…which explains why it’s all over the place. I’m no good with silence. I need noise in my life to make it work.
Some people did pots of coffee in college. I didn’t understand coffee. Or wine for that matter. Beer was a lost cause, still is. Coffee tasted bitter-burnt to me, but my mother savored hers, insisting it was great because you could have it in lieu of dessert and feel satisfied. I picture her now with both hands around a mug of it, her eyebrows raising then falling into a squint. “So good,” she’d say shaking her head. She made the same face when it came to red wine. “People who know wine, know it’s all about red,” I imagine her saying. Though we both now love our un-oaked whites. It must have been autumn when she’d said it.
Other people did Xanax or some other prescription drug they’d borrow from a friend who had unlimited refills. I, however, abused the TV Food Network to subsist college.
I was an English major, which meant writing. To this day I rarely write in silence. I get too distracted, my mind wandering off. Some writers beg for an environment free from temptation, insisting on writing in public libraries where food is outlawed. I write in loud cafes with windows and trays of baked goods. But in college, I wrote in my apartment–I moved off campus with a roommate just to have my own kitchen and living room, so I could entertain—being drip-fed a diet of TV Food Network demonstrations as I wrote my papers.
I remember writing a paper about Ibsen, Chekhov, and Strindberg while watching Emeril top a puff-pastry-wrapped brie with a cursive doughy “E.” I stopped writing and leaned toward my wipe-board and added “brie” to the list. That night, between paragraphs, I baked a brie, toasted up some brioche, and dipped Crispin apples into the pool of it. I know people ate ramen. They also had coffee, drugs, and alcohol. I had food that didn’t come from a package, a box, or a cup.
Even as far back as middle school, I’d complete my homework, sitting Indian-style on the floor of our den, with a few bowls of Rice Krispies covered in clover honey, while I also watched television. “But how are you getting any work done?” My mother would question as she passed through in her apron. But my parents let me do it my way. I was earning good grades. It wasn’t broken. I got my way. When I finished one subject, I rewarded myself with a handful more of Crispix. I’d already finished the snap, crackle, and pops.
Back when it was Two Hot Tamales and Two Fat Ladies, I stopped eating cereal and opted for Jersey tomatoes with olive oil and coarsely-ground seasonings on hunks of ciabatta. I scheduled my classes around my courses, and I worked it so I only had to be on campus three days a week. On my days off I worked at Zagat, culling survey blurbs, fact checking, insisting they get an online format going. Part of me wondered why I was attending a liberal arts school instead of a culinary institute. “Because I have a brain,” I used to say. I didn’t say it aloud, but it’s what I thought. I was limited and naïve. Affected. An ass, really. And I didn’t think I was all that different from who I was in college, until now, when I revisit how I thought of the world. Or at least, a microcosm of it.
I didn’t realize how brilliant you have to be to succeed in the culinary world. It’s not just talent; it’s definitely smarts. I’m not talking about the chemistry of foods, or knowing how much food to order. It’s personality. Managing people. Being humble. I think I would have made a disastrous chef, at least at that age. I’m softer now. Literally. I’m working on the rest.