Love & Dinner: They go together like a horse and carriage

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love and dinner rocketgourmet

Years ago, I was dating a stunningly beautiful woman. We were young, and I was obsessed. I didn’t want to blow things because I feltdating dinner rocketgourmet I was onto something good here. So the early encounters became long, drawn-out evenings of pleasant conversation and a polite hug on parting. After a few weeks of this, I knew I was in love, and I had to take things to the next level. I needed to kiss her. I needed a plan.  I had just the ticket.

So I called her from work and insisted we meet that night. We were going to dine at my favorite restaurant. I told her to “trust me this place is special.” It was going to be perfect. In retrospect I may have oversold it. The food was amazing, but the cafe was a small Indian whole in the wall on the other side of town that I had chosen because it would give us lots of time to connect in the car.

I built up the restaurant as we drove. “You’re gonna love it,” I said. “The food is like nothing you have ever eaten, nor will you eat anything as good as this for some time to come.” True words. But I am rambling because I am nervous. She doesn’t seem to notice, but I am hyper-aware of my voice, but I cannot stop. It is as if middle school hormones have overridden the switch between my brain and my mouth.

I impress her with my comprehensive knowledge of weird-sounding things. “You have to have the dosa after you’ve tried the bhel indian food rocketgourmetpoori. It is a savory snack made of puffed rice, vegetables, and a tangy tamarind sauce and has a crunchy texture that you are going to love,” I ramble on. “is very popular in West Bengal, Orissa, and Bangladesh.” Oh lord, I can’t stop. I sound like an elitist gourmet prig who has been sniffing cacao powder laced with pulverized habaneros.

Finally, we arrive. I have rehearsed a thousand times how I am to tell her that I love her. How I want to spend the rest of my life with her – or at the very least snog her until the blessed cows come home. The words are going round my head as a waiter leads us to our table, and she is saying something about the dreadful décor and irritating lighting. I’m not really listening. That was my first genuine mistake.

“Let’s order,” I blurt out as soon as we are seated. I don’t need the menu. I order far, far more than any two humans should eat especially if they have extracurricular ambitions for later that evening.

My hands are shaking as I rattle off our order. “We will start with Bhel Poori and then move onto Masala Dosa with Coriander Chutney.  For the main course we will have Mutton Bunny Chow, Goan Cod Curry, light on the vinegar, Malika Masoor Dal, that’s the red lentils with green mango that I was telling you about. It’s my all-time favorite. And let’s do a side of Aloo Masala Potatoes, and why not? Let’s also have a side of Methi Malai Paneer. You know what, while we are it, let’s have an order of Thalassery-Style Fish Curry; it really is the best.”

The waiter is looking at me like I am a complete idiot, which was totally unfair. I was a gourmet idiot, which, as everyone knows, is very different from and much worse than a total idiot. The waiter offers to move us to a larger table before trudging off. But our table was the romantic two top by the window.  Why would we move?

My date, sadly, was neither interested nor impressed by my ordering skills and detailed knowledge of South Asian fare. She wanted toindian food 2 rocketgourmet talk about her shopping trip. Had I taken a moment, let alone a breath, perhaps I would have picked up on the warning signs. Even a complete idiot could see that our interests were not aligned.

I couldn’t wait any longer, and began my speech. I did not dare to take a breath. I had to finish, which I did in record time.  I wait for the inevitable slap across the face and the “I never want to see you again” cliché. But it doesn’t come. Instead, she tells me she wants to kiss me as she flashes me a sexy smile.

“Let’s get out of here,” she whispers, smiling as she reaches for her coat and accidentally exposes a healthy amount of glorious cleavage.

And then, a dilemma. The food is coming (I can smell it now), and the long-awaited first kiss is calling. What should I do? No contest. I get the check, pay up and head for the door. I don’t wait to take the food home.

We don’t even make it to the car before we find ourselves locked in a tempestuous embrace. It is amazing. Everything I had dreamed about — and trust me, I had dreamed about it — and more. Waiting for the long drive back to my apartment is not an option. In retrospect, I shudder to think about the show patrons parking in the tiny lot viewed through the steamed-up windows of my beaten-up Subaru.

And then it was over. And as we sat there in silence, a nagging thought began to grow in the recesses of my dopamine flooded brain like the slow drip of a water faucet in a bad dream where the drops become reverberating drum beats. Sadly that thought was not “dear lord, what have I done?! She’s not right for me. We have absolutely nothing in common beyond physical attraction.”

