I’ve just finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s: “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook”. Somehow I did not buy it when it came out, in 2010. I bought it on Wednesday, waiting for my son to have his hair cut at the local barbershop, at Fred’s in Melville, browsing a second hand book store on Seventh Street. Finished it this morning. The last couple of nights I have read some pages out loud to my lover, and half laughed, half groaned out loud at Mr Bourdain’s absurdly wonderful writing. I gush, I know.
This is the kind of book which makes me want to never write another word about food again, yet at the same time feel completely inspired to continue to cook and eat and write about my very modest and frankly, comparatively plebeian skills in the kitchen and at this keyboard. My experiences and memories around food, compared to his, are all safe, middle class, conservative even. Having said that: I have once eaten whole little birds, which my brother’s best mate’s father, an Italian man, shot and cooked to a crisp: offered, heaped high on a plate . I have cooked and eaten other wild birds: guinea fowl, pigeon, quail; courtesy of being married at the time to a man who loved going shotgunning for the pot. I have eaten sheep’s brains once a long time ago lovingly prepared by a gourmand greek geophysicist in a little mining town in Namibia, and more recently foie gras in Paris which even then was nothing, nothing like I can imagine from this writing about eating “A frozen, freshly fallen snow of foie gras” at David Chang’s famous restaurant. I have had shavings of black truffle over gnocchi at Giorgio Locatelli’s restaurant in London, and have an irrational need to have a truffle shaver, for the One Day that I will buy a quarter of a black truffle at Thrupps and invite one of my best woman friends to share: even if it’s only scrambled eggs with truffles…Ok, if I carry on listing the out-of-the-ordinary meals I have had, maybe I’ll have to concede that I have actually had some wonderful culinary experiences. But mostly of the ordinary kind, having grown up in a very ordinary little town, with ordinary parents, themselves, particularly my father, with limited culinary experience and even tastes.
I thought of my father last night, squeezing out roasted cloves of sweet darkened garlic over a pan of roasted butternut and red peppers. He hated garlic. So that in the house of my childhood no clove of garlic was ever macerated into any sauce, salad dressing, or even garlic bread. Garlic bread was of course a staple accompaniment to those ubiquitous “braai’s” or barbecues in the seventies and eighties: but my mother would never make it: we only ever saw it when we braai’d with family, notably my aunt who lived in the same town: she would always have crusty garlic bread, dripping real butter and fresh garlic, not the flakes which also was a bit of a trend in some households of friends’ parents. We daren’t have any of it: my father would in the car on the way home, pick up the slightest hint of a slice secretly slipped into my mouth: I was defiant even then. As an adult, whenever I cooked for my parents, I had to be very sure that my recipe does not contain garlic, a tall order when I used to roast lamb for lunch. Later in his life and mine, I relaxed my trepidation about triggering my father’s distaste at how my breath would smell as I kissed him hello: he always drew back in horror! I guess he had a point: I have often really been er, affected by the too garlicky after-smell on the breath of people who have had garlic when I had not. But I believe that he missed out on one of the most simple yet wonderful culinary experiences: garlic used judiciously and always, always freshly chopped, crunched, or cut. To him garlic was too exotic, too un-afrikaans, just too pungent I guess in the end.
I always have garlic in my kitchen. Plump fresh cloves in a black porcelain bowl handmade by a potter friend, on my windowsill and last night, on the kitchen counter(see the pic). Not a rare and unusual ingredient at all. Unlike the saffron I keep, and sumac, and orange blossom water, in the top drawer(of a stack of deep drawers for pots and pans) with spices to the right of my gas stove built into the centre island in my kitchen of three months.
My father never had the culinary experiences which I have had, and I will never have the culinary experiences of this journeyman cook Anthony Bourdain (as he is aptly described on the back cover of this book), but Dad did like his rump steak rare. And fed me little morsels of the bloody meat fresh off the braai not knowing that it probably needed resting. I love and honour him for that early surprisingly sophisticated taste experience. My unwitting and unintentional introduction to cuisine.