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Authors: R.G. Emanuelle

Add Spice to Taste

BOOK: Add Spice to Taste
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Add Spice to Taste

 

By R.G. Emanuelle

Copyright © 2013, R.G. Emanuelle

 

Cover photo and design by R.G. Eman
uelle

Recipes and photos by R.G. Emanuelle

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, existing at the time of publication or any means created thereafter, including recording, printouts, information storage, and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons living or dead or to business establishments or events is coincidental.

 

Add Spice to Taste

 

Day 1

 

Class was going
to start soon. My lesson plan sat on the counter and I stared at it, not really seeing it. I’d looked at it a thousand times before and knew it by heart, but I still took it with me to class because knowing my luck, if I didn’t, I would probably forget something.

I had already put m
y chef jacket on, so I just wrapped an apron around my waist. I brought the strings around to the front and tied them in a bow, then slipped side towels up and over the strings on my right and left sides and smoothed them out.

“Moroccan Feast” was one of my favorite classes to teach, and my skin warmed with excitement, as if it
were the first time. I glimpsed the room. Everything I needed for the class was out and ready. The floor had been swept clean by the full-time class the evening before and the plates and utensils were in their proper places. One wall was dedicated to the cooking vessels, from small saucepots to large sauté pans, hanging from hooks, their lids resting in slats nailed to the wall. I frowned at the slipshod way the previous night’s students had hung some of the pots in their haste to finish cleaning up. I always made sure my students didn’t do that.

The classroom was redolent of cumin, mint, and cinnamon as I set my ingredients on the demo station. The little boom
box that I’d brought with me filled the room with the sounds of cymbals and the hypnotic rhythm of
derboukas
. I always played music germane to the cuisine at the beginning of classes to get me—and hopefully the students—in the mood.

As I did before each class, I picked up my knife and hon
ed the blade. The steel made a
shoosh-shoosh
sound each time it slashed across the honing rod, first one side, then the other. The quick motions had a mesmerizing effect and I almost didn’t see the person standing in the doorway watching me. I glanced over at her and assessed. She was athletic-looking, probably around thirty, and wore her hair in a pixie-ish cut. Cute.

When she caught my eye, she entered the room
and smiled as she lifted her hands to show me the apron and towels that were neatly folded in her hands. Add adorable dimples to her list of attributes. “Hi,” she said. “I’m one of your students.”

I smiled back.
Really cute. My stomach did a little flip-flop, which caught me a bit off guard, but I recovered quickly. “Hello. Welcome.”

“Where should I sit?” She scanned the tables, where my assistants—the school’s full-time culinary students
―had already set up workstations for everyone.

“Anywhere you’d like,” I said
, as I gave my knife a few more runs across the rod, trying to pay attention to the blade and not how she looked in her khaki shorts and forest-green tank top.

S
he chose a table close to the front where my demo station was, and put her things down on the chair. She unfolded the apron and tied it around her waist, then looked down at the bright red plastic cutting board with a chef’s knife sitting along the top edge. All the tables were set on blocks, higher than normal, to provide a comfortable height for working.

She ran her fingers through her hair
and pushed a few strands back that had strayed. When she lifted her head, I noticed that her cheeks looked a little flushed. It’s always awkward being the first one in class. You never know quite what to do. But I was sure that her discomfort would be alleviated when the other students began filtering in.

I relaxed a little when a
few more students entered, each taking spots at one of the four prep tables. My own unexpected distraction was making me nervous, since I sucked at talking to women I found attractive. I waited a few minutes past starting time to give stragglers a chance to find the room. Then I took roll call. The pixie-haired woman’s name was Julianna. When I’d finished, I set my roster aside.

“Okay, so welcome
, everyone. This is Moroccan Feast. Is everyone here in the right place?” The students looked at each other, but no one spoke. “Okay, good. Over the next few days, you’re going to learn the fundamentals of Moroccan cooking and you’re going to create the dishes of what is considered one of the best cuisines in the world.”

