Chef Laura, Morning Champagne and A Pinch of Salt
Day One. Meeting Chef Laura was like shaking hands with the CEO of a large, multinational company. She managed to exude all at once an in-charge personality (even if the business was culinary), a pleasant Italian hominess with the edge of that tight-lipped fifth grade teacher who scolded you for keeping an untidy desk.
Laura introduced us to our fellow chef’s, a couple from South Africa attired as we were in white aprons with the name of the cooking school embroiders mid-chest just outside the kitchen door for a breakfast of tiny pieces of toast and champagne.
I’m beginning to like this! It’s not even 9:00 am and we’re already breaking out the booze!
But that didn’t last long. I quickly learned the routine.
The day started with Chef Laura sitting at the head of a large wood table about fifteen feet from a marble countertop half the size of a football field where four white-aproned students would chop, cut, dice and slice, fillet, season and spice whatever was on the menu.
I was starting to miss museums, cathedrals, pizza, cobblestone streets, dogs and cute little kids.
The dish of the day was the one Jim traveled all the way from California to make – Ossobuco. I looked at the procedure liking the “1/2 glass of white wine” and “bunch of parsley” thinking I could handle that, but just looking at the rest of the menu made me dizzy.
“Spinach Gnocchi. Onion, Anchovy and Black Olive Tart and Upside-Down Fruit Flan.”
I wanted to cry. It was just ten o’clock and my stomach was in a knot. I not only didn’t want to make all that stuff. I didn’t want to eat it either. Especially with Chef Laura the Hun standing over me with that big soup ladle. In less than an hour, she would sidle next to me and in a voice that reminded me of that fifth-grade teacher reprimanded, “Jane! I said a pinch of salt! You poured a fist full!”
I know a pinch from a whole box! I want to make a tuna fish sandwich! I hate cooking!
While I grumbled under my white apron, the nice lady from South Africa followed Chef Laura around like a shelter puppy asking questions, sifting flour with the precision of a surgeon and sauteing the flank steaks with the flair of a conductor waving his baton. Was she auditioning for teacher’s pet or did she want to make the most perfect Ossobuco in Florence?
While Jim and Mr. South Africa were attacking the Black Olive Tart with gusto, I looked longingly at the tree outside and the empty bench. All I wanted was a book and my favorite lunch – tuna on whole wheat bread with a slice of Granny Smith apple.
The kitchen buzzed with food conversation and the frying pans sizzled with olive oil and butter. Ms. South Africa seemed supremely happy while she blanched spinach and squeezed it dry. I still hadn’t figured out what a small pellet of flour, egg yolk and parmesan was supposed to look like.
Only five more hours to go. Where’s that bottle of champagne?
I need a drink.