I was never much into cooking when I was younger. In fact, when I first moved out I lived off Mac and Cheese and Top Ramen just like the next guy. But, there was the odd occasion when I would make up some sandwiches the way Mom used to, just because they were good.
Then I got my first restaurant job. There I got paid to cook, but I didn’t have any enthusiasm about it. Or any creativity.
Then, it happened. My first real meal, prepared without a recipe, only with the thought ‘this should be pretty good. Let’s try’. Stuffed pork chops was the dish. It was extremely easy, was very good and it got a very positive reaction from those that ate it. Might have been all the garlic I used, but it was still pretty good.
Shortly after I moved to Northern California I started getting creative. Since I was running the kitchen, I had access to pretty much everything for anything I wanted. I would make breakfast for the crew. Special appetizers for the regulars. Even the odd custom special or two. It was here I first started cooking for large groups as well. Turns out I was pretty good at it. And, the reaction was always very positive.
I had the bug.
I started creating stuff in my own kitchen at home. Salad dressings, soups and sauces. All from scratch, all without recipes. Most of the time they were good, but there was the occassional ‘um, yea, we’re going out tonight’ meals ifyouknowwhatImean. But I was never afraid to experiment. It got to the point where, one year for Christmas, my gift was flavored vinegars and oil in spiffy bottles. That was fun!
During this time, by Grandparents reached their 50th wedding anniversary. Kind of a big deal, so we went all out. Invited all of their friends and the whole family was there. I think it was close to 400 people by the end of the night. All of them fed by me.
It was a killer spread. Lots of finger foods that my crew assembled (my crew being Mom, my aunt and my sister). I had total control over all of it. While they did all of that, I worked on the main piece for the party. Carpaccio for 400. One of my greatest creations ever. I had an entire filet loin, many cloves of garlic, many lemons, lots of cilantro and parsley, some capers and plenty of crusty bread, all layed out on one of the largest butcher blocks I’ve ever used. It was awesome.
I moved back to Southern California and switched jobs. From a casual restaurant to a high end steak house chain. My cooking continued, of course, being influenced by new techniques and flavors. At this time I also discovered wine. Good times, good times.
My grill skills continues to improve as well. Any piece of meat or vegetable, any grill. As long as there was an open flame, I could make something pretty rockin’.
I also continued to experiment. But now I was using recipes to base my creations on. Experiementing with new flavors and techniques even still. And plating turned into a big deal.
It got to the point where I wanted to cook for my friends. So, I had a BBQ a few years ago and invited about 10 people. And when I say BBQ, don’t think hamburgers or hot dogs were involved. That’s not how I roll.
I marinated beef, chicken and shrimp in my own custom marinade. Appetizer was garlic cream cheese stuff jalepenos. Dessert was grilled pineapple with honey lime yogurt sauce. There was wine. There was music. It was great.
It’s something I don’t get to do enough. But, I will do it again. And when I do, you’ll all be invited!