No. Instead, all I could think about was the food. “I bet it is ready. But dear lord, she wants to cuddle.” And she is talking about her lovers rocketgourmetshopping trip to the mall where she saved over $93, and I blurted out, “No, you spent $284 and lie to yourself how much you saved when in reality, the marketers won and convinced you to buy a bunch of leftovers that no one else would buy, and you probably don’t need. Hungry?”

It was a long silent trip home. The only noise was my rumbling from my stomach.

Looking back, I wonder how different my life might have been had we stayed and finished the meal instead of rushing to the car. Would we have found common ground over dinner and fallen in love for real? I’ll never know as she failed to respond to a single call or text after that fateful night.

Love is the foundation on which humanity should be built. But it can wait until after dinner.

Confessions of a celebrity-chef junkie

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ferrari rocketgourmet

I saw a celebrity chef pull up outside a swanky London club in his $250,000 Ferrari amidst a volley of snapping cameras and flashes, some half-baked, silicon-infused, sugar-coated blond tucked under his arm, fodder for the tabloids. I have to tell you that I wanted to deck him. Here’s why.

You see, Mr Celebrity-Chef, you walk past me without so much as a by-your-leave when actually you should be stopping to shake celebrity chef rocketgourmetme vigorously by the hand. It was me (and thousands like me) who put you in your Armani suit and your supercar. You would, after all, be nothing without us — your devoted minions — celebrity-chef junkies who just can’t get enough of you.

I did a crude calculation a while back. In my worst years as a user, I would watch around 600 hours of cooking shows annually (that’s not far off a month) and spend anywhere up to $1,000 on cook books. I would buy gadgets for my kitchen that I never used but was told I had to have. My pantry would be full of ingredients I couldn’t even pronounce, let alone know how to use (although they did look good in their expensive glass containers). I would lie awake at night wondering what swanky meal to put together for dinner on Saturday, stress about it all week and then chicken out of the braised leg of pheasant, re-hydrated porcini and ceps mushrooms in a tarragon and marsala jus with shavings of white truffles at the last minute. I reckon I never cooked a single recipe I saw on TV and maybe less than a dozen from all my cookbooks put together.

I would wake up on the morning of a dinner party dripping in sweat, obsessing over how to ensure that the icing sugar was evenly distributed on the 14-inch black glass plate on to which my stilton-honey-stuffed-chocolate-coated-grape will be placed. And I would always forget to taste the wonder of my boiled egg and soldiers that I would have for breakfast, the stuff TV shows should cooking frustration rocketgourmetactually be telling us about.

If there are any TV moguls reading this, you guys have a hell of a lot to answer for. You make millionaires out of some cute, witless girl who encourages us to cook crap meals in less than half an hour. You get studio audiences to whoop with delight when some over-the-hill, face-lifted has-been juggles a handful of garlic cloves. You take an hour out of our lives to show us how to make a pate from a rare wild boar that comes only from Southern France and is only available in the first two weeks of November. And just when poor sods like me think they are over the worst you serve up some glitzy new show with even more exotic entrees served up in even more exotic locations with ingredients that would have Alton Brown himself reaching for a culinary encyclopaedia. Show after show, day after day, you keep them coming. Then, just to rub our faces in it, you get us to buy the book that accompanies the series, making loads more cash for your network so that you can employ yet another witless wonder with a regional accent to showcase dishes we will never eat. I bet you sleep well at night on your full stomachs.

In fairness, we need to carry the can too. After all, it is we who binge stream these wretched shows and part with our hard-earned cash to buy the pots, the pans, the shakers and makers (and, of course, the books). So much for the college fund. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too many hours in rehab to kick the habit. I found hanging out with buddies who cook real food worked a treat. I have been clean for almost a year now.

Truth is, there are some great TV personalities out there who have done a lot for food (the aforementioned Alton Brown, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson to name a few). The point is most of them are missing the point. Food is not simply a science or just an art-form. It is a necessary function of survival and it just so happens that our planet has provided us with the most extraordinary variety of gifts that makes our survival — well — tastier. Weave that into a cloth of social fabric that adorns our tables, and you’ve got great grub. Trust me, you don’t need a celebrity chef for that.

Food of Love – Pork tortellini en brodo

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family meal rocketgourmet

Family tradition can mean something different to everyone.

To me the meaning is deeply steeped in food. The smell, texture and of course taste of a ravioli in pink sauce or a layered al dente meals with family rocketgourmetlasagna can take me back to my Italian American mother’s kitchen and our family of nine sitting around the table in a simple blink of the eye.

Sure food is sustenance – we need it to live – but when a family comes together to create a feast – step by loving step – it evokes much more than the “need to feed”. In my family, my mother’s pork tortellini en brodo is truly the food of love.

