About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Private Chefdom - Part 4: Rules, Rules, and more Rules


Part 4 of a 9-part series

Having taken the job, I began recalling some of the many oddities and familial strangeness from the night of my audition dinner.  I wondered if things at that household could have really been that screwy.  Even if they had been, I argued back to myself, probably it was just a fluke, an aberration of circumstances because of the audition, having a stranger romping around their house and such.  I mean, these folks were obviously intelligent, successful and wealthy.  They must be OK right?  How weird could they be?
That was a question whose answer I never fully learned, but I did get glimpses of the whole.  During the time I worked for the Quires I found myself growing more and more amazed that a couple so obviously messed-up could become so successful.  A tribute to this country’s systems I think, or perhaps, it was that their personal forms of imbalance just happened to mesh with their chosen career paths. 
At any rate, I soon came to realize that the Quire’s ran their house like a boot camp for dysfunctionalism where I, and the rest of the staff, were the raw recruits, there to be broken, shaped and molded into something smaller.  If there was a Drill Sergeant at this boot camp it was certainly The Wife.  While the rest of The Family had each their role in the chain of command (Mr. Quire the General, the daughters the lieutenants), it was she who  had the primary contact with the troops and was tasked with the training.  Her training tool of choice?  The Rule Book.
The was no actual, written rule book.  That would have made things too easy, of course.  The Rule book was in Mrs. Quire’s head and she had the freedom (and inclination) to change the rules at will or whim.  Woe be it to he who was not up to date on the rules.  For me, quite naturally, the rules governed everything to do with the kitchen and food. 
One set of rules covered the use of pots, pans, utensils, and equipment and dictated which should be used for what applications, and in what manner.  Mrs Quire was obsessive about cleanliness and order so there were lots of rules about that too.  All of the lovely copper pots and pans hanging from the big rack in the middle of the room had to be arranged “just-so” in order of size and by type.  Each had to be facing the same direction, at the same angle.  If any pot was used, even for boiling water, it had to be put through an incredibly thorough and  time-consuming cleaning and polishing regime.  
I’ve already mentioned one of the Cutting Board Rules, another had to do with Potato Pancakes. Potato Pancakes were one of the Quires' favorite foods and they often wanted them in accompaniment to just about any entrée.  I made a pretty good Potato Pancake, but Mrs. Quire had her way she wanted them made.  She went as far as to come into the kitchen one afternoon and walk me through her whole process and recipe.  Who was I to argue?  They were the ones paying the big bucks so even if I couldn’t tell any difference in the end result, I followed her recipe.
One Sunday afternoon following a nice brunch meal for them which included Potato Pancakes with freshly-made apple sauce and sour cream, Mrs. Quire entered the kitchen.
“Did you enjoy you meal today Mrs. Quire?”
“Very good potato pancakes.  Nice and crispy, just like I showed you how to do.”  She was speaking to me, but her eyes were roving all over the kitchen, looking hard for something.
“I have some lovely fresh prawns from the market.  How does that sound for dinner?”
“Do something lighter.”  Now she was starring at the pot rack over the granite slab counter top.
“How about a nice vegetable quiche?”
“OK.  That’s fine.”  But she didn’t look fine.  She was positively glaring at the pot rack.  Her voice ratcheted up several notches of volume and intensity.  “Vat pan you use for pancakes?”  I had already learned that her English deteriorated in direct proportion to her state of agitation.
“That one.”  I pointed to a heavy-bottomed stainless steel one in the sink.
“No, no, no, no.  This pan, this pan.”  She was now wildly gesturing at a large copper sauté pan in the rack.  “I tell you.  I show you.  This is pan for Potato Pancakes.  Pancakes not so good today.  Better this pan.”
“I thought you liked the pancakes today?”
“No.  Not so good.  You use this pan for Potato Pancakes now on, like I show you.”
Easy for her to say.  If I had used that pan I would have had an extra 30-40 minutes of clean-up time (not to mention that she’d never be happy with the polishing job I’d do any way).  Regardless of the pay scale I’d never been one to want to take longer at a job than absolutely necessary.  I mean, I had a life besides work.  I simply nodded an “OK” which seemed to appease her. But I never made Potato Pancakes for them again.

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