Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Santiago gourmet

After first arriving in Santiago four years ago, I quickly learned what it felt like to be useless. I was useless when it came to taking the correct bus, toppling opponents in judo class and saying the word "disponibilidad."

I was also useless in the kitchen. This was nothing new, but it had never mattered before. As a member of a proud family of bad cooks, I considered my culinary incompetence a badge of tribal honor and was not upset by the fact that I could rarely ever get macaroni and cheese to come out right.

All this changed when I moved in with my host family. This clan of excellent cooks humiliated me daily by serving up delicious plates I could never dream of replicating. Before long, my worthlessness in the kitchen became fodder for daily barbs.

Eventually, I introduced my host family to the wonders of gringo breakfast, one of the few edible things I was able to prepare. Soon, they were begging me to teach them how to make blueberry pancakes and French toast. Still, the fact that I remained hopeless when it came to the other two meals of the day meant that I was far from vindicated.

By the time my second move to Santiago came around, the situation had only slightly improved. I could make a decent grilled chicken breast and a mean beef burrito, but I still regarded the kitchen as hostile territory. Ovens, cutting boards and spatulas didn't want me around them, and I sensed it.

After moving into my current apartment, I found myself once again surrounded by culinary prowess. Large, elaborate meals abounded, and I felt ashamed to only be able to contribute my skills as a seasoned dishwasher. Finally, the frustration of being useless--plus the fact that buying prepared lunches during work every day was ravenously gouging away at my meager income--convinced me that something had to be done.

I started slow. Following the charitable instructions of friends, I began exploring the marvelous world of garlic, onions and peppers. I stirred these ingredients into rice, which--after a few mishaps involving worrying smells--I learned to make the Chilean way. I started going to farmer's markets and buying things like laurel leaves. Before long, I was making spaghetti meat sauce that people actually complimented me on.

Last night witnessed the crowning glory of all my recent culinary efforts: I made steak in wine sauce with veggies, rice and salad. A little dry, but not bad. I think I'm still beaming.

Don't get me wrong; I'm still not a good cook. My kitchen repertoire is extremely limited, and I certainly lack the natural cooking instinct that a number of my friends possess. Nevertheless, I feel a bit less useless these days.

I still can't say "disponibilidad," though.


Anonymous said...

Guess I should have had you spend more time in the kitchen with me when you were young.

Leigh said...

yeah...although i probably just would have wanted to learn how to make mustard, though.