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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Cook Off Chronicles - Part 1

Who let the miniature schnauzer out?
Once when I was about 8, my Mom had a party for scores of people. I remember she made a lumpy brownish mound of something that she called pate. To my young eyes, it looked disgusting. But our agile schnauzer Jolie knew from good liver and, before anyone knew what was what, managed to gobble up a chunk of the stuff - along with half of the other hors d'oeuvres. Oh, the screams of discovery, the sweaty chase, an overturned chair or two, the dog being tossed out the door. All hell breaking loose - this is my association with cooking for many.
            Why then, did I enter the Park Slope Food Coop's cook off which, net-net, means cooking for up to 200 people?  

I was shopping for dinner - specifically my family's favorite fish recipe. Since I'm not sure whether I can reveal it, I'll just tell you that it has amazing Moroccan flavors, is beautiful to look at, easy to make in about an hour start to finish, and uses only one pot (!)  Maybe most important, it has history that, like most of my favorite meals, links back to Jacqueline. I wanted to share this recipe - another way to pay homage to her. (Plus I get a bunch of FTOP hours.) So I entered it. Shockingly, I made the semi-finals.    
     So one beautiful day this summer, I cooked up enough for a small tasting and trotted it off to a panel of Coop Committee members that included local and well-known food luminaries. It always amazes me the great variety of people you find at the Coop. You could be stocking produce next to a mom with her kid in tow, the owner of a store you frequent, a famous food writer, an unknown artist, a long lost friend from high school, a businessman in suit and tie, a Hassidic Jew. All equally interesting, all equally interested in your thoughts on cooking beet greens, all united by the love for great fresh food at a great price. 
            The Panel liked, which means I made the finals  (yay!)  Now I need to cook it for 200 people (yikes!) Too late, I read the fine print  (well, actually, just the print)  that said we'd be cooking our recipes for an evening event at Ethical Culture called "Cooking in Harmony."  I thought  someone else would be cooking in harmony for 200.
            These days I can't put 2 thoughts together, and I am strictly a family cook who can stretch to a medium-sized party in a pinch, but for some reason,  I think I can do this.  I can manage reproducing this recipe 10 times. With help (help!) 
Would Jacqueline be proud? No. She'd be outraged, as though I'd fallen prey to a cultish plot (Is this what you have to do to be part of that group?) Then she'd despair. Why? she'd wail, Why do you want to do this to yourself? You need to take care of your son, not galavant around cooking for strangers.  But this I do know: my impetuous Mom would do it in a second. For the sheer challenge, and for the joy of connecting to people through food, one of her favorite things. So maybe she'd be a little proud. 
      More to come...

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