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Authors: Daniel Duane

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Even the birth pangs of the modern Chez Panisse, acted out in this period, carry the exuberant dissolution of the midseventies: Tower, for example, quite literally seducing the 350-pound James Beard into mentioning Chez Panisse in a syndicated column. (“Getting somebody to write about you is the same as getting them to sleep with you, and I'd had a lot of practice in that,” Tower writes.) When Beard dined there on the day after Christmas of 1975, Jeremiah confessed that he wasn't yet satisfied, thought of going to France.

“Jim gave me the smile he reserved for young men he held in
favor,” writes Tower. “ ‘Darling,' he said, ‘keep your mouth shut about all that. You have a good thing going here, you're on the right track. Just stick with America.'”

The next morning, in what I consider the single most fabulous anecdote in my town's food history, Jeremiah claims to have visited Beard in his room at the Stanford Court Hotel, in San Francisco: “I bandaged his feet (devastated by lack of circulation), giving his devoted servant Marion Cunningham a rest from her daily chore. His robe had been left open where it fell, exposing a belly as vast as Yosemite's El Capitan, which swept down to reveal what he could have been proud to reveal were Jim not the exception to the rule that large fingers are also a measure of the family jewels. Jim did have very big hands. This was a morning ritual, exposure to which I had long since become familiar and with which I'd grown comfortable over the years I'd known him. After a little fondle, we talked about my career, about Alice.” They also talked more about this idea of sticking with America, Jeremiah claims, especially California, and that's how a passing hotel-room frolic triggered the first great salvo in the creation of California cuisine, a Chez Panisse “Northern California Menu” immortalized in the
Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook
: Tomales Bay Bluepoint Oysters on Ice paired with a Schramsberg bubbly; Cream of Fresh Corn Soup, Mendocino Style, with Crayfish Butter; Big Sur Garrapata Creek Smoked Trout Steamed over California Bay Leaves, with a Mount Eden Chardonnay; Monterey Bay Prawns Sautéed with Garlic, Parsely, and Butter; Preserved California-Grown Geese from Sebastopol with a BV Private Reserve Cabernet; Vela Dry Monterey Jack Cheese from Sonoma, with a Ridge Zinfandel; Fresh Caramelized Figs.

Beautiful stuff, in a way: Tower, Beard, Dodin-Bouffant, the meteoric genius of the young Alice, forever changing our national
conversation about food. But I was approaching the
Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook
in such an uncritical way, knowing nothing of its past and not yet admitting to myself that I did not have the intestinal fortitude for its implied lifestyle. So eager was I to “bond with the like-minded” that I willed our friends right on through the “Spring” menu of wild mushrooms, spring-vegetable pasta, charcoal-grilled salmon and Buckwheat Crepes with Tangerines. “Summer” came next, and then “Fall,” hosted again by Rich, and including Smoked Trout Mousse with Chervil Butter, Warm Salad of Curly Endive and Artichoke Hearts, and Champagne Sauerkraut, a.k.a. Choucroute Garnie, the great Alsatian heart-stopper for which we filled a big roasting pan with four pounds of sauerkraut, a quart of duck fat, a pound of pig skin, two pounds of bacon, two suckling-pig's feet, a “prosciutto bone,” a quart of chicken stock, half a bottle of Champagne, two pounds of potatoes, several suckling-pig loin chops, and a pound each of Virginia ham and garlic sausage. Baking that monstrosity whole, we set it upon the table, handed out plates, and tried hard to convince our befuddled wives that it was just a key stage in our collective education about regional French culinary variation, as if such an education mattered to anybody in the room.

Liz, in particular, found that meal so absurd that even before we got to “Winter,” the writing was on the wall. We'd reentered that long, dark newborn tunnel—that snuggly and love-filled but still tough passage. The older child, about now, suffers the first grand disappointment of her life: the sibling she's wanted for a playmate turns out only to scream, cry, and dominate Mommy's love, and this turns the eldest hard toward Daddy, himself in a state of emotional deprivation and need, such that a great new bond forms and the man begins to realize that he loves fatherhood above all else. Night after night, Hannah would cry if left
alone in her dark bedroom, so I would lie on her bedroom floor, right next to the crib we still had her in. She'd reach a tiny arm through the bars and wrap a tiny hand around one of my garlicky fingers. We'd doze off together, and then I'd wake up around midnight. The baby, Audrey, still owned my usual spot in the marital bed, but we'd taken over the front half of the downstairs flat by then, converting it into a pair of home offices. So I'd tiptoe out the front door and down the front steps and then back inside through the lower flat's front door, onto the extra bed next to Liz's writing desk, Mason jar for a bedpan.

