Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s kitchen challenge ends in disaster.
Last night I had a meltdown over a run-in with rancid pork. To give my partner Chef Juan Pablo a break from cooking for me constantly, I’ve been attempting to increase my recipe repertoire by whipping up one “easy” meal per week. My trusted source is Bon Appétit—and this week’s quick fire challenge was Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry with Tangerines and Chili Sauce.
Everything was going so beautifully until the pork that I bought on Sunday smelled kind of funny by Thursday, but I just shrugged and threw it in the pan. After all, I don’t each a lot of pork, much less cook with it. What do I know? The result looked gorgeous! But at the table I spit it out and threw a mini-temper tantrum, and bless his heart, Chef Juan Pablo summoned up his best Julia Child, “Never apologize! Never apologize!”
As sweet as Juan Pablo is, it’s hard living with a chef. When someone discovers my partner cooks professionally, they invariably say, “I’m so jealous—you must eat really well.” Do I tell them that because he works full time he usually doesn’t want to go all out and cook up elaborate five course extravaganzas at home? Do I tell them that because he develops recipes as part of his job for Whole Foods Market that I am often forced to eat unappetizing “meat alternatives” like Seitan?
The assumption underlying that series of questions is that I couldn’t possibly know what I’m doing in the kitchen, and that I probably steer clear of it. And they’d be right. While I enjoy writing about food and doing restaurant reviews, I wouldn’t say that I find cooking relaxing or therapeutic. Growing up in Texas, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a “foodie”—we ate a lot of chicken fried steak and frozen vegetables in my house.
But I knew things were going to be different from the first moment I electronically met my future boyfriend Juan Pablo, who at the time was still working a day job as an economist. After chatting on Gay.com, we agreed to go on a date and he sent me a photo of him on vacation in Thailand. I assumed the jpeg would of him in a Speedo on the beach. Instead, it was his sweaty face posed next to a plate of glassy Asian noodles with hot chili peppers. The next day, when we settled in to brunch at Pastis, I quickly realized his love of food was on a higher plane than my own. Here’s part of that scene from Alphabet City’s Episode 13: Happy Soul:
Within minutes, our table was filled with plates of baby lettuce salads with goat cheese, bowls of frites and dozens of oysters. I loved that he didn’t even ask if I was a fan of the slimy aphrodisiacs—because I would slurp them any which way to Friday. Surrounded by food, he looked like he was in heaven.
“Would you call yourself a foodie?” I asked.
“I guess I like food as much as the next guy. Don’t you?”
“Maybe not as much as you. You took pictures of you all sweaty with those noodles in Thailand.”
“Everyone takes pictures of food!”
“I’ve never once in my life taken a snapshot of my entrée.”
“Well, you’re missing out. And we’re missing the aioli!”
He nearly tackled a disinterested waiter and insisted on a side of mayo for dipping. From my face he could tell I had never imagined anyone plunging fries into white whipped creamy sauce like that—everything else in Texas, yes—fried potatoes, crazy.
“I do it the French way,” he declared.
Years later, I may not do it the French way—I’m no Julie Powell cooking my way through Julia’s masterpiece—but I am trying to get over my kitchen phobia. One night each week it’s my valiant turn at the stove, and I’ll report back the results. After last night’s disaster, I’m calling these special episodes “Kitchen Knightmares.”