by Slo Mo
As you all must know by now, I'm no domestic goddess. Heck, I'm not even a demi-goddess. I'm not even domesticated...
Which was never a problem, quite frankly, until last weekend when an old friend came to visit and it was drawn to my attention (none too gently, I may add) that the fact that I'm fully grown but still get all my food out of jars is, and I quote, "kind of pathetic".
When I pointed out that my jars have fancy labels and contain gourmet stuff like artichoke spread and drunken olives, I was informed that most people my age have moved beyond the bar snacks and learned to make complete entrees. And furthermore, my friend added, just because salsa is made with tomatoes it doesn't mean I can count it as salad. Then she criticized the disposable plates, even though I'd gone to special effort to ensure they matched the plastic forks, in honor of her visit.
With guests like that, who needs cockroaches?
So anyway, my rude friend went back up north the next day, and I was all set to just continue on with my perfect little life, jars and all, when what should Dog and I find on our doorstep but a flyer from the South Florida Institute Of Culinary Snobs, offering us a once-in-a-lifetime FREE introductory lesson with Master Chef Ronnë Macdonnë.
(Did I mention it was FREE? That's a very important word when you're as broke as I am. I'll try anything for free...)
Dog didn't seem too interested in joining a culinary institute, free or otherwise, but what can you expect from someone who eats cat poo? I've never been interested in cooking, either, but the timing of this offer just seemed too perfect to ignore. I signed myself up for the next day's session with Ronnë, then went to bed with dreams of worldwide fame and gastronomic splendor. I'd be the gourmet person who makes the gourmet stuff that goes in the gourmet jars. Chef Mo: Salsa-Maker To The Stars!
I awoke with heartburn. Already my cooking was making me sick, and I hadn't even picked up a spatula...
As it turned out, the South Florida Institute Of Culinary Snobs was housed in a very unassuming little building near the freeway. I mean, the term "institute" seemed a bit grand for an operation that shared its parking lot with Kinko's and the Salvation Army. But hey, whatever. Maybe Ronnë Macdonnë was trying to get down with the little people and not intimidate us with anything too flashy, unlike that pretentious Martha Stewart bitch. Power to the people! And soufflés for all!
The get-down decor continued inside the institute, which looked just like a home economics classroom, but with more work stations and better seats and fancier appliances. Uh-oh. Housewife 101. Did I mention I flunked home-ec? Also, everyone else was wearing professional-looking white aprons and hair nets. And they seemed very... focused. Very intense. Clearly, this wasn't going to be some low-key Betty Crocker affair. Some of them were even reading Wine Spectator magazine. Now that's dedication!
Relying on my high school home-ec experience, I looked for an empty seat near the smoke alarm and emergency exit. No such luck. The only seat left, the ONLY one, was smack dab in the middle of the first row of work stations, wedged between a Julia Childs wannabe and Richard Simmons' evil twin. I glanced furtively around the room in hopes that some kind culinary soul would recognize my plight and make room for me elsewhere. But no such luck. (Bake-aholic bastards.) So I asked Julia to excuse me, smiled wanly at Richard, and squished on in, while doing my best not to spill any of my cappucino grande on the gleaming white counter. I once got a week of detentions for mucking up a home-ec counter. Of course, that incident involved liquid cement disguised as pie filling and a certain degree of malice aforethought.... but I digress.
The clock struck ten and an expectant hush came across the institute. You could have heard a crumb drop, if it weren't for my ill-timed cappucino slurp. All eyes (and hair nets) were focused on the little dais at the front of the room. A drumroll sounded. Then, ladies and gentlemen, there was a flash of light (or maybe it was a cloud of flour), the velvet curtains parted, and Ronnë Macdonnë appeared.
Boisterous applause! Fawning adoration! Ohhhhhh, Ronnë!
Richard burst into tears and hid his face in his apron. I feared Julia was going to toss her panties up on Ronnë's dais, but she was just, uh... rearranging her tummy rolls. I think. (Note to self: don't eat anything Julia bakes.)
All this for what amounted to a stubby little man wearing a hearing aid, a five o'clock shadow and a big, dumb chef hat on his head. He pirouetted once on the dais and then bowed and simpered, "Danke, darlings. Eet eez ma playshure to be yoor humble master chef toooday."
