I am enamored with a somewhat silly theory, probably steeped in my belief in Jung’s theory of synchronicity, predicated on books falling in your hands at a time when you most need them. So, at three o’clock in the morning, the night before starting my new job, I am trying to fall asleep while finishing an autobiography that had been languishing on my nightstand for weeks. The narrator in question is Marco Pierre White, whose book is titled “The Devil in the Kitchen”. Most definitely not recommended reading unless you are interested in how to become a 3 star Michelin chef or are dying to know all about the first “rock ‘n roll” chef, way before the Food Network and Gordon Ramsay (who, incidentally, trained under Mr. White).
Besides bringing me back all the way to the ‘80s in a bit of a jog down the memory lane of my London years – I remember well his famous Harvey’s, on Wandsworth Common – the book had left me unimpressed. It’s hard to read stories mediated by a ghost writer, with a writing so stiff that fails to prod you on and a voice that struggles to get through. Unless it’s three in the morning and I need to sleep and Marco Pierre White is trying to explain to me why he had to leave the kitchen, right in the middle of the particular night when my mind kept me awake trying to rationalize why I had decided to leave the kitchen and my subconscious would have none of it.
In his case, the relentless stress, the monomaniacal focus on food, the lack of time for his new family all contributed to making him see that he was done. And he walked away, returned his Michelin stars and moved on to a life of leisure. In my case, my job was stressful, it was physically hard and it did railroad my marriage to a certain extent. And did I mention it paid shit? All reasons enough to move on, if not to a life of leisure I cannot afford, at least to a slightly better paid working life and a more normal schedule. All this rationalization, though, failed to convince my inner voice, who kept on telling me I was a fool. There were still so many creations and ideas and experimentation inside of me that I was throwing away for a fatter paycheck, for doing what was practical and “right”.
Like many children raised in middle class families around the world, I was led to believe that hard work hard and practical choices are the only way to get ahead in life. If I always rebelled and took risks over the course of my life that my parents never would have, there was always a modicum of cushioning, some sort of net that would have caught me had I miserably failed. After all, when I started cooking, I was married to someone who could afford to support a wife earning $10 an hour – I didn’t exactly starve for my art. What I was worried about, though, at three in the morning, was my ability to find another creative outlet that would indulge the “not so practical” side of me. Enter Marco Pierre White.
When food is your daily focus, it can become hard to step back and not think of it in terms of what other ingredients one can use, how to impress, how to dress it up. After all, a sole might be so perfect in itself to need nothing else if not a splash of lemon and a few drops of olive oil (I am paraphrasing Mr White). Without having to balance a menu, I am free to experiment and cook for my own sake and apply everything I learnt along the way to looking at food in a different, more liberating way. When was the last time I used my kitchen anyway? Cereal and poached eggs don’t count. So, my plan this week is to build an Alabama 6 layer cake and bake some Guinness Gingerbread with lemon glaze for a Christmas party I was invited to. That covers Wednesday and Friday. Tofu in caramel sauce, Vietnamese style, can close the week-end. And I am planning to share it all with you.
Once again, my belief in synchronicity has proven foolproof. I closed the book that needed to be returned to its rightful owner and promptly fell asleep.