This week, before my head cold set in, I went to a lunch downtown at a swank establishment with the Shanghai Expats Association. The menu was created by a local hottie celebrity chef, Dean Brettschneider, whose latest cookbook is called The Global Baker. (My father later joked that Al Gore must have helped him with the title). Talk about your hot cross buns and tasty cakes! Before the lunch, the author gave a nice, long chat and power point presentation about himself, the art of baking bread, and the genesis of the new book (there are 3 others). This one was full of desserts so I had to snap one right up. The cookbook has lush photos but the measurings are decidedly not global as they are in written using the metric system. To make the Lemon Curd Whatsit Yanks are going to need to do a bit of advanced math using scientific calculators.*
I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Hot Celebrity Chef a question so I asked him who does the cooking at home? His responded that his wife did the day to day cooking. Does he ever critique her food? No, he said, if someone is nice enough to make you a meal, you just go ahead and eat it. Wise man! Nor would he ever doctor his food with anything as crass as ketchup in front of said cook. (OK, that part I made up but take note Mr. You Know Who You Are). His grandmother and mother taught him to cook as a child in New Zealand .
My mother would have liked Mr. Brettschneider’s power point slide about the naughty sourdough. I remember coming home from school during one of her bread making phases, of which there have been many, and her telling me not to talk near the sourdough. Leaving the room would be even better, she would suggest. The dough would be rising under a tea towel in a bowl we would now describe as vintage but that she received as a wedding present. A bowl we made waffles and pie dough out of, a big ceramic bowl, light yellow on the outside. The Radish was eventually defeated by sourdough.
I have thought a lot recently about why my mother did not formally teach any of her daughters to cook. We either gleaned by observation or not. My grandmothers lived in other cities and so were not available for lessons; neither of them was passionate about cooking in any event. Grandmothers, however, are a natural choice because they have more time on their hands. As a grandmother, The Radish cooks with my own children in the summer while I’m enjoying a martini with my father on the deck overlooking the Puget Sound . My mother is as close to a gourmet chef without having a Cordon Bleu diploma hanging in her kitchen. But even she will admit that she is not a baker – a job she assigned to me.
Until very recently, when cholesterol got in the way, my mother was on a kick to rectify that situation. On a quest to perfect pies, starting with the crust, she churned them out willy-nilly. She has an autographed copy of The Global Baker coming her way. Maybe then she can start perfecting macaroons. And that, my friends, is not Pie in The Sky.