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Me and the food business

This week at my 5 à 7 group (Bible study and prayer group meeting in a home), I received a compliment on my cooking, featured weekly in this venue.  “You should start a restaurant, Ted.”

While I always appreciate the intent of this comment, I am never tempted in this direction for these particular reasons:  1) To make outstanding food it takes hours of prep work.  No restauranteur simply buys the best of Costco prepared foods and warms them up for their customers.  Working with the best ingredients you create within a culinary tradition – French cooking with lots of butter, Italian with attention to the vegetables.  Without a doubt the tradition that I would draw on would involve meat.  There are a half dozen meat dishes that I do well and then there are a bunch of casserole, one-dish comfort foods that mostly draw on my smoked sausage as a star ingredient.  If you start with the best ingredients and you don’t mess it up along the way somehow then the result will please the palate.  All of my cooking is a labour of love, which starts at the fact that I like eating this kind of food.  But would I cook to earn a living?  Unqualified no.  2) Montreal is a city of so many good restaurants and yet on any given night you can visit one and find only one or two tables occupied.  I always do the math if I’m eating in an empty restaurant.  Is my $40 or $50 restaurant bill enough to pay the rent in this place, let alone earn a living for the owner?  I’m afraid the answer to that is another “no”.  My restaurant would undoubtedly be one of these that fails to make ends meet.

One of my favourite supermarkets in Montreal featured grain-fed capons in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.  I was fortunate to buy one and bring it home, where Carol set to Googling to find if that bird was a small turkey or a large chicken (yes, to the latter).  Then, as I so often do these days, I went to the internet and came across a restaurant recipe for cooking the capon that I thought made a lot of sense.  In fact, this chef-owned restaurant in Manhattan had produced an entire 400 page cookbook that may possibly cover everything that an aspiring copy-cat restaurant owner would need to put on their menu to have a restaurant serving outstanding food.  The chef owner, Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune Restaurant, also wrote an autobiography which I recently finished reading (see my Goodreads for a few of my comments).  This afternoon I set to browsing through the Prune restaurant cookbook and by the time I completed this I was psychically exhausted from all the detail of running an outstanding restaurant.  I’d counsel anyone who would have their own restaurant to read these two books authored by Gabrielle Hamilton. At one point in her life Gabrielle pursued an education in writing as a way out of the cooking business.  While it turned out that this was not to be her calling, she put her writing skills to work in describing her own life and the result is an education in food and its preparation (and much more).

The pictures in today’s Sunday blog are some self portraits that I happen to like, taken in mid-December 2008.  The equipment is all washed up and I am bundled up against the cold, as it was my preference, for the good of food I was preparing, to work in a chilly shop – just above 0 degrees Celsius.  I’m nostalgic for those days, but it’s a comfortable sort of nostalgia that knows I’ll never be going back down that road of having my own shop.