Even when I was a student, I never prepared... never studied. I trusted instinct and the fact that if it was worth remembering I would have taken it in the first time I heard a teacher say it. It held me in good stead through high school, college and university. It let me down in real life, however. Or did it?
Because I had a girlfriend - Ashley Benning - I wanted to impress her. She was no great cook, but she at least tried to make spaghetti for us a couple of times. I hungrily gobbled it up, even if by today's standards I would not. I knew how to do eggs and bacon, make a sandwich - though even I still have problems making a grilled cheese sandwich (much to my wife's chagrin).
But being young, and thinking you're in love (with the first girl who'd sleep with me), I wanted to impress. I remembered, however this one time I was foraging around for food in the kitchen where my mother was cooking dinner.
Poor mom. She'd make two dinners. A western one for my brother Ben and myself, and an Indian one for her and my dad. Of course, they didn't have to have Indian cuisine...
So, racking my memories, I recalled her explaining to me how to make chilli con carne. I think I was about 14 years old, and only interested in not listening, so at the time it went in one ear and out the other... but I guess it must have hit something inside my head before exiting. Ten years later, I suddenly was able to recall exactly how to make chilli con carne.
I'll spare you the details on what the recipe is, but it became a weekly staple of mine (and Ashley's) existence (Matthew,too. That boy could smell a free meal from five kilometres away!). While I did end up making a pot of chilli that could not only feed the three of us, it could also feed me for an additional two meals, as well.
While the first pot I made was tasty, Ashley did complain that it wasn't hot (spicy) enough. The girl might have been from Augusta, Georgia, but she did go to university at Southern Methodist U, in Texas, so she may have been used to the hot stuff.
Despite being the offspring of two Indians, and looking like an Indian, I'm not very Indian. I was born in the UK, and for the first three years of my life there I was looked after by a very British woman (Mrs. Goodie) who feed me some pretty bland British foods. You are what you eat, right. I was meat and potatoes. Spicy food and me don't mix at all.
Still, in an effort to impress, I slowly began turning the heat up on my chilli. For a two week period, I would make small pots of chilli every night to:
- get the heat up to acceptable Ashley levels;
- get myself used to eating spicy cuisine.
It was also around this time that Matthew invited me to have dinner with him at an Indian restaurant nearby. Figuring how hot could an Indian restaurant powered by Japanese be, I ordered my meal at a heat rate of 10, with 10 being the hottest. Matthew wasn't stupid... he ordered his at a 7. At first taste, my scalp began to tingle and sweat began pouring off my forehead. The strange thing was that the heat didn't even hit my tongue... no wait, there it is. Holy crap! Where's the fire department when you need them? It was the worst meal my stomach ever had.
Anyhow, I quickly became acclimatized to the heat and ramped up the spiciness until I made a pot so hot I nearly killed Ashley. She ate it and then went to lie on the couch complaining about how much her stomach hurt.
Needless to say, she never complained about my cooking again. As such, I turned it down a notch. Sorry Emeril.
As well, Matthew and I went back a few more times over the years to that restaurant. I started back down at a 1 and worked my way up to an 8. My mother and father would have been proud, for on that day, their Japanese-Canadian son finally became an Indian. For the whole of the 85 minutes it stayed in my gut.
In the next blog, I'll tell you all about some strange and wonderful Japanese foods I ate over the three years in Nihon (Japan), and how I once was actually paid to teach a cooking class.
Somewhere, it's chilli today,
Andrew "don't-tick-off-the-cook" Joseph
This blog's song title brought to you by 10cc. Even I'm surprised I knew that one.