Some people
fidgeted excitedly. Others looked like they were wondering what they’d gotten themselves into. Some looked eager to get started, while others looked as if they were there only to be entertained. It didn’t matter to me. All I cared about was teaching what I was supposed to teach: how to cook. Having advanced cooks in the class was fine, but I got the most reward from working with people who couldn’t even boil water. I felt like I was really teaching them something.

I was just about to speak, when I caught the eye of another student, Brit. Or, rather, she caught my eye, because she was staring at me intently. Not looking at me the way the other students were, but staring, her eyes boring
into me with a glint of something unspoken. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought she was ogling me. With difficulty, and with a strange itch prickling my face and fingertips, I refocused on the class.

“Let me start by telling you a bit about myself,” I continued.
“My name is Giovanna Rossini—Jo, for short. As you may have guessed from my name, I grew up in an Italian family and food always played an important role in my life. So, long story short, I decided to make food my career. I trained at the Culinary Institute of America, otherwise known as the CIA.”

Julianna laughed. I
got brave and tried to give her a little surreptitious smile, but she looked down at her cutting board.

“When I graduated,” I went on, “I worked at some great restaurants in California, Seattle, and Chicago. Then I got tired of the Hollywood set.” I sighed dramatically. “So I decided to come home to New York and I began working at Chez Jacques.” I always got some
oohs
and
aahs
when I dropped that name, which helped with my street cred. “Then I got tired of restaurant work and decided to go into teaching.”

Teaching had been hard for me at first because I was naturally shy.
I worked on it and I’d been teaching for four years now, so at least it appeared that I knew what I was doing. I looked everyone in the eye while I spoke, and when I got around to Julianna, I tripped up a little. She was watching me intently. But so was Brit. Yet, the gazes from the two women were completely different. Brit’s felt calculating. Julianna’s felt…welcoming. It made me really nervous but kind of excited, too.

I cleared my throat and stepped behind my demo station, which
included a prep counter and four burners and was set up in front of the kitchen with cameras positioned above it so that students could watch the instructors directly and also on an overhead screen. It also divided the classroom area from the kitchen area.

“All right. Let’s get started. The first thing you need to learn before we go traipsing off into our
Moroccan cooking adventure is how to use a knife properly. There are entire classes devoted to that, so I’m just going to give you some basics to get you working with the proper techniques. Your knives are sharp. Handle them carefully and with respect.”

I held
my stainless steel French chef knife at chest level. “Let’s start really basic. The parts of a knife. You probably never thought of knives as having parts before, right?”

There were a
few murmurs of assent.

“So let’s learn them.” I
described the parts of a chef knife, pointing at those parts on the knife I held. Then I explained the differences between a French knife and a Japanese knife. “Some of you have French knives in front of you, and some of you have Japanese. Pick it up and get a feel for it. If you would like to swap out the one you have, let me know.”

A well-put-together woman who looked to be in her fifties raised her hand.
From the roll call, her name was Margaret.

“Yes?”
I asked.

“Which is better, the French or the Japanese?”

“It’s not a matter of better, it’s a matter of what you’re more comfortable with. Go ahead and use what you’ve got for now. If after a while you want to try a different one, let me know.”

Margaret
nodded.


Now, in front of each of you are two packets, one that describes knife techniques and one that contains the recipes we’ll be making later. You can follow along with me now and look at the packet later.

“So
this morning, let’s work on basic cutting and prepping techniques. You’ll learn how to dice in different sizes, and make juliennes, roll cuts, and matchsticks.”

After I’d demonstrated
those cuts, I then observed the students as they followed my instructions to cut up various vegetables. I walked around to all the tables and looked at each student’s cutting techniques, correcting them when necessary. One man looked as if he’d paid for more meals in his life than he’d prepared. His neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper hair and his expensive-looking blue shirt said that he could probably hire a private chef if he wanted to and that he was just doing this for fun. He was having trouble cutting down into his carrots.

“Okay, what you want to do,” I told him as I put my hand on his to correct his grip on the knife, “is to hold it at the base of the blade, the hilt, because that will give you more control over the knife. And remember, don’t press straight down. Glide the knife into the carrot.” I released his hand and watched him retry his cuts