Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Peelin' Peas

Chef loves to tell this story about a dinner he cooked for the Swedish Embassy. He was asked to cook with Chef Christer Lingstrom, the first Scandinavian chef to be awarded a Michelin Star. They prepped for the meal, and the soup Chef made was a saffron mussel consomme with Maine lobster, Valencia orange, and peas. The peas were the garnish. Chef Lingstrom asked Chef how he was doing on the soup course and he said he was about done...just had to add the peas.

"Are you going to peel the peas?" Chef Lingstrom asked.

Chef looked at him in disbelief and said "Are you kidding me?"

The response: "It is the difference between having a Michelin star or not having one."

For the next 3 hours the two chefs and a sous chef peeled peas, and from that day forward any time he cooks a meal of that caliber he peels the peas. Or has someone else do me and my two pals from North Carolina.

It was the night before the big feast party and the peas for the second course, lobster, paperdelle, and peas, had to be peeled. Chef mentioned it to the ladies, both true Southerners used to shelling beans shrugged it off...

"Peel peas, no problem."

We decided the best course of action for dinner was takeout, so Claire, Emily, and I went and grabbed a pizza from Moon River. Located in a little strip mall shared with a gas station and dive bar, this pizza joint makes the best pies in this entire region of Florida.

It was going to be 20 minutes before the pizza was done, so we decided to have a drink at the dive bar next door. The bar had just installed a stripper pole and the dancers were going on their second night of performances. It was early, and there was two men and a woman repairing the stage. We sat at the bar and I ordered a whiskey and ginger. Sports were blaring down at us from the big screen TV, and all the pool tables were empty. The bartender, a lady dressed in an outfit comprised of mostly fishnet stockings, handed me my drink. There were 3 flies in it.

I can handle one bug, no probs. A little protein right? But 3? I sent it back, and the stripper was horrified. She poured me an extra stiff one as an apology. As we sat there, sipping on our drinks, a middle aged man with a pony tail sat down next to me. He was the day-time bartender and his pick up line was to ask us if we wanted a chance to make some cash and dance. We all laughed at the proposition, and politely declined. This guy was not about to let us off the hook that easily. As any good bartender should be...this fella was a talker.

I have this uncanny way of drawing bizarre personal information from total strangers. For the next fifteen minutes, the time it takes to bake a pizza, this bartender, late 40ish in a tank top and shorts, told me a good chunk of his life story. The guy used to write when he was younger. He wrote short stories, mostly horror. His mother, an English teacher, didn't understand the ending of one of his stories so he stopped writing. This still bothered him.

I learned that he was divorced and remarried, but was having issues. I have noticed that most married men you meet in a bar have these issues. His new wife said he could go find himself a 23 year old and get laid to get it out of his system...and then he asked me my age. I took a sip of my drink and told him he was 5 years too late. The conversation took a wrong turn about there.

The next thing I knew, he said something about us dancing with the lady behind the bar. He thought that I would make a great secretary routine, and I retorted that I preferred the sassy librarian character. He told me he had sex with the high school librarian as well as his French teacher. Then began motioning with his hand to his crotch. At that point I turned to the ladies and said, "I think our pizza is ready." We downed our drinks and left.

We picked up our pizza...a white pizza with pesto, eggplant, and well as a traditional marinara pie topped with artichokes and spinach, then headed home. I opened a bottle of Grenache and we sat down at the kitchen table. Chef put a bowl of peas and an empty bowl down in front of us. Emily gasped. "Shoot, I thought you meant shelling peas!" As a southern lady she thought she had this project in the bag...but alas, these were little green English peas that needed peeling.

The secret to peeling peas is to puncture the skin with your nail and then gently pop the pea out from its shell, without letting the pea split in two. We sat and yacked and peeled and drank, and within an hour and a half we had peeled enough for the meal. There was something wonderfully old fashioned about sitting with women at a table doing monotonous work, chattering away.

As we sat there I had the marvelous revelation that peeling peas would make a wonderful punishment for Lil' Bit when she was a bit older. Chef thought that was a grand idea. After I voiced this idea, I thought to myself that it seemed a little sick to be planning punishments for our child so far in advance. What kind of mother does that make me?

We had peeled half the bowl's worth when Chef said we could call it quits. Claire and I decided to peel a few more for good measure. Honestly, it was just nice to do something with my hands while we sat and talked. It made the time spent a little more meaningful in a way.

I knew that the following day, nobody at the dinner would notice the peas peeled unless Chef mentioned it. But, it was still worth doing. It is the little touches that push something fantastic over the edge to incredible, kind of like adding a strip pole to a dive bar. It's just that little something extra that shows you care.


NCary said...

I remember the pea story! I worked with Scotty at the Buckhead Club a few years ago. I love reading your posts - you are a talented writer. I hope we can visit soon to meet you and your adorable girl.

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Nan said...

I am glad you are digging the posts! I am really new to the whole blogosphere any feedback is totally appreciated. Congrats on your little one on the way! Do come visit us soon!