweat pants and watched the baseball game. Only when specifically called for did I even venture into the kitchen (And when I did, I turned a big, fat blind eye to the mess that was EVERYWHERE. I bit my tongue like a good wife and said nothing, knowing that my feelings on messes in the kitchen have been made quite clear in the past and only if he was hankering for one fat fight would he leave the kitchen a mess), one of those times being to witness what Kent feared was a failed roux. He was standing dejectedly at the stovetop, saucepan in hand. “I’m guessing that’s not what it’s supposed to look like,” he said, pointing towards the thick paste in the pan. Don’t worry, I told him, it will come back. Just be patient and for the love of god, don’t put down the wisk!
A lumpy roux can be saved and a husband can surprise his bride. Because just over an hour later, a lovely and bubbly casserole emerged from the oven, and when I went to admire it, I found not a dish in the sink nor a dirty pot on the counter. At that point, I almost cried with joy and relief. Kent was proudly dishing me a cheesy, yummy portion of his casserole, and in my euphoria over the clean kitchen, I heard him saying “…and it was like magic!”
“What did you say, baby?”
He glowed, “I had this lumpy crap, then I added milk and cream and seasonings and all the other stuff, and then all of a sudden…it was sauce! SAUCE! And it tasted GOOD!” He took our plates and headed for the living room (living room, not dining room, because we are taking B-A-B-Y steps here, and there was a baseball game on television), and said, “I really have a new respect for chefs now.”
I told him I thought that was great. I told him he did a great job. I told him it’s important to me that he appreciates the effort I put into cooking and food, and that I want us to share an interest in those things. I told him over and over again how delicious his dinner was.
“You know,” he said to me a few minutes after we’d finished eating, “I’m glad I made this, but really…we could have just out to dinner instead.”
Baby steps indeed. In the meantime, I’ll be at Balthazar.