Now that a respectful Father’s Day is behind us, I am feeling freer to talk about some observations I’ve gathered through countless dinners with male cooks, some of whom have been husbands (don’t ask, I won’t tell).
Let me also add that I’ve conducted a survey via social media and gathered input from the partners of men whose cooking often results in rave reviews. This is not a column about the quality of cuisine but more about those dishes, pots, pans, and surfaces involved in the creative cooking process.
But I feel like I’m dithering now, avoiding the launch into a topic that women share (with affection) with each other but know enough to not reveal to the male who launches a coup in the kitchen. And as a final caveat, let me add that the following comments are only specific to my personal observations and those of women whose stories I solicited and that no husbands will be harmed (or identified) in the process.
Let me begin with a personal experience named John - a handsome, uber-male, former Green Beret who turned my tiny kitchen into a war zone littered with innocent victims. The guy liked to call me “Baby” – a clue to his attitude about women that I should have immediately grasped. It was, of course, a meal centered on beef, a slab as big as Rhode Island. He jabbed the bloody hunk with a barbeque fork and waved it at me. “Look at this, Baby, this is what you call a cut of meat!” he announced as if I would not notice, “and this is how you cook a steak.” He slapped the meat into a volcano-hot cast iron pan. The kitchen immediately roiled in black smoke, first setting off the smoke alarm in the kitchen and then every alarm in the house in successive order of distance from the stove, causing a neighbor to call the fire department.
This, I’ve found in my research, is a fundamental characteristic mentioned in nearly every response from my informants. The burners on a stove have only one setting, and that one is High. I mean, why waste time waiting for pots and pans to slowly heat up to a high temp when you can do it in a fraction of the time with the twist of a wrist?
Another commonly held observation involves the topic of quantity. My balanced and verified survey indicated males (do I have to qualify this by saying “some males?) cook meals as if:
A. It is the last meal they will ever eat, so it has to be big enough to face a Velociraptor.
B. Leftovers are a gift to the person who’ll be cooking for the remainder of the week and into the next. And, who doesn’t love pasta that’s the consistency of Amazon packaging?
C. Anything found in the refrigerator can be used with enough flavoring to hide age or appearance.
Moving on to unfair generalization number three, there is consensus that an underlying goal of men in the kitchen is to use every pot, pan, spatula, serving plate, and clean fork in the kitchen. Those thoughtful few who do not leave the countertops strewn with the aforementioned tools will build a precipitous mountain of stainless steel pots and breakable china in the vicinity of the sink because she- who-did-not-cook will surely do the clean-up. It’s only fair.
I did have a couple of unique kitchen behaviors reported. One from a woman whose spouse briefly worked in a roomy commercial kitchen. She writes: “They taught him to stop dead in his tracks when encountering another person. This means that when I am also walking in our normal-size kitchen, he slams on his brakes, and I slam right into him. One of us ends up dropping something.” It may also be the reason the commercial-cook thing didn’t work out, and the husband is an insurance agent.
And from closer to home, I have an avid cook in my kitchen (NOT COMPLAINING, DEAR) who has set off the smoke alarm more times than I can count. This is, of course, related to observation #1 regarding high heat. However, my personal chef, who also once worked in a commercial kitchen (note observation #7), occasionally places combustible items too near a live burner (picture a paper towel). This results in an actual fire and is why I make sure the sink is within arm’s reach of the stove in our kitchens. He also tells me that it’s commonplace for professionals to lay a hot pad atop the lid of a pot on an open flame. Fire extinguisher under sink, always.
And finally (but not comprehensively), there is the innocent, hard-working victim of the male-made meal: the stove. This is particularly evident on a gas stove where burners and tiny parts are receptacles for grease and food particles. Of course, any kind of sauce becomes a viscous pond that transforms into glue when it cools. Some cooks even have a gift for combining ingredients that would be of interest to the space program. (I can recommend the use of a paint scraper for stubborn jobs).
With this blog, I foresee a hiatus in my husband’s eagerness to cook for me. But I feel committed to my informants who trusted me to report observations that are generally not said out loud. The relief of having someone else cook is cherished. Not worth the risk of complaining. So with this blog, I sacrifice to the sisterhood of silent acceptance.
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