Even I'd begun to falter, in commitment to all those menus, when I forced “Winter” into being, enlisting our usual crew but somehow doubling the guest list to seventeen, so that I spent more money than even I could bear. All day long, I shucked oysters until my fingers bled and I made Victoria's Champagne Sausages by hand, stuffing sheep intestines with all that pork and a whole bottle of Champagne. Together, Rich and I roasted nine whole ducks stuffed with corn bread and chanterelle mushrooms. We made duck stock from scratch; we reduced it for the sauce. Leslie made Red Onion Tarts. Clara made a Garden Lettuce Salad with Roquefort Vinaigrette. Kate made masterful Lemon Clove Cookies. And although everybody had fun, I nearly destroyed the duck sauce and I had to spend hours cleaning all the duck fat out of the oven and I began to wonder why I was so determined to make all my friends help me run a free restaurant at such great emotional and financial expense.

When I called Rich the following morning, he finally brought us to the point I could not have reached on my own. He said, “Dude, I'm really sorry. But my wife says I can't do any more dinners with you, ever. Like, not ever

Kate, speaking through Liz herself, gently communicated
that other members of the crowd felt tired, too: “I guess maybe Kate's wondering if we could try something different next time, like an Indian-food potluck, where we all bring an Indian dish and a six-pack, and maybe pick up some naan from Aslam's Rasoi, over on Valencia.”

Badly stung—I'm a social person, I care dearly about other people's opinions of me—I still wasn't man enough for random Indian potlucks, a return to my old Chicken Tikka days. (“Are you fucking kidding me? I'd rather eat glass.”) So I tried to carry on alone, for a while, cooking the “Cassoulet” menu for my mother's Christmas party, and then a few other menus here and there. But by the time Audrey turned one I could no longer kid myself: I had lost my Chez Panisse faith, and it wasn't coming back.

What Is Cooking For?
The Meat Period in Every Man's Life

Anthony Lane, writing in the
New Yorker
, has wondered why so many of the best food writers are women: Alice, M. F. K., Kamman, Reichl, David. The answer, he suspects, lies in their presumed understanding “that it is enough to be a great cook, whereas men, larded with pride in their own accomplishment, invariably try to go one step too far and become great
a grander calling, though somehow less respectable, and certainly less responsive to human need.” Mea culpa, as charged, and not of mere culinary misdemeanors, like wearing a toque around the house, or demanding that my toddler daughters call me “Chef” (although Audrey once did, reading me like a book, at age three, playing for laughs, “ 'scuze me, Chef!”), but of the full domestic felony. Set adrift by the end of my Chez Panisse years, I'd been unable to find a cookbook that compelled me toward completionist fantasies. Without any dreams of cookbook completion, I could no longer bring myself even to tick off recipes. Soon, I'd developed the notion that, instead of torturing my wife with grand meals for peace-loving friends, I should simply commit myself to culinary woodshedding, the private study of discreet skills that a chef might someday need, even if he never planned to earn his living by the knife: bread-making, for example, with sourdough starters eternally on my person, even in the back of the car, so that I
would never miss a feeding; and then knife-sharpening, for which I bought several Japanese wet stones and began studying knifegeek videos, learning to prove sharpness by dry-shaving my forearms. A guy at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market told me about a fish distribution warehouse that would sell super-fresh product to walk-ins, if you called ahead. So I bought a book called
Rick Stein's Complete Seafood
, befriended the men down at the cavernous Ports Seafood distribution warehouse, and made a stab toward becoming a fish master—although Liz began worrying that shellfish, in particular, bothered her stomach. (Ridiculous, in my view; purely emotional female reaction to my claiming a traditionally female power in the home, the power over diet, dinner.)

