What a delight to watch culinary rock star/homemaker/designer Chef Jaime Laurita make duck tacos in his kitchen. His celebrity clients have included Madonna, Sting, Steven Tyler, Sara Mclachlan and many others. I am neither a celebrity nor a chef; however, Chef Jaime made me feel special as I sat at his kitchen counter.
As many of you know, one of my greatest regrets in life was never cooking in the kitchen with my dad. For over two decades he encouraged me to discover the joy of cooking. Instead of standing next to him at the stove, I chose to sit at the kitchen table and do my homework. Sometimes the exotic fragrances and sizzling sounds would divert me from my studies. My dad would then cup the wooden spoon in his hand with his latest culinary creation and say, “Taste this. I think it needs a bit more flavor.” My dad was a Renaissance Man who loved to prepare gourmet meals for the family before it was even trendy. He was even part of a Gourmet Cooking Club in Alabama. That is one of the reasons I host Kitchen Chat — it is a way to honor my late father and to discover the joy he tried to share with me in the kitchen.
“You have to let go of your fear,” Chef Jaime said. “Otherwise fear will be one of the ingredients in your meal. And that’s the ingredient that makes everything bad.” That was a life changing moment to hear those words. Yes. I am fearful in the kitchen — afraid of undercooking the poultry and catching the kitchen on fire. I confess — the fire department has called a couple of times when my salmon became flambeau and set off the alarms. And I confess that I burned my neck with a Thanksgiving ham when I pulled it too hard from the oven. And in my attempts to not cause salmonella, I have consistently baked very dry chicken – even when I drench it with a lot of sauce. So basically, I cook with fear and a pinch of unintentional “I Love Lucy” humor.
Watching Chef Jaime design duck tacos was inspiring. Like Chef Jaime, my dad would not typically follow a recipe. The understanding of flavor, spices, texture and presentation is and was so innate that measurements for their culinary creations were not needed. “Palate and presentation,” my dad would always say. Chef Jaime placed a bouquet of rosemary inside the duck and decorated the inside perimeter of the roasting pan with halved Clementines.
With a very calm voice – especially since his dinner guests were arriving in less than two hours, Chef Jaime said. “You see. I am not anxious. I know that my duck is in the oven. And I know that I am serving duck tacos. So what goes with a duck taco? A spicy and smoked dipping sauce along with salsa would be good. Always use the ingredients that you have in your fridge and pantry.” He brought mangos, avocados, sour cream and an assortment of exotic spices to the counter. On a side note, he has the coolest spice rack, or rather magnetic spice door in his kitchen. Here is a fun photo of that:
“Cooking is like playing,” Chef Jaime said as he twirled spices into two separate bowls filled with sour cream. I think he added aleppo peppers, smoky spice maybe even some ginger, too. He scooped out passion fruit (which tastes like grapefruit) to mix in with the mango salsa. Part of me wishes I had taken copious notes about all of the ingredients he used. But that wasn’t the real lesson of the day. It was about letting go of my fear and reframing cooking as something that brings a discovery of joy.
Thank you, Chef Jaime for a wonderful birthday gift! I am discovering the joy of cooking and in the process getting to really know my father.
Savor the day!
Readers, please share your tips for fearless cooking! Also, here is a link to my Kitchen Chat with Chef Jaime. http://webtalkradio.net/internet-talk-radio/2013/12/16/kitchen-chat/