Its here! A large bruised box with a Boston Harbor postmark that's cold to the touch. Stickers that exclaim, Perishable. Inside the box, a few layers of cold, aluminum-looking insulation cover an arms full of tangled seaweed and beneath that, two smallish lobsters. Its 85 degrees and sunny outside, and I am in Dunedin, Fla., for the holidays. Here, receiving lobster from family in New England is one of our traditions along with a steady diet of rib-poking sarcasm, political debate, and an unorthodox lottery system to decide who buys who gifts.
But theres one more understated annual occurrence. Im in the kitchen.
If youre a chef, you understand exactly what Im talking about.
Its one part obligation to your family. One part obligation to your craft. A dash of showing off, and lets be honest, one sprinkle of trying to keep your various relatives from fucking up dinner.
Its an odd dance for my type-A, slightly narcissistic self.
I cant just take over the kitchen. Thats grandmothers job, I mean, title. Shes a bit more of a Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden at this point in her cooking career. She gets the credit, though, and gives one hell of a press conference. Honestly, I dont really want the position. Too much pressure replacing a legend.
So, instead, I taste and poke and supervise.
Making sure that my cousin doesnt cut her hand off while chopping rutabaga with a way-too-large knife, on a wobbly, ceramic cutting board, without having squared the vegetable off to steady the hazard. The knives are Ginsus, by the way. And grandmother is telling me how these treasures are passed down from Samurai. Im nodding like any wizards apprentice worth his eye of newt would.
And Ill suggest some grilling tips for the rib roast that we brought over that's now in the hands of our uncle, the resident grill master. Of course, having the whole roast engulfed in flames is not bad, its very much like a Korean barbecue, I tell him. In my head, I know we almost lost half a cow there, and that smell of burning hair has got to be his.
I think its your turn to slice the bird, my other uncle jests.
For the record, its been my turn to carve for four years in a row. And this year, I brought an electric knife. I like precision and technology. But all of a sudden, my normally quiet aunt is taunting me. Shes over my shoulder expressing how surprised she is that a real chef would use an electric slicer. Im a wiseass myself, so this is somewhat heartwarming. Shes really letting me have it, but shes from Canada, and theres ice wine in play, so I wont charge the hill.
When no one's looking, I shower some salt here, hot sauce there. When the Gators score a touchdown, its my time to sneak in a few shakes of vinegar, and discretely emulsify the beef drippings into the sauce. My wife would not approve of this it's not healthy.
Im on a covert mission each year. Just being the players' coach and making sure, in very subtle ways, that our meal is as good as the time we have.
But as Im reading this, I realize its me whose goose is getting cooked. I think Im the one being outsmarted here. Everyone pretends to look the other way and be nice. But its just like the saying: There can only be one chef in the kitchen.
Team Little Tart
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