Late in the evening, I remember my mother and father lightly arguing about the best technique – even at the earliest stage of the preparation – does the meat (undoubtedly a 4-5lb. pork shoulder or pork butt) need to be browned prior to it’s eight hours in the pot of water or is it better to boil it without browning? It was a gentle argument, the subjective opinion of each really – but there was never any question that a compromise would be reached and the meat would sizzle in oil for the briefest of submission on my mother’s part before being submerged for step number two – the salt and pepper boil. Soon the house would smell of something so delicious that you would want to cut the air with a knife and take a little bite right then and there.

During the boil, there’s always work to do, preparing for step number three – making the filing. I never liked this part – it was hard for me – cutting and grating the cheese – so my twin sister Maria and I would usually disappear until it was time to break an egg, stir the magic mixture or better yet take the taste test….that was the best job of all. I remember my dad going into the basement to get the giant wheel of Sardo Argentine cheese and carrying it up to the kitchen – like the prized box of gold (or whatever) in Pulp Fiction. He would cut a generous triangle of this special cheese and wrap it up tightly until the next time. My mother will inevitably tell him to “not be stingy, leave the cheese in the kitchen, we’d probably need more” but dad would be confident in his measurement and trudge back downstairs to our “overflow refrigerator” with the wheel.

There was no using a food processor back then in my house (so consequently I don’t even own one today), my dad and brothers cheese grating rocketgourmetwould grate this cheese ever so finely – by hand. With a little Parmesan Reggiano thrown in as well, there’d be four to five cups of cheese in all.

After straining the meat (and saving the broth for later use) my mother would hand chop the meat until it was almost a paste. Her speed and confidence in this messy but important step astounds me today when I painstakingly chop my meat – careful not to cut a finger off every time! The bones are discarded and now the mixture can be made.

A key ingredient is nutmeg and with only 1½- 2 tablespoons, the flavor is profound. No bottle of nutmeg for my mother, I remember her grating the little whole nutmeg seeds until her fingers were raw. Two cups of breadcrumbs, an egg, all that glorious cheese and some of the reserved pork liquid make up the rest of the mix. Maria and I would taste the flavorful paste over and over until our stomachs hurt and my father yelled to “knock it off before he made us start over”! The mixture would go in the fridge for a few hours or the next day when it would be time to build the little “belly buttons” (the exact English translation of tortellini).

Starting with a mound of flour – about 3 ½ – 4 cups – my father would use his fist to make a well in the top creating a volcano for the eggs to perch. 4 eggs would get cracked right into the top of the volcano – this was always my job. A dash of salt and then dad would beat the eggs, adding a little flour as he went before kneading the mixture into a beautiful yellow round. It’s sort of magic when it happens, when the flour and egg turns into dough. One minute it’s a goopy mess and the next it’s a smooth textured thing of beauty. The ball is covered with a towel and put aside to rest for about an hour while my siblings and me set the stage for “the build”.

It was always a very specific set up in my house with my mother’s old hand crank pasta machine, cutting boards, cookie sheets, bed sheets (for drying the “hats”), a bowl of egg wash and of course, the meat. The good news with a family of nine is that we could handcranked pasta rocketgourmetcreate our very own assembly line to build and that we did. My dad would inevitably put on a Frank Sinatra album and the work would begin.

My father was always very particular about the thickness of the dough – six times through the machine, sometimes even eight and then the rolling pin. To him this stage was critical and I have discovered in my own interpretation today, that he was right. Mom would cut the tissue paper thin lengths into little squares on the cutting boards, Adele and Jeanne usually rolled the little balls from the magic meat and placed them on each square…the rest of us (Annette, Les, Bobby, Maria and me) would put a little egg wash on the corners of each square and then we’d create 200 of these “belly buttons” out of this one batch of dough. Folding each square corner to corner to create a triangle and then folding and sealing two of those corners is the way it’s done and dad never wanted to see a variation on that visual…he was a perfectionist when it came to the shape – said it didn’t taste the same if we, say, made a square purse or simple meat blob as sometimes is the case in my family today. I’m not sure I can agree with this taste logic BUT I will tell you that I respect the desire to have it be done right. Consistency in food, bite size pieces floating in the broth, the beauty of the plate and comfort of the palette all are better served when each morsel is made with this kind of love and care.

The time spent with my family during the long process of creating this food – let alone learning all of Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits – is a very deep and visceral memory for me. It is a memory that I have tried to bring into my present day life so that my daughter will have some form of that experience and memory when she is able to lead the charge and create the table.

