Back Seat Cooking

In the first weeks post arm fracture, I was sufficiently out of it to sit in the kitchen while others cooked and only once in awhile cry out, ” Is something burning?” Most of the time the place could have been on fire and I would not have noticed.

Then, there was the second stage of my recuperation in which I was more alert, but still unable to do anything but offer what I thought of as helpful hints. According to everyone else, this meant I sat at the kitchen counter watching the meal preps while giving, and I quote, “way too much advice”. The various Iron Chefs filling in for me during my early recuperation did not appreciate my brilliant insights into their culinary activities. At all.

They called it back seat cooking.

What can I say? During the last two months I have not pined to scrub a toilet or do dishes, but having no role in the kitchen has been a challenge. I was numero uno Iron Chef here at Green Hope Farm kitchen stadium for almost thirty years. And then suddenly, I was part of the studio audience. Not understanding my role as silent observer, I chimed in a lot. Had I been in Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s kitchen stadium, I would have been ejected.

I tried to be responsive to this feedback. I tried to zip it. It was clearly the only way to family harmony and a full stomach.

This is when the stakes went up and my learning lessons about letting go of my little kingdom accelerated.

Because the kitchen was no longer my stage set, my Iron Chef challengers made some changes. One heartbreaking change involved my lovingly over stuffed utensil drawer. It had been driving Jim crazy for almost the full thirty years of my Iron Chefdom. He likes a drawer he can open. I like a drawer that has every conceivable gadget in it.

Now that I was working to stifle my input, Jim took this window of opportunity to organize the utensil drawer to meet his needs as current head Iron Chef. This meant removing 85% of the tools I feel are vital to any meal prep. Things like melon ballers and zesters. I watched him clear the drawer and then stuck my oddly numb fingers, gloved and splinted, into my mouth to silence my Edvard Munch-like screams.

This silent screaming grated on the kitchen crew and so Iron Chef Jim, Will, and Ben came up with a solution. During meal prep, I was escorted to a place far, far away from the kitchen to a seat in front of the television. Then they sedated me with food network television. HD no less.

This proved to be a win win situation for everyone. My vow of food prep silence became a piece of cake. On television, no one every lets anything burn. And if I broke my vow of silence and gave Giada suggestions, she didn’t care. Back in the Green Hope kitchen stadium, Iron Chef Jim and company could cook in peace with their appallingly limited number of kitchen utensils.

In one of those frequent moments in which I miss the real plot while clinging to some red herring subplot, I began to think deepening my acquaintance with Nigella Lawson and Bobby Flay was going to have dire consequences for the new Green Hope Farm Iron Chefs. One of my arms might be in a sorry state, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t print out myriad recipes from food network.com to give them some direction in their efforts.

The real story was that they were hitting culinary peaks without ANY input from me, whether verbal or otherwise. By osmosis, the flavor high notes of the food network were their high notes.

One night after an hour sedation in front of Paula and Ina, I was dragged back into the kitchen to discover Iron Chef Will had rubbed down a pork shoulder with Tyler Florence’s favorite pork rub, marinated it overnight and then cooked it for four hours. For dinner, I was offered Will’s take on a classic pulled pork sandwich. I don’t think I had heard of pulled pork until I was fifty. Will is thirteen.

On another occasion, while my skin crawled watching Semi Homemade with Sandra Lee, Iron Chef Ben arrived from his off site studio kitchen to work on his salmon gravalax while offering us pancetta, shrimp, and sirloin kebobs with a side of lemon linguine. And this was just the first meal Iron Chef Ben whipped on us. Every few nights he arrives with a carload of exotic dishes. I can’t spell anything he serves, but who cares? It is all delicious.

So now stage three begins. My hand is a lot better. I do about four hours of rehab on it each day, work to get it to supinate, flex, and swivel. And degree by degree, this miraculous joint is on the move again. While I can’t actually unscrew a lid or use a can opener, my kitchen skills are returning. I can butter toast, sort of…. But do I want these new Iron Chefs to know that? How long can I keep this gig going with me watching television while they slave away in a hot summer kitchen making fantasy meals for me?

As I slump down in front of Jamie Oliver for his take on broad beans, I consider my chances. The only thing worrying me is that I have begun to return my favorite utensils to their home. This could definitely give me away.

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