A lot of us grew up around fictional characters that in some way altered our perspective of reality and helped shape who we would become. For me it was Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman.
That deep dark secret was always tucked away in my subconscious, unwilling to be acknowledged but unyielding in the fact of its existence. So it’s no wonder that when I met upon yet another unyielding obstacle, my cataclysmic mess of an attempt in the kitchen, the two would meet and of course there would be fireworks!
Up to this day the jury is out on who won, but there are some interesting lessons that I’ve taken away from it all. I see interesting parallels between the Gotham-based realities and my cooking experience, namely:
- Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty
- Never disclose your secret
- Don’t go for the obvious solution
- Good research is the foundation of good results
Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty
Part of the Caped Crusader’s success is his willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty: to put in time in the dirt in order to get what must be done, done! Many amazing Caribbean dishes are born in the patience that they require. “Blue drawers” don’t taste the same if you don’t get your hands in the mix, and there are many Jamaicans who will swear that canned ackee is a bastardization of hand-picked and cleaned ackees. Patience and elbow grease are two ingredients that are at the top of the recipe when attempting anything. It’s little wonder that this 5-minute generation (myself included) has a rough time getting the authenticity right with the old-timer dishes. Some dishes will be lost to time entirely because they take too much work.
Never disclose your secret
Some dishes are easily ruined when you relegate it to just its constituents. The mystique of an eggnog really can do without the truth of the raw egg, and yes, we Jamaicans can all appreciate that ackee is poisonous. It’s best to leave the secrets unsaid in some instances. I don’t want to know the caloric count, I don’t care if the oxtail is going to clog my arteries, and at this point it doesn’t matter that the soup is made with goat intestines. The savor is all I need to get lost in my moment, my mood, my delectable monument. It’s funny how easily this truth parallels with concepts of secret identities. The ability to hide in plain sight is what makes superheroes outstanding and bold, both in their character predispositions and the stories themselves. Nobody really wants to give serious thought to the fact that Batman wears tights and walks around with the equivalent of an expensive fanny pack.
Don’t go for the obvious solution
Comic story lines are always fraught with enough twists and turns to make the Junction Bypass blush. One of the lessons you learn early on out is that nothing is as it seems, and so you learn not to jump to conclusions and, by extension, don’t run at the most obvious solution. Throw some curry in a pan, salt and pepper the oil and you could get some semblance of a curried dish — but it won’t be the same as authentic Trini curry. Three versions of curry?! That’s never obvious. Neither is adding salt or vinegar to mangoes. The cultural emblems tend to have a certain shock value embedded in the recipe — and yes, finding goat’s teeth in my soup would count as a shocker, but it all goes to show that the obvious isn’t what Caribbean chefs go for.
Good research/practice is the foundation of good results
Finally, much of Batman’s prowess is a matter of rehearsed brilliance. You might not be born an innate chef, but many of us can more than compensate through careful research and consistent practice. That was my truth learned. I may not be able to wing it and come up with the wild concoctions that make you a truly great chef, but being able to consistently produce brilliance in a few select dishes will nonetheless earn you that chef’s title amongst your peers.
The fantasy land of cartoon and make-believe is something that many of us grow up and grow out of. What I’m recognizing in my adult years, however, is that I still have a lot to learn from those moments stuck in front of JBC TV absorbing my half hour of kids’ cartoons in the afternoons or on a Saturday morning. What lessons are you learning from your childhood experiences even now?