"We make tooorte!"
We make... what?
"Ja, toooday we make the tortes of chokoladen!"
Tortes of- ? Oh, for pete's sake!!! I'd driven all this way and suffered stressful high school flashbacks just for a master chef seminar on chocolate cake? As if I couldn't just buy one of those from Pepperidge Farm! What about making the gourmet stuff that goes in the gourmet jars? What about my dreams of food fame?!?!?!?!
"We team up in zee groups of three, und zen we whip our softened boooter, und zen zee magic begins, oui?"
Predictably, Julia Childs hogged the whisk. And the measuring cups. And the sifter. And the mixing bowls. And all the boooter. She blended and stirred while Richard Simmons wiped his tears and stood guard over the semi-sweet chokoladen as it melted in the doooble-boiler, whispering, "Bubble gently, my sweet. Don't go scalding my heart. Ooooh, you look so dark and fine. I can't wait until Ronnë tastes you, my hot sticky stuff. Oops! Did I say that out loud?"
I pushed aside my cappucino, which tasted awful, and dozed off while trying to figure out Ronnë Macdonnë's accent...
Two hours, five arguments and one oven fire later, our creation was complete, with absolutely no culinary effort on my part. There had been a brief contretemps involving a defective spring-form pan, but alas - adversity had failed to unite our little team. By now, Julia wasn't speaking to Richard, Richard wasn't speaking to the chocolate, and no one was speaking to me.
Ronnë instructed everyone to take a half hour break while the tortes had a chance to set, after which we were to return and submit samples for him to test before receiving our culinary certificates. Plus, there would be a special one-time-only offer to sign up for the full semester of cooking lessons at half price. Whatever.
I was getting up to leave when I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard the mystery accent say, "Excooooze me, but what eez thees?" Ronnë Macdonnë was pointing at my cold, half-empty cup of cappucino. "Thees eez speshull ingredient, oui?"
"That's just coffee. Tasted like spit. Maybe you should teach those guys at the cafe--"
"NYET! No spit! No spit in zee toooorte!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You spit in zee toooorte? You make zee spit when I say make zee chokoladen???"
"No, it's just cappucino, and I didn't put anything in anything. I've been asleep for most of the morning." That's when I realized the hearing aid had fallen from his ear. I raised my voice so he could understand me, but to no avail.
"You come undercover! You come from zee media! You come to sleep and to spit in zee tooorte and make trouble for Ronnë!"
By now everyone was crowding back in the classroom to see what the commotion was all about and who, exactly, had dared to spit on Ronnë Macdonnë's parade. Our poor, half-cooled chocolate cake was suddenly the focus of extreme scrutiny. Richard looked like he was going to start crying again. Julia had picked up a wooden spoon and was brandishing it in my general direction. I tried to explain, loud and clear and once and for all, that my leftover cappucino was entirely spit-free and wholly unrelated to the torte, but my protests only seemed to make Ronnë's temper worse. This all felt like a bad déjà-vu of home economics class. But for once, I wasn't guilty.
And then it happened: Ronnë Macdonnë's facade crumbled.
He tore off his chef hat, shook his beefy fist, and out came the true voice of Elron Macdonald, a deaf ex-Navy hash-slinger from New Jersey who gave up flipping burgers to come to Florida and make his gourmet dreams come true.
"I'll spit on YOU, ya little punk! Get the hell outta my goddamn high-class culinary institute! All of ya! GET OUT BEFORE I SPIT ON YA!"
Well, that sure explained the weird european accent...
The last I saw of Elron, a posse of disillusioned, New Jersey-hating gourmet snobs was pelting him with boooter. I ducked Julia's wooden spoon, jumped over Richard's sobbing body, and high-tailed it back home to my safe little kitchen and my safe little paper plates and my safe little diet of olives and artichoke spread. I decided then and there, as the tortes flew, that if learning to cook like a grown-up would mean so much heartache and insanity, then Dog and I will just stick with bar food, thank you very much.
So, friends and neighbors, if you invite yourselves over for dinner Chez Dog (and someone always does), be prepared for a stunning gourmet meal of absolutely anything you please... just as long as it comes from jars. They're vacuum-sealed for freshness. Above all, they're guaranteed spit-free.