Marblehead resident Linda Bassett has worked as a cook, trained up-and-coming chefs, studied food history and led food tours. Her book, “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” is about local cooks and cooking.
Recently, I found a recipe for a toasted cheese sandwich spread over two pages of a highly regarded food publication. Really? Satire? Poking fun at new cooks? Culinary snobbery? Every American has grown up watching their mom make a toasted cheese sandwich.
For my part, I’d rather know the secrets of The Landing’s feather-light tempura fried green beans. Or how The Beacon gets lemon chicken to taste so knock-out lemon-y. I’d like to peek into The Three Cod’s and The Barnicle’s kitchens to see how they keep baked fish flaky. Or how Maria’s muffins consistently crown so high? Or what flavors go on the steak frites at Five Corners Kitchen?
Not that I’m going to run home to cook any of them. I reserve my right to make reservations and enjoy favorites on their home turf.
Marbleheaders like to dine out, but there’s something to be said for peeking behind the curtain. We like our favorite fare, eating or watching, but with a conscience. We are not a town that tortures chefs into dreaming up wild techniques for stewing moose brains or tweezing flower petals onto dabs of olive oil. We don’t approve of the inhumane practices of employing stagiares (unpaid interns) or dishwashers working for untenably low wages.
For centuries, not much was expected of underpaid kitchen help. When George Washington — yes, the president! — advertised for a cook back in the day, his only requirement was sobriety.
Times change. Many chefs are under tremendous pressure to do it all — fast. So fast they skip the basics. I once worked with a chef who climbed the ladder so quickly that he’d never scrambled an egg. When the breakfast cook called out sick, chaos prevailed!
At least it wasn’t like the kitchen in “The Menu.” This film (too self-important to be called a movie) has been sold as a satire. A group of food hipsters — wealthy patrons, celebrities, finance bros, critics — pay a ridiculous ticket price to be whisked to a private island for the ultimate dining experience. The event turns, instead, into a horror flick. Slashers, crashers, blood and guts. No one has any fun. Or (spoiler alert) gets out alive.
Contrast that with the cult film “Big Night,” lovingly streamed and copied by food professionals. Two brothers, one played by Stanley Tucci, attempt to bring authentic Italian food to a neighborhood that craves glitz. The movie’s main meal is delicious to watch.
More recently, “Burnt,” with Bradley Cooper, turns the spotlight on a tortured chef who rose too high, too fast, crashing and burning as he reached for that third Michelin star. This is a love story of finding a better way with the help from some friends.
In both films, the sun rises, literally, on preparing a simple dish of eggs. Two brothers in one and two rival chefs in the second, vast empty kitchens in both. Barely dialogued, life-affirming scenes.
Just a note here: Julia Child introduced herself by cooking an omelet on public television.
A BASIC ROLLED OMELET
Omelets are made individually, two to three eggs each. They take a little practice. The first one invariably tears. Don’t throw it out. Just roll it over until the torn side faces downward.
Use a non-stick pan and a heat-resistant spatula.
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon water
- Salt, pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons shredded Swiss or cheddar cheese, or chopped fresh herbs, e.g. chives, flat chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Crack eggs into a bowl with tablespoon of water, herbs, salt and pepper. Whisk together until well blended, even slightly bubbly.
- Heat the pan over medium-high heat. Add butter; lower the heat to medium. When the butter foams, tip the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. (Don’t let the butter brown.)
- When the foam subsides, pour eggs into the pan. Swirl while stirring the center gently. When the eggs look softly scrambled in the center, run the spatula around the edges, lifting them to let the runny center portion slide underneath. Shake the pan gently to keep eggs from sticking.
- Sprinkle the cheese or herbs (or both) across one half.
- Use the spatula to push the eggs over until a third is covered with the other third. Tip the pan, pushing the eggs toward the edge. Push again to roll over the rest of the way, sliding the eggs onto a plate by tipping the pan. The seam will be on the bottom.