Foodie idioms

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Chef juggling with vegetables and other food in the kitchen

ZUBIN D’SOUZA

Growing up in Bombay in the 1970s wasn’t really easy!

My parents although educated were too meek to demand a payment for the work and services that they used to offer which led us to living in the not so savoury part of the city.

The entire place was a huge slump; more like a primordial swamp from where the weirdest creatures of the Bombay underworld would emerge from.

The gangsters that were notorious in the city well into the 80s and early 90s seemed like familiars since we were always bumping into them as we passed each other casually in the crammed alleyways.

My sisters were the apples of my parents’ eyes. They were always destined for greatness while I was to be the black sheep of the family.

I wasn’t really a bad egg but I had issues that prevented me from studying as hard as I wanted. Usually the issues were psychotic teachers but I also had trouble concentrating.

Plus, I wasn’t one to speak diplomatically or mince words. I think it was the latter that always got me into a pickle.

Food has always been an obsession for me. It probably stemmed from my infancy because as a family we did not have much.

But I am not one to cry over spilt milk!

What’s done is done! I could have turned into a rotten apple but then my story and the ones to follow would have been a different kettle of fish altogether.

While career choices were not really hurtling my way due to my ADHD, I was happy to settle into a career of a chef.

At that time, a career as a chef wasn’t the hot potato situation that we now have in the world. My neighbours looked at me with scorn and revulsion. It was thought to be the career choice for losers.

But I am a tough cookie and words can hardly hurt me. And earning my own pay meant that I did not need to tread on eggshells anymore and I gave back as good as I got!

My parents had hoped that someday their firstborn would turn into a big cheese and wow the world.

In fact I think that all parents tend to feel that their kids are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I don’t think that their assessments were aligned with my capabilities and I chose not to bite off more than I could chew.

I was probably simply content to cut to the chase and just bring home the bacon. I wish that I could have also read the tea leaves and understood that this would be the industry of the future.

I did pretty well in the high-pressured world of chefs. I know that it is not everyone’s cup of tea; the job after all is one of acquired taste. But in the midst of all that madness, I could function well because I was always as cool as a cucumber.

Every once in a while I used to come across a good boss or a great chef who used to egg me on. With hard work, perseverance and a fair amount of luck, it wasn’t too long before I was considered the cream of the crop.

I wasn’t lacking in energy. My innate hyperactivity condition saw to it that I did not even need a cup of joe to get started in the morning.

When most people choose a job as a chef, they usually think that they have hopped onto the gravy train. It rarely works out that way! It is not siestas, abuses and stuffing our faces with food all day long.

Okay, there is stuffing the faces with food involved but that is just the icing on the cake!

It requires people with patience, with high amounts of energy and definitely those that can take the heat. Sure I can be accused of sometimes being a couch potato and at the most inopportune times have someone come and cook my goose but nothing is ever handed on a silver platter. It is often thought that you need to be as nutty as a fruitcake to continue in this profession.

A couple of chefs believe that they always have to be souped up to deliver at the highest levels that are expected. That is not always the case and the job isn’t a piece of cake. The smart cookies can always find a way around that is infinitely easier.

Nothing is so secret that I can’t spill the beans.

Sometimes, these particular chefs find a way in which to spice things up. The resultant products always sell like hot cakes making the chefs famous.

For them subsequently it is not only about the hard work but also using the noodle! Obviously you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Sometimes a couple of chefs do turn out to be all sizzle and no steak. I can eat humble pie and mention that there are times when I can be accused of the same. It is not that I can’t cut the mustard; in fact I have always delivered beyond expectations.

Often I tend to be harsher on myself; it probably gives me food for thought.

But every once in a while I will meet up with friends from my old life and realise that we are as different as chalk and cheese. Not that I am the dregs from the bottom of the barrel but my tastes and expectations in life have changed.

I don’t mean to cherry-pick but as we gather around and chew the fat I have realised that we have very little in common anymore.

I don’t need to wake up and smell the coffee to realise that I am in the best place in my life and all the tea in China couldn’t get me to change my mind!  You should join our fraternity; we don’t really believe that too many cooks would spoil the broth!