Saturday, October 24, 2009

Diners, Drive Ins And Dives: A Road Trip On How I Got Here

I grew up in Minneapolis and one of my first jobs out of school was with Pillsbury. I loved working for Pillsbury and half of the excitement were the daily trips to the taste test kitchens. I lived at home then and my mother’s cupboards were lined with Pillsbury goods that I got free for trying out new products. She also had the doughboy sitting in her kitchen window. My mother loved the Doughboy and sometimes had conversations with him when she cooked. I think he was her sounding board and with all her household responsibilities raising 8 kids, she needed one.

I also became friends with a lot of people who worked at General Mills because we took classes together. What I remember most about my friends is that they all loved to cook. And then there was me.

I was a late bloomer so to speak. I hated cooking. My grandmother gave me a cookbook when I was about 10 years old. It was Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls. It had everything from Ice Cream Cone Cakes and Pigs in Blankets to Cheese Dreams and Sloppy Joes. Was I excited like everyone else I knew?...I’m pretty sure I never looked at it more than twice. I also took a home economics class in school (my mother’s idea) and I loathed it. I sensed that my mom hated cooking as well. She considered it just another chore in her long list of things of things to do. Although I was not partial to cooking and especially baking, I did love to eat!

Back in the time before the word “foodie” ever emerged, my dad was a true gourmet. Not only did he belong to a gourmet club at the North Star Hotel, he really did cook and actually loved it. From his Thanksgiving turkey to his steaks on the grill, he appreciated cooking and started to experiment with marinates and spices. Remember, everything about food was just starting to evolve back in the 60’s. I do recall being mesmerized by his account of each gourmet dinner and had to dig up every little detail on not only what they ate but also how each dish was prepared. Everything sounded so amazing and I guess for that time it was considered to be a bit exotic. My culinary interest was starting to emerge.

I coasted through my twenties and pretty much never thought about going into the kitchen. I ate out with friends.

I begin to look at cookbooks when I was in my thirties and living in Tulsa. Back then, good ingredients were very hard to find. I had to go to Petty’s Fine Foods by Utica Square and if they didn’t have it there, I was SOL. That is how I learned so much about substituting ingredients. In the beginning, it was more about finding the ingredients than it ever was about the cooking. But somewhere along the way, I became knowledgeable, started to collect cookbooks and suddenly, cooking was my passion.

I have learned over the years, to look at a recipe and know instantly if I am going to like it. Early on, I was not able to do that so I cooked a lot of recipes that I will never cooked again. I started a box that I threw my keepers in. My rule of thumb when it comes to cooking is to follow the recipe the first time around and after that - modify it and make it your own. The box has grown and there are now over 2,000 recipes in it. Its Sunday tomorrow and Sunday is when I try out a new recipe so I am already anticipating that another one will land in the box before the end of the day.

I read cooking magazines and cookbooks like my friend Bonnie reads fiction. I devour them from cover to cover and also go online and set up Google searches. People today have so many choices. They can search online, watch cooking shows, read cooking magazines and food blogs and join virtual communities where other foodies will give them recipes and so much information.

There are celebrity chefs, online food stores, and websites that can assist them with every aspect of cooking. Television has been one of the most influential forces in this new food world making stars out of Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless and dozens of other chefs.

Certainly Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives) is one of the pack. He goes on the road every Monday, Friday and Sunday visiting classic "greasy spoon" spots from Tarpley, Texas to Las Vegas. I love this show. My brother Terry and his son Kevin turned me on to it and I must admit I am totally addicted. Every time I watch it I am certain that I would have learned to love cooking a lot sooner if Guy Fieri had been around.

Bon App├ętit!