Oh and the rest of that reserved pork liquid, I add it to my chicken broth to give it an added layer of loveliness. I don’t think my parents did that…that’ll be my contribution to the family tradition.

Happy Boy Diner

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An a-typical American Food Biography

diner-girl-rocketgourmetI grew up in the galley kitchen of my father’s restaurant called Happy Boy Diner.  A remnant of the 50’s diner, the large, triangular-shaped restaurant was ensconced in a little San Francisco neighborhood called The Castro district, also fondly known as the “gayest neighborhood in the world”. When my father first brought us to see Happy Boy, we stood on the corner of 15th & Market, admiring its bright orange and brown striped storefront, little did we know that our little Chinese American diner would become the epicenter of gay culture in the early 1970s.

Recent immigrants to this country, my sisters and I experienced a lot of culture shock – trying to conquer a new language, making new American friends, all this juxtaposed with our work life where our customers were handsome men who wore feathered boas and stiletto heels, while others favored crotchless leather chaps with chains hanging from pierced nipples. America seemed like a mysterious place, but with customers like Big Gay Mike (a 7ft tall banker who wore suits 5 days a week but dressed like Marilyn Monroe on the weekends) and Lesbie Debbie (who grew facial hair and dressed like a lumberjack), they made us feel at home. We were outsiders, and so were they, and that’s how we became one big happy family.

The rest of our clientele was comprised of a handful of truckers, families, and elderly couples who still dressed for breakfast – the men wore suits and ties and hats and their wives wore dresses, gloves, and hats too. The elderly couples would read their respective newspapers over their soft boiled eggs, dry toast, and coffee and juice.breakfast-diner-rocketgourmet

To this day, I remember people through food. When I make pancakes at home, I think about Mr. Bob Goddard who always ordered the #2 Breakfast Special: 2 pancakes, 2 eggs over easy, 2 sausage, 2 slices of bacon and black coffee. He would stack all the food together, cut it into neat squares, pour syrup on the whole mess, and then disappear behind his paper, never looking down as he shoveled neat bites into his mouth. He never dripped syrup onto his tie. When he was down to his last bite, he would fold up his paper and finally look at his plate. Using the last square of pancake on the tip of his fork, he would scrupulously mop up the entire plate of any remaining syrup, egg yolk, bacon bit, or sausage crumble. Leaving his plate shiny and clean, he would fold the paper under his arm, pay his bill and leave. And I would think to myself, that is one man who really loves his breakfast.

A Week in the Life of a Gourmet Food Stylist and Chef

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I have a gormands dream job – I am a chef, but I do not work in a trendy gourmet restaurant or hot eatery catering to foodies. In truth, most of my concoctions would taste terrible should anyone make the mistake of eating them. You see, I cook food designed to look great for photographs, and the flavor is simply not a concern. I am a food stylist, and my job is to cook gourmet meals and deliver recipes that are absolutely mouthwatering delicious — to the eye.

I bet you think it sounds like an exciting career, and it is after a fashion. Just not in the way one may think. Yes, it is nice not to have to slave away in a Michelin starred restaurant kitchen. I don’t have to deal with the hassles of being a celebrity chef with huge kitchen staff and demanding dinners with sophisticated palates. I don’t have the daily hustle and grind demands of being a line cook in a top-tiered local restaurant cranking out hundreds of dishes an hour. Instead of serving a community of diners who enjoy a gourmet meal paired with excellent wine, good companionship, and a lively buzz in the atmosphere, my job is done mostly solo at my own hours. I get to create culinary works of art designed to excite the eye without the hassles of the nightly dinner rush. While this work may be noteworthy and exciting, it is also more than a bit of a flavorless, if not lonely, profession.

Here is a taste of a typical week in my life as a food stylist chef.


The morning was spent booking a food gig for late next week. It is a shoot with a photographer I like working with, but his studio is an hour and a half away. It’s not just a long schlep that bums me out, but the genuine concern that when my meals have to travel a long distance, they are more likely to lose their integrity. Speed bumps and Uber delivery vehicles making sudden stops without signaling, are a genuine hazard and much-hated hazard in my line of work.  

As usual, the job is unconfirmed, but the photographer promises to get me the details soon and promises me that the client will meet my rate. So I pencil him into the calendar.

Next, I pour a cup of coffee and wait. This week’s job is for a popular cooking website, and the editors are famous for long Monday morning meetings where they nosh on all kinds of wonderful danishes, coffee cakes, and other fresh-baked breakfast treats. The shoot is on Thursday, and by the time the email finally arrives, half the morning is gone. The recipes are complicated and scientific, so the lost time is going to hurt. This cooking job is going to be a challenge. Step one is to envision how the final dish will look when cooked to perfection. The best way to do this is simply to follow the recipe.

