Someone asked me this once. Well, it was more like I had to answer the question as part of an editorial “tell all” for a magazine spread. You know, where they ask things like “What’s your favorite color?” “What’s your favorite meal?” “What’s your favorite dessert?” Sounds a little bit like a centerfold’s Q & A, I mean doesn’t it? Regardless, back to the one kitchen-related item I can’t live without … my answer: water. I mean duh. But OK. OK. After I received a number of “eyeroll” emails from other editors I played along and in doing so let my mind drift off to the strange but wonderful land of French cooking … the one where butter reigns tall and the imagination soars.
A few years ago, I was given Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Slight sidebar here … I know what you’re thinking—that it was a hint about my cooking skills, or lack thereof. Well you are wrong. I am a good cook. Really. I just don’t tend to use recipes … which, admittedly, doesn’t always workout so well but hey, I try. So in all honesty, I think the gesture was based on the fact that I love the movie “Julie and Julia” … at least that’s what I’m going with.
I—like Julie—made my way through a good portion of the book, skipping (of course) the aspics and a few other areas that wouldn’t go over so well at my dinner table, or most anyone’s in my humble non-French opinion. I mean liver? Who eats that these days anyway?
Alas, I found myself stumped by the ever-mysterious hollandaise family. Page 79. It was, I knew, sure to be the death of me. I know, I know … restaurants make it look so easy. You’d think the damn sauce came in a can the way they slather it on eggs Benedict, steamed asparagus, etc. Because making the velvety smooth sauce that literally melts in your mouth isn’t easy. And, well, opening a can would be. My first few attempts at creating the lovely condiment were, well, absolutely horrid. Awful, in fact. My saucepan looked like it was holding some weird, one-time frozen concoction that baby penguins eat (I hear their mothers regurgitate directly into their young offspring’s mouths). Still, I persevered and yes, eventually I conquered the art of emulsifying melted butter with egg yolks and lemon. And I paid heavily for it as I, proud of my newly found culinary skill, suddenly found it necessary to accompany every meal with a topping of holandaise. Sooo good for you! Only NOT!
Anyhoo, to answer the question, “Is there one thing in my kitchen I cannot live without?” I say yes. Yes there is. But it’s not just the pale green, worn in, smeared and stained cookbook so much as it is the ever watchful eye of a master and feeling like I can scream at her when things don’t work out, toast her with wine when they do, but even more, gain inspiration to experiment, try new things and watch the magic—also known as cooking—happen. Besides, isn’t it the process … the stumbles and falls … where we learn the most? Be it with cooking or anything else? Gastro Gabe? Isn’t it?
Note, since I’ve switched to a mostly plant-based diet, I don’t eat hollandaise anymore. I don’t do dairy or eggs so it’s basically out. But, I did master this vegan hollandaise and think you should give it a whirl. We won’t tell Julia ; )