I live with a chef.
This revelation is met with a template reaction. There’s usually a slightly uplifted chin, a sudden opening of the eyes, and a broadening of the smile. I wait to see which response I’ll get:
“Oh, so you must eat really well!”
“You know all about that fancy food.”
“Really? Now, let me ask you, every time I make…”
“I love Cooking TV! Do you ever watch Bigshot Chef?”
I could cut them off, answering, “No, not really,” “I guess you’d call it fancy,” “I’m not the chef,” or just “No.” But I find it’s better to engage people, let them ask their questions or express their enthusiasm, before puncturing their illusions.
Because, in fact, I don’t eat really well. Not normally. Normally, that food expert I live with isn’t even home when I eat. Where is she? At work, of course! Just a little bit of reflection will reveal that at dinnertime, it’s physically impossible for a chef to be at a restaurant feeding guests and also at home feeding her family. Result: the chef’s family eats like any other family in America. Chefs’ spouses also have to work, so we play the same mid-week “What’s left in the refrigerator?” game that you do.
Ok, yes, we probably do have more interesting ingredients and better leftovers than you do. But simply living with a chef does not magically give one the ability to create a well-balanced mole sauce or tender pork chops. In fact, when I do my evening’s refrigerator search, I often have to look past a gauntlet of unlabeled, odd-looking sauces that were deposited there late one night without any explanation, while the person who could offer that explanation is, naturally, at work. More often than you’d guess, I end up closing the refrigerator door and making myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner.
Oh, and let me tell you, the garbage-night fridge-cleaning routine is very frustrating when you don’t know if that goopy liquid behind the pickles is way past edible, or simply a scoby awaiting the next batch of kombucha. And of course, you can’t ask the person who put it there, because—say it with me, now—she’s at work.
But yes, I will acknowledge I occasionally get to live the dream. I’ve received free invitations to black-tie galas and backyard picnics featuring an entire lamb roasted on a spit. I’ve eaten at nationally and internationally-known restaurants, and have access to a certified wine expert who can order the most amazing sparkling pinot you’ve never heard of. I seldom eat at a local high-end restaurant without receiving tableside visits from the chef and at least one extra course sent out gratis. And yes, when my chef is at home, and does have the time and motivation to cook, I do, definitely, eat better than you.
On an average day, though, there’s no need to be jealous of my dinner. Unless it’s for the fabulous homemade jam I’m spreading on my sandwich. That would be the jam canned by yours truly, while Chef was at work.
Alison Leininger, a freelance writer and former French teacher, is yet another Damn Yankee from Ohio, who has eaten her way from the Midwest to Charlotte by way of France and the Gulf Coast. You can read her ramblings about food on her blog Amuse Bouche, and her ramblings about everything else on her original blog Flartopia.