Step two is to adapt the recipe to create menu items that can stand up for hours under hot studio lights and somehow come off looking fresh. This phase of cooking is where creativity kicks in. The lemon pastry filling on the dessert tart is going to be a problem.

Next, I Zoom with the photographer to discuss how the dishes will look. This discussion is vital as she will be planning on how to stage the shot. She, too, has a lot to plan, and we need to be in sync if this technically challenging menu masterpiece will come out looking delicious. We conference in the set stylist, think hair stylest for food, to discuss the ice-cream. The photographer wants real ice cream, and we agree that store-bought will be sufficient. That is one item off my list. But I remind him to get a lot more than the recipe makes, otherwise on the day, we may end up – and often do – running out for more. That means more time wasted and more opportunity for the tarts to lose their fresh-baked luster.

Now it is time to hit the shops. The shopping list is extensive, allowing for testing the recipe and several attempts at getting each item perfect. Worse, the editors have called for several hard to source ingredients. The readers will have trouble finding them and will balk at the cost. I make a note to discuss.

The butcher really is a cut above. He doesn’t flinch when I ask for a rabbit with its kidneys or six pigeon breasts. I leave the order with him and start my search for lemons in different sizes – the photographer wants a whole lemon in the shot, so various sizes have to be bought to get it right on the day. Typically I hit two to three supermarkets and greengrocers before heading to Costco. And while I am shopping, I am thinking about the ingredients very differently than a typical chef working his way through a local farmers market. For example, I can tell that the supermarket salad will not hold up under the lights, but the parma ham has excellent color and texture. One more stop at the cheese shop and then home to start testing. Sadly I have nothing for dinner, so tonight, we will be ordering in.

Chef’s recipes can often take two days from start to finish. The meal the editors have chosen is a challenging one to create, and I need to get cooking. By 9 pm, the rabbit is chopped and packed into the terrine, cooking at an impossibly low temperature for 6 hours. It needs a day to rest in the fridge, so I plan to call the butcher first thing in the morning to order more if all goes wrong.

Next, I start to make the pastry, which is a mistake. The dough is not coming together, and I dump the butter and ground almonds goop into the trash. I am not sure if it is me or the recipe. I will sort that mess out tomorrow. It’s been a long day already.


I wake up early and transfer the terrine to the fridge and weigh it down with cans. The rabbit is looking good. For the pastry, I alter the amounts as little as possible to stay flakey tartsfaithful to the original recipe and bake tarts to test it. They work fine, and since they taste good, I eat them for my breakfast while pondering my problem. The recipe will work for the readers, making it at home, but I can’t use it for the shot. These deliciously flakey tarts will disintegrate under the hot lights. Instead, I decide to use an almond pastry recipe that will look just as tempting but will handle the studio’s heat. The jellies in the tart are also a problem. They may taste sweet, but they are as wobbly as my grandmother’s bland Jello mold. To adjust, I strain the fruit through muslin overnight, which will make a beautifully clear jelly.


Once again, I am up early. I make the jellies using the strained juice. They look amazing. But all that work produced only enough jellies for two pastries, and I need six! I hurry back to the market and set the fruit up quick as I can. It is going to be close as I haven’t got another overnight to let it strain. The entire meal, with extras, needs to be looking scrumptious and ready to go tonight. Tomorrow is a busy day. The last thing I do is set the jellies and go to bed, thinking I will just make it.


I arrive at the studio early morning with my car carefully packed with my culinary creations. I arrive just in time for the pre-production meeting. I look at the set and see that the photographer has set the cake stand at a 45-degree angle. There is no way my lemon tart will hold up! At that steep angle, the jelly filling will run all over the place. We put one on the set, and before the electrician turns on a light, the jelly is running everywhere.

Fortunately, the rabbit terrine cuts beautifully, and it looks divine. The photographer starts with the rabbit. That gives me time to whip up a lemon concoction in the test kitchen that will sparkle with a hint of lemon yellow and hold up to the steep angle. I manage something that will suffice, but the final picture does not glisten the way I would have liked.


I check in with the editors. I let them know about the adjustments that I made with their original recipes when I first cooked them. There were not too many changes, but these were technical recipes that the average home cook will have difficulty making, let alone finding all the ingredients. I make some suggestions on how to simplify the recipes for the home cook. Hopefully, they will listen.

Saturday and Sunday 

I sleep in—no pastries for me.


Once again, I am waiting for details for the next job. I drink my coffee and enjoy the last of the lemon pastries. Here’s hoping for something juicy.