I am aware of many who find comfort in a bottle of liquor, and others who cannot resist the physical addiction of narcotics. I have met many who have been unable to control the urge to gamble. I say, "There but for the grace of God go I"; and yet there is untruth in my utterance. For I, too, have an addiction. A sinister, gnawing addiction that I must now reveal in this most public of venues.
It began simply, innocently. A little "Bam!" every once in a while, nothing more. I said, "I can control this; I'll change the channel when it gets to be too much." Then Emeril led to Bobby Flay, Molto Mario, the ridiculously thin Giada, and I slid quickly down the slippery slope. Ace of Cakes. Tyler Florence. Diners, Drive-In's and Dives. And then the show that put me over the edge, propelled me into a Food TV zombie, unable to function without my daily dose: Iron Chef America.
Iron Chef America is perhaps the finest show ever created by man. Celebrity, excitement, competition, the thrill of victory, and FOOD. What more could a chubby little kid from Buffalo want? As I watch the contestants create their succulent variations (to borrow the words of Alton Brown) it becomes nearly impossible not to do a quick assessment of the food presently available in my own fridge and pantry and get cooking. Hence the belly like a bowl full of jelly.
Last night my wife and I watched as a challenger took on Bobby Flay in "Competition Rib Eye", creating some of the juiciest looking beef dishes I have ever seen and not smelled or tasted. They looked delightful. Sauces and steaks, seafood and soups, and ingredients that would make a vegetarian convert back to the carnivorous side of the aisle. What could we do? It was unavoidable. We put on our shoes and walked two blocks to Kosta's Greek Diner. I got a delicious lamb gyro with fries, she a BLT club. At ten o'clock PM. Pathetic.
I grew up in a simple Polish home. Dad liked chicken, beef, and pork. And potatoes. Oh, mom would mix things up a bit every now and then...sometimes the potatoes were mashed, sometimes boiled; but for the most part, we ate what dad liked. We had no exposure to anything ethnic beyond spaghetti and Ragu...I thought Mexican food consisted of Fritos and Velveeta. Chinese food was La Choy in a can. Of course, we didn't eat those things, but I saw them on commercials during Happy Days.
When I was sixteen I went to a "fancy" restaurant with friends to celebrate some occasion lost to my memory. On the menu I read, "Escargot". That seemed to me to be the fanciest thing I had ever heard of, so I ordered a plate. When the snails arrived (HOLY INVERTEBRATES - I had no idea they were SNAILS) I was quite certain I would regret choosing this particular dish, but didn't want to appear bourgeois (in a restaurant in suburban Buffalo...as if I could be anything else). I extracted the first with great care, trying to appear nonchalant in front of the table full of teens looking with unabated interest at my plate of slugs in a shell. I sniffed them, and recall making some kind of comment that they appeared fresh. As if I would know a fresh snail from one that was regurgitated by a seagull. And then...I took a bite, chewed for a second or two...and they...were...AWESOME! The garlic, the butter, the texture, everything came together and I quite suddenly realized that there was more to life than pot roast! There were flavors beyond chicken gravy! I was awakened!
Since that day I have eaten a lot of food. Some I like, some, not so much. I enjoy trying new dishes, new flavors, new ingredients. But that Food TV...every day I look in the mirror, front-ways and side-ways, back-ways and such, but the belly isn't getting any smaller. I say to myself, "tomorrow I will lose the weight. I will control myself tomorrow." Then Morimoto makes a Kobe filet and tops it with a lobster tail, and I am shoving provolone and Calabrese sausage down my gullet. I am weak.
Judge me not, friend. Do not scorn my weakness. For a man's life is but a breath in length, and his passions can bubble to the surface like a slow-simmering bouillabaisse on a low flame. Besides, if you're nice to me I might cook for you. I got this new recipe from Paula Dean...