What follows are our answers to the “The Cook Next Door” "meme" created by the folks at Delicious Days . What does it all mean? Well, a questionnaire is developed and then it's fired off to a number of individuals. They compose a set of answers, then "tag" someone else. And so on, and so on, and so on. Thanks so much to Pim for inviting us aboard. We had a lot of fun developing our responses.
What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
aj: I remember moving to the States from Canada in 1976. Bicentennial fever was everywhere. I was 6, so you can imagine my first impressions of “America”: block parties, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” parades, historical reenactments, etc., etc. I knew it was a special year and all, but I kind of thought “America” was going to be like that every year. In retrospect, the whole year felt like we were inhabiting Disney’s “Main Street, U.S.A.,” and it’s not like we were living in Middletown or something, we were living in suburban California. Hell, my cousin Bobby and his wife Nicole came to visit from New Brunswick that summer, and even they got swept up in the fervor. Nicole helped me dress up my bike with a jigsawed wooden horse’s head so that I could participate in a kids’ bike parade as Paul Revere. We had another big block party again the next year for the 4th of July, but it just wasn’t the same. The year after that we stopped having block parties. Anyway, all of this is to say that I remember I got really into early American history during this period and around the same time I also got my first cookbook (I don’t remember the name of this cookbook, but it was some kind of cookbook for kids with spiral binding). I learned about the importance of corn to the diet of the early settlers and I became obsessed with Johnny Cake. I distinctly remember waking up early one Saturday morning to watch cartoons and mix up a batch of Johnny Cake when I was 6 or 7.
m: Well, there was that year that I lived on a bag of rice and a bag of lentils, but I prefer to think of it as my “forgotten year.”
Who had the most influence on your cooking?
aj: There’s no question here that it was my mom. Food and meals were always an important part of our family life, and my mom was/is an excellent cook. She also encouraged my sister and I to cook at an early age and I even took a couple of cooking classes when I was about 9 (I remember that I liked these a lot more than I liked my piano classes). My parents also did a lot of entertaining when I was young—I knew what made for a good dinner party from an early age. Also especially influential: my maternal grandfather, Grandpapa Freddy, who was a chef and a hotelier based first in Quebec and then in New Brunswick, and my paternal grandmother, Baba, who taught me a great appreciation for Slovak cuisine in particular and Eastern European cuisine in general.
m: My mom, but I’d rather not say how or why.
Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
aj: Unfortunately, most of our family photographs from my childhood are locked away in storage in Virginia. I do remember a good shot of me and my friend Greg Meier wearing a couple of my grandfather’s old chef’s toques as we prepared Beef Burgundy, though. In its place I’m including an old photograph of my grandfather wearing one of his chef’s toques, back in the day.
I like to think that this is the toque I was wearing some 50 years later. On his right is my grandmother; on his left is an unidentified woman. The photograph was taken in Quebec City, where my grandfather began his career in the hotel business.
m: No. Among my people we evidently believed that photographs would rob one’s meal, if not one’s soul.
Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
aj: Haven’t encountered one yet, although I find Hollandaise sauce terribly enigmatic—even when you think you know all the tricks, it can turn on you so quickly.
m: Apparently I’m “hyper” about hygiene when it comes to cooking chicken.
What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
aj: I’m not real big on kitchen gadgets. That’s more Michelle’s forte. I got along just fine before my mom got me a Wusthof zester, but it works like a charm and I’ve definitely made a whole lot more dishes with lemon and orange zest in them since.
m: I use my heat-proof spatula for almost everything, regardless of whether it needs it—my whisk, too. I’m also rather proud of my collection of cherry pitters. Can’t think of any major letdowns, but the fact that I am still without a standing mixer is a perpetual source of shame.
Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
aj: For a long time now, I’ve liked ice cream and beer, late at night. Not some kind of weird float or anything, just a cold beer and a bowl of ice cream while I watch a late-night movie. This combo really doesn’t seem that strange to me, but it always seems to get a reaction.
m: 1) Lentils with mustard and sauerkraut, 2) bacon and strawberry jam sandwiches. Don’t ask. Please…
What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
aj: Poppy seed bagel (Fairmount Bagel, or something comparable); smoked salmon (Wolf’s Head (N.B.), or something comparable); cream cheese (Western Creamery, or something comparable).
m: Wine, cheese, and bread.
Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!
Q: What’s one dish you prefer to leave to “the experts”?
aj: Sushi—I’ve never really been drawn to making sushi at home. Among numerous other reasons, I crave the atmosphere of a good sushi bar.
m: Magret de Canard--the chef at Les Chèvres gave me the rundown once on what it takes to make Magret de Canard. Yikes!
Your favorite ice-cream…
aj: Rum-Raisin, although Berthillon’s Plombière was a true revelation.
m: Burnt Caramel.
You will probably never eat…
aj: Cats and dogs. This issue actually came up at a dinner party we attended not so long ago: where would we draw the line? As adventurous as I may be when it comes to cuisine, there are some places I don’t have to go. I’m curious, but I don’t have anything to prove.
m: Brains of any kind.
Your own signature dish…
aj: Recently: oignons confits.
m: Blood orange marmalade.