I have only had cable television for about five years. I never watched enough TV to justify the cost, but when my new spouse came into the picture, cable came too. Within a year I was addicted to Law & Order, even as I gained a passing familiarity with other staples of cable, including my spouse's favorite: Food Network. Rachel, Bobby, Alton, Giada, Ina, Paula (not quite as much; sometimes I find her kind of cloying) and the Iron Chefs (both American and Japanese; our favorite pastime is making up and lip-synching our own X-rated commentary on the latter) are now familiar personages to me, as is the format of watching professional cookery in progress.
I am the only Jew left in a large, happily intermarried family, so when I decided to join them for Christmas, of course the high point of the holiday was Christmas dinner. This year it was at my step-sister's new house, which I had never seen. What a treat we were in for!
The house, originally built in 1937, was magnificent! (I've also learned to enjoy A&E's Sell This House. Watching Roger Hazard and Tanya Mammary clean up houses for sale has gotten me used to seeing what a house really looks like, even when cluttered with the detritus of teenagers and Christmas.) My step-sister -- did I mention she's an architect? -- had designed an addition that melded flawlessly with the original in terms of style and decor. The dining room -- easily larger than the largest room in my house, the family room -- held the two tables for 16 total with plenty of room to move around. The kids' table in the living room was a nice touch. The only child at the main table was my sister's 3-year-old, who was almost as good a conversationalist as anyone else. (Making sense is optional in my family.)
The family room sported the Christmas tree and a colorful undulating sea of gifts, which the kids passed around to assorted relatives, eliciting appreciative oohs and ahs. My sister's father-in-law served as a "reverse Santa," following around with his trash bag to help scoop up paper and ribbons as they disgorged their loot. But of course the centerpiece of the house was the kitchen.
At this point I should mention that my brother-in-law is a professional chef. And the kitchen they designed for him is the equal of any seen on the Food Network. Enormous eight-burner industrial gas range with double ovens; butcher block island; granite counters; separate bar sink. Just a truly magnificent space.
Once all the gifts were opened, we gathered at the breakfast bar (under the stunning glass lighting fixtures) as we watched him finish preparing the meal. Cooked sirloin of beef was carefully sliced (how does he do that so evenly?) and arranged on a platter, then spritzed with jus and piled high at one end -- just so -- with wild rice. Green beans; rolls to die for; honey roasted ham; and an enormous earthenware pot filled with macaroni and cheese (a perennial kid favorite; merely attaining the age of 18 does not negate one's status as a "kid" for the purposes of mac-and-cheese) with the most scrumptious, thickest layer of breadcrumb topping I've ever seen, so much so that I didn't even realize that's what it was until I got a whiff of it; that completed the buffet.
I felt as if I were sitting in the studio audience of a Food Network production.
Watching a professional chef live and up close is truly amazing. Somehow they make everything, inlcuding the most awkward kitchen tasks, look not only easy but elegant. All the while laughing and chatting with family, cracking us up while nonchalantly reducing some spiced apple wine (our gift to him; we were thrilled that he used it right away) in a pan and dashing it over the salad as part of his vinaigrette. Tossing salt crystals over the sliced meat; garnishing the ham; he made it all special.
He told us that many years ago when Food Network was just starting out, he went up to New York with some tapes of a local cooking show he used to do.
"They just laughed at me and said, 'Go away'," he told us.
They don't know what they missed. Eat your heart out, Food Network!