Sometimes, in even great restaurants, we get tired of our own offerings. After all the years here I have reached that point, so I've been cooking some different stuff lately for family meal. Saturday I cooked up a big pot of pasta and let everyone do their own thing with it. I just cracked a raw egg over mine, added some parmesan and a hell of a lot of black pepper...delicious. Raw egg? Oh my God, the danger! Let me just say that if I'm weak enough to be taken out by an egg it's time to check out anyway.
Last night, after reading the latest issue of Gourmet for a day or so, I decided to make a good Southern dinner for us. I started with a pound of excellent bacon from the meat counter at Thriftway, there really is no better smell on earth than bacon frying, I can only think of one thing I'd rather wake up to than bacon and strong coffee, and if I can have those after the other thing...well, that might just be the start of a damned perfect day. Then a couple of chickens, which I cut into eighths, then marinated in buttermilk, Tabasco and onions for about four hours. Made some mashed potatoes and collard greens, heavily dosed with bacon fat and crumbles, then fried the chicken in more bacon fat. Some biscuits and a big glass of sweet tea and I swear I was as happy as I've been in a long time.
There really is something miraculous about 'soul' food. I use the quotation marks because soul food to me is more than just that described above. It is the food of our youth, where ever that youth took place, be it the deep south, a small village in Mexico, or the streets of Brooklyn. It is the food that takes us back to a more simple time, the time of childhood, when every problem could be solved by mom's cooking and a hug. In Ratatouille there is a scene where the cruel food critic, steeled to eviscerate our hero and his food, tastes the humble ratatouille, and is instantly transported back to his mother's own offering of the same peasant dish to take away the pain of his crashed bicycle. That scene brought tears to my eyes because that's the power of food. That's what we, as cooks, have the power to do when we're working at our best, I've seen it happen more than once. My favorite example is a guy that walked in after smelling the pizza from outside. He ordered a slice (cheese, of course) and left, minutes later he was back, tears in his eyes, to get another. He was from New York and hadn't had good pizza in years, our simple pie brought on that flood of emotion in a grown man. That's soul food.
21 minutes ago