Sunday dinner was always the one time during the week that I could count on seeing my dad. He was the beverage manager at Antoine’s and was at work when I wasn’t in school. Obviously, I didn’t get to see him that often. When I did, it was all about the food.
So a typical Sunday started with church (sometimes), then going to the old A&P to get fresh baked french bread for breakfast. Before everyone gets outraged about the fact that we went to the A&P instead of some of the more famous bakeries in town, two points, one, it was all we had back in the late 70’s – early 80’s that was close to our house, and two, it was good. Not like the crusty baguettes that are seemingly available at every supermarket these days. Just good old New Orleans hot, soft, fresh bread. Which, when slathered with butter (NOT margarine!) is an almost religious experience. But I digress.
While at the store to get our french bread, my dad would do the shopping for whatever he felt like cooking that day. It varied depending on the time of year, the weather, and his whims as far as I could tell. The ubiquitous Sunday roast, stuffed peppers, shrimp and mirliton casserole, and oddly enough, pork fried rice, to name a few. The last was my favorite, which explains a lot about the food that I tend to gravitate towards cooking.
Having taken care of the shopping, we would make our way home with him chiding me for surreptitiously eating the hot bread in the car. “You’re going to be mad when you eat yours now without butter.” he would warn. That was my dad, no sympathy whatsoever. When we would arrive at home, he would take his half of the loaf and give me my “half” that looked as if a small flock of birds had attacked it sometime between the register and the dining table. It’s not that he was malicious, he was trying to teach me restraint and how to enjoy good food. A lesson I’m still trying to learn.
I, like my father before me, work in an industry where we all tend to eat when we can. Mostly standing up, with lightning speed, and not nearly enough regard for the simple enjoyment of what we’re hastily shoving in our mouths so we can get back to work.
French bread eaten, it was time to cook. Being too short to reach anything, he would pull a chair up to the counter for me to clamber up. As he worked, he would explain what he was doing and why. He would, without fail, assign me a task. This was undoubtedly the highpoint of my week. Everything from stabbing the roast and shoving in the garlic cloves (let’s be honest, when you’re 5 it is stabbing and shoving as opposed to the more urbane terminology that we employ for these acts), peeling shrimp, cleaning out peppers, basically anything and everything that he could give me to do without my mother going into hysterics upon coming into the kitchen and seeing her youngest child wielding a high carbon chef’s knife that he was two sizes too small to have any business around.
It was in these moments that I found my love of cooking and food. Aside from the obvious attraction to the danger that my mother’s overreaction implied, just the act of creating something greater than the sum of its parts was exhilarating.
I would like to think that he would be proud of me and my chosen path in life. I just wish he was here and I could cook for him now.