Saturday, June 18, 2011

A great food memory

The kitchen was tiny- unsurprising, considering the shoe-box size of the apartment itself. I stood watching, almost huddled in the corner besides the water filter as he jumped and pirouetted from end to end, whisking things off the shelves. With a wave of his hand, he placed them on the counter, as if to say voilà! He was French after all, so I didn’t think him pretentious.

Last off the shelves came the heavy double boiler. He hoisted it off without too much trouble. Kaplonk! It landed on the stove. He turned and smiled at me, unembarrassed by his flailing arms and wild mannerisms.

And as he worked, he sang in a loud falsetto. His melody was familiar; I had heard it late one evening, when I was walking down an empty street. I remember stopping in my tracks, afraid of the voice reverberating through the streets. Until I saw him sail by on his bicycle, his head bobbing from side to side like a buoy in turbulent water.

He told me he loved opera and began to sing in baritone. I smiled and watched as he ripped open the carton of couscous and poured the contents into the pot. He continued to converse with me as he cooked, giving me more attention than his pièce de résistance. In, went the water. With a chop, chop, chop, the vegetables were taken care of and dunked into the pot. I stood, watching in awe and amazement. He swiveled the big wooden spoon around twice and placed the lid on the pot. In ten minutes, he said, the water would be absorbed by the couscous.

“Now, what would you like to drink?” he asked, ever the gracious host.

“Anything” I responded, always unfussy.

He ceremoniously swiped a wine glass off the shelf and filled it with some Alsace Muscat. (“People like Muscat- its sweet.”) Smiling victoriously after I expressed my agreement, he lifted the lid of the pot. In his right hand he held a heaped tablespoon of curry powder.

“No!” I cried. But it went in anyway.

You can’t reason with a madman.