"Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste…"

by Katie Pizzuto on December 21, 2009

in Cookbooks

You have to admire a man who had the cunning to convince a woman to knock boots with him inside an industrial-size mash tun at the brewpub where he worked.  As unsanitary, improper and well, illegal as it may be, that sort of diplomacy, negotiation and conquest are impressive. There’s also something to be said for the way salvation and grace can pluck that recluse from drug abuse, depression, obesity and suicidal tendency and put him in the arms of the place where every lost case belongs—the kitchen. For it is only there, amid the chaos of fire and ferocity, that a man like Mitch Omer could have been baptized into a second life and built himself a Mecca named, appropriately enough, Hell’s Kitchen.

Mitch, as Jacques Pépin said, makes Anthony Bourdain look like an altar boy. And while having a checkered past is nearly a prerequisite for most serious kitchen work, it isn’t enough to build a career on because in the end, a kitchen doesn’t give a shit if you’ve nailed half the girls in the Pacific Northwest, if you’ve toured with Van Halen, if you owe your crystal meth dealer three grand or if you’re mentally ill. A kitchen only wants to know that you can cook, that you can do it well and quickly, and that you can listen and learn. Everything else is gravy, and if you’re lucky, their opinion will go from you being a lunatic to you being simply “colorful.” Thank God for the kitchen that leveled the playing field and gave us Mitch’s food. Without it, at the very least, I wouldn’t have a recipe for his amazing “breakfast in a slice” Bison Sausage Bread. Damn Good Food is part memoir, part biography, part cookbook, and the food that pours out of Mitch’s soul is “the color of rock and roll, the smell of an autumn afternoon in the woods, and the taste of romance.”

Sitting on that same fence where the soulful chefs like Mitch are perched, and yet somehow on the opposite end of that same fence, is Marco Canora. I was intrinsically drawn to his book before I had heard a single recipe, simply because it was called Salt to Taste, something I’m always telling people to do, but something that is seldom done well. Sodium intake has sadly become a stigma in the US, to the point where home cooks busy themselves with fretting about low-sodium salt or simply cooking with less salt altogether, as opposed to tossing out the sodium-laden processed foods that line their cupboard shelves. Salting a pot of boiling water properly is often a cause for gasps from onlookers in my home.

But “salt to taste” is a mantra…a philosophy…a sum that is greater than its parts, because it asks you to continually savor what you are making and adjust what isn’t to your taste. So often people pull out a cookbook, follow a recipe to the letter and serve it in an act of blind faith, never following the progress of creation. What if that particular can of tomatoes was more acidic than last month’s? What if you were forced to use a dried herb in the absence of a fresh one? How the hell would you know how these things alter your meal if you don’t taste it? Marco’s recipes are at the heart of rustic, soul-warming Italian cuisine, but they aren’t carved in stone. They exist as rough-draft maps, drawn in pencil so that cooks can eventually gain the confidence to put the map down and use their own sense of direction.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark December 22, 2009

Sitting here just laughing my arse off like a mental patient at this part – “A kitchen doesn’t give a shit if you’ve nailed half the girls in the Pacific Northwest, if you’ve toured with Van Halen, if you owe your crystal meth dealer three grand or if you’re mentally ill”. – Awesome stuff!

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2 The Wine Commonsewer December 23, 2009

Sometimes, actually more often than not, less is more. So, I will simply say that reading this was a pleasure that brought me a smile.

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3 The Wine Commonsewer December 23, 2009

BTW, The Boy has taken a more intense interest in cooking of late and began working on a cooking blog this morning. I told him to go look at this one just to get an idea of what can be done.

His eyes got big and he said Wow, I really like this blog.

He’s 13.

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4 Katie Pizzuto December 23, 2009

@Mark…thanks, bro. The truth is always comical, LOL!

@Mike…I’m both flattered and excited…can’t wait to see what the Boy does!! Please let me know when it’s up and running, OK!?

Happy holidays guys.

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