Curious Cook: The origin story? It was a bit rough.

BY DEBBIE MATTHEWS, The Curious Cook
Posted 6/16/21

When people find out that I write a food column, they usually have a couple of questions.

“What restaurants do you review?”

Although I always have plenty of strong, emphatic opinions, I …

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Curious Cook: The origin story? It was a bit rough.

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When people find out that I write a food column, they usually have a couple of questions.

“What restaurants do you review?”

Although I always have plenty of strong, emphatic opinions, I don’t have the heart or stomach for food critique.

The first and only time I did it, I wrote what I thought was a fair review that listed both the good and bad of the eatery. I explained my opinions, and clearly laid out the thoughts behind my judgements.

It was a new, much buzzed-about doughnut and biscuit shop.

I happen to have extremely high standards for this ring-shaped celestial treat.

Just forget Dunkin’. They always taste stale, and the glaze is wrong. I know this will upset anyone who grew up in the north where, bless your hearts, it was the only doughnut available. It’s like growing up in Texas and thinking you know barbecue.

My platonic idea of a doughnut is a Krispy Kreme that is so fresh, the glaze has not yet set. A regular supply of these and not only would I weigh 600 pounds, I could be trained so thoroughly, I’d make Pavlov’s pooch look like a slacker.

I stated in the column that their crème brule version was one of the best confections I’d ever eaten, but taken as a whole, they could not compete with that wondrous business started in Winston Salem in 1937 to make humankind happy.

Well, you would think that that not only had I stolen the owner’s baby, but I had also kicked his grandmother and smacked his dog. By his reading, the column was just an opportunity for me to trash his business and put his staff in the unemployment line.

Not only did he sic his online followers on me (a small taste of the online hate that can ruin lives), he called me at HOME to berate me and demand I support every word I’d written.

And in case you didn’t know, calling a reporter at home for any reason is such bad form it verges on the creepy and threatening.

So, that kind of killed my foray into restaurant reviewing — if I loved your eatery I’ll talk about it; if I didn’t, you’ll never read a word about it.

Another question is, “How did you first get interested in food?”

That, Gentle Reader, is actually two questions.

My love affair with food began with the introduction of solid food.

My first food memory is sitting under a kitchen table eating dry cereal. I was about 2.

Many years later I had Apple Jacks for what I thought was the first time and they tasted so familiar I knew I’d had them before, but I didn’t know where or when. I asked my mother and she told me it was that sweet cinnamon-flavored breakfast food I’d been eating underneath that table.

A couple of decades later, I was as enamored with food as I ever was — maybe more. But I had very minimal cooking skills and was not at all interested in the preparation of it, only the eating of it. I had a couple of dishes I could put together that were pretty good, but I was happy to eat mainly what others created.

Then I became a bartender.

I worked at a country club with a chef that was very good. He also fostered a spirit of excellence among the kitchen staff.

We all got meals at the club and I began to see that experience and skill are important to good food. I learned about mother sauces, the crucial place seasoning has in good food, and the different positions in a professional kitchen and the part each plays in creating a fine dining experience. I even learned basic food safety when a member of the staff left thirty cooked turkeys out all night the day before Thanksgiving and they all had to be thrown out.

But the most important lesson I learned was something that if every home cook used, they would improve their cooking exponentially: even beginners would become better overnight.

The lesson is this: buy the best quality ingredients you can afford, and treat each one the very best way possible.

It’s all about respecting the food.

By treating your food with respect you can take simple “throwaway” components and make them shine as brightly as expensive delicacies.

The perfect example of this philosophy is the tomato sauce they made for a pasta bar they would occasionally have at parties. Five or so pastas were offered with the choice of a few sauces.

They’d have the usual suspects: Alfredo, pesto, thick marinara with meatballs. But they also made a take on salsa cruda, which is a raw Italian sauce.

They would cook theirs, but only for a few minutes and only to get rid of the raw garlic heat. It was amazing on their homemade mushroom ravioli. It’s also good on any pasta, or fish, or rice, or pasta salad, or a toasted baguette, or…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Sorta Salsa Cruda

2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half length-wise (I highly recommend Cherubs, available at BJs, Food Lion, Walmart, and Harris Teeter)

5 or 6 cloves of garlic, or more to taste, minced

5 green onion stalks, sliced thinly on the bias

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Heat a skillet on medium-low. Add olive oil, and when it just begins to shimmer, add garlic along with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Cook until garlic barely begins to toast. Add tomatoes and toss with garlic and oil. Season with a big pinch of salt and lots of pepper.

Remove from heat and stir in sliced green onions.

Serve hot or cold on just about anything. Makes about 2 cups.

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