But then I read, along with every other American foodie, the two obvious food-related bestsellers of that moment:
Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscan
y, by Bill Buford; and
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
, by Michael Pollan. Buford chronicled a mentorship under Mario Batali, learning to cook inside Batali's restaurant kitchens, and also the fun he'd had in butchering a whole pig at home. (“One of the chicest things a chef or committed foodie can do today is pick up a whole pig from an organic farm and portion it out, cooking its defrosted chops and trotters for months to come,” writes Sara Dickerman, in a seminal essay from the period, titled “Some Pig: The Development of the Piggy Confessional.”) Pollan, for his part, documented hunting and killing a wild pig, and he explained that so-called commodity meat, along with factory-raised pork and poultry, emerged from such unhealthy and morally revolting circumstances that no self-respecting person could ever eat it again. Pollan also explained that holistically raised animal foods, from truly old-fashioned livestock operations, occupied
a polar opposite position, clearly being the most ethically defensible and nutritious food known to mankind. Taken together, these two books laid out everything that men like me suddenly felt they had to do—the restaurant cooking, the butchery, the killing—in order to maintain perfect self-respect. So I sat up in bed one night, set down my hardcover copy of
The Omnivore's Dilemma
, and told Liz that our family was forever done eating industrial meat, and that I would like her to hand over the laptop so that I might google “grassfed beef california” and start bringing home the real bacon.

Within minutes, I'd found a local rancher, and then I ordered half a grassfed cow. That's when I got the first surprise of what I now consider the Meat Period, a standard developmental phase of the emotionally isolated male cook: Liz was all for it. It felt like nesting, made her feel warm inside. So I filled a chest freezer with a hundred pounds, vacuum-packed and labeled. A quarter of the mass came in delicious, money-shot steaks. (Yours truly: “To me, it tastes more like beef
taste; I can't even eat supermarket beef anymore. It totally makes me feel bloated.”) Even the girls loved that stuff, and it was fun holding little Audrey in one arm, flipping meat on the grill with the other, drinking a beer and watching Audrey try to say the word
. (“Want 'teak, Dada. Want 'teak.”) But the next little surprise came from the ground beef comprising half my haul, and largely responsible for bringing down our total per-pound price: that's a lot of goddamn hamburgers, but Hannah turned out to be a burger fiend, and Liz loved the meat's leanness. She loved also the casual, no-big-deal feel of all those family burger nights, even if I wouldn't allow anybody to eat a burger in any manner except the Chez Panisse–approved deal with toasted levain bread, homemade aioli, grilled red onions, and arugula (I've since dropped that silliness, embracing ketchup).

Fully one quarter of my beef, however, came in oddities like crossrib roasts, top round roasts, and even tongue and other organ meats. This, in turn, led to the next scripture in the Education of the Peaceful Carnivore:
The River Cottage Meat Book
, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The book opened with graphic slaughterhouse photography and text arguing that shrink-wrapped supermarket steaks, while cheap, easy, and comforting, allowed us to ignore the hard truths. Opening our eyes, by contrast, and watching that which we feared to watch, could force a man to care exactly how his meat lived and died, offering a pathway not toward shame but toward virtuous pride, when you made the right meat-buying decisions.
The River Cottage Meat Book
included a list of moral exhortation titled “My Meat Manifesto,” and I had the first few in the bag. Topping the list was an order to “think about the meat that you eat,” and to ask, “Is it good enough? Good enough to bring you pleasure every time you eat it?” Check. Same for encomium number two: “Think about the animals from which the meat that you eat comes.” And so on, and so forth, and because
The River Cottage Meat Book
carried an epic dissertation on proper roasting technique, I'd even paid all due respect and justice to the butcher beef itself, as per instructions. But this meant discovering that all those big grassfed roasts were so lean and tough they were borderline inedible if you cooked them beyond rare, a situation that made a man look wistfully upon his dwindling steak reserves.

At this point in the Meat Period, our man wants to feel that he has climbed to significant heights. So he congratulates himself on the view back down toward those unenlightened souls still blindly devouring lethal, immoral, world-destroying garbage meat. Blocking the meaty summit, however, stands another admonition in that Meat Manifesto: “Are you adventurous with meat? Do
you explore the different tastes and textures of the various cuts, particularly the cheaper cuts, and of offal?”

BOOK: How to Cook Like a Man
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