Keep It Simple, Chef
By Nicholas S. Racheotes
If you read this piece’s title too hastily, you might be thinking that what follows is about the annual carnage fest that marks the end of the NFL’s season. No, this is about carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores—in other words, us. We, who think we can afford it, are in a unique competition. We love boasting about having eaten at the latest and best place in town.
We could have been raised in a home where the ingredients were the purest. The captains of the kitchen may have employed recipes and cooking strategies that were tried and true. Yet, come time for social gatherings, we fall for the lines every time.
I’m sure you’ve heard something like this: “Sasha, the chef, is a former KGB agent who defected. He studied at the feet of the top culinary masters in Paris. You simply must go to his restaurant. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced.”
Foolishly, you take the advice because you don’t want to appear behind the times. The place turns out to be so tiny a hole in the wall, wedged between abandoned warehouses in so frightening a section of the city that even your GPS doesn’t want to send you there. You go in, and it’s so cold and dark that you use the solitary candle burning in the middle of the table to warm your hands and to locate the minute dishes. There’s no menu. You eat what Sasha feels like preparing that evening. As for his studying at the feet of a genius, the sauce on the Lego-sized piece of meat passing for veal smells like Vicks and tastes like Desenex. This proves that Sasha studied at the athlete’s foot of the maestro.
Me, I keep it simple. Once upon a dine, on old Cape Cod, an angel fell from heaven and made muffins so luscious that I gladly invested in a new wardrobe to accommodate what they added to my waistline. Unfortunately, there have been other occasions when whoever was manning the grill should have been simmering on it. Suffice it to say that he or she would have been better off reading Quo Vadis than preparing quahogs.
All right, I confess to being a diner (pronounced “dye-nah”) person. Show me a spot just off the highway and not among abandoned warehouses—a place where the smell of bacon, cooked to the proper crispiness, is so strong that even the GPS is salivating.
A joint where the tables are so close together you can hear the elderly gentlemen beside you explaining to one another how they would do a much better job of running the country than whoever is governing at the time. A well-lit room where you can hear the Greek kitchen staff shouting at one another, where cooks learn their craft at Yaya’s knee or the back of her hand. Where the meat lover’s omelet is made with four eggs, ham, bacon, and sausage (linguiça or loukániko), the hash browns are liberally onion flavored, and the side of pancakes is so thick and fluffy that a pillow-top mattress would be jealous.
Now, I can only imagine what my gastronaut friends are thinking: “What do you have, some sort of death wish, eating like that?” No. When I stand before my maker, whenever that may be, I want to have enjoyed a meal hardy enough to sustain me on the road to paradise. I want to be able to greet the Deity with a burp and excuse myself. Then, I’ll ask, “So, any good dinahs up here?” And I already know the answer: “Your table is right over there, close to the kitchen so you can eavesdrop on the Greeks.”
— V —
Nick Racheotes is a product of Boston public schools, Brandeis University, and Boston College, from which he holds a PhD in history. Since he retired from teaching at Framingham State University, Nick and his wife, Pat, divide their time between Boston, Cape Cod, and the Western world.