to Living in my own home is knowing the joy of taste. I wake up every morning, thinking only about dinner. What do I cook for all of them today? What glorious dish shall I serve my lucky family tonight? Do I head for the hot, narcotic lap of Sichuan or the darker flavors of northern Spain? Would salted anchovies share somewhere in the deep abyss of a sauce with more power and oomph than a Porsche 911 Turbo? They often. I have cupboards full of spices and sauces. I’m infused with ground cumin, dried chilies, and sticky tamarind bowls. I have the kitchen skills, determination, and sheer greed needed to deliver great food at every meal. Being part of my family is winning the culinary lottery of life.
Or maybe not. Recently, while I was serving my latest creation—maybe ox cheeks cooked so long in a spiced tomato sauce from Jose Pizarro’s recipe, or maybe teriyaki chicken—I asked my loved ones what they had for dinner the night before when I was out. It was a casual question, with much less intent than a passing intent. I wanted to know how much they missed me. My wife, Pat, sat down and smiled. She said “sausage sandwiches”. “It was great.” My boys join us. Oh yeah, doughy, cheap white bread, and crap sausage, not those pesky ones with a lot of actual meat on them and nowhere near the nipple and nostril. The three fell into discussing the excitement of the Hot Dog Fest. I blinked. Sausage sandwiches? for dinner? Pat shrugged, moving around the lovingly made painting of the sheer awesomeness in front of her. “We’ll have to wait for you to come out to be able to do this kind of thing.”
I thought we had a common family culture. I thought the complex food I served was a “we” thing, not a “me” thing. Now, all of a sudden, I discovered that sometimes, like Jehovah’s Witnesses Mrs. Brown’s childrenI’m just tolerant. That there are things they like to do together that I have to guard against. Do you really know them anymore?
Let’s be clear. They appreciate a lot of what I cook. Cooing sounds are made. The plates are cleared. I wear praise lightly, and I wouldn’t talk about any of that in public, say, in a column in a national newspaper. In the same vein, I’m not talking about the roast swan with a caviar chaser. I really like the sausage sandwich. There is even a place in my life for a cheap hot dog sandwich, made with white bread, that you can return to its dough-like state if you squeeze the crumb between your thumb and forefinger.
But not for a bloody dinner. This is a moment to take things seriously. It’s an opportunity, a time to put your back on it. Or at least so I thought. I’ve read about high-flying Michelin-star chefs who, at the end of a long service, filling perfectly cooked ingredients into place, want nothing more than a bowl of noodles or a bag of chips. But it never occurred to me that this food fatigue might spill over into the family of a committed, well-intentioned, stomach-churning restaurant critic. One night not long ago, it turned out I’d be back for dinner when I thought I’d go out. Pat was in charge that evening. What did we have? Spread the potatoes with grated cheese and baked beans. I have never seen them all so happy. Is that true. I don’t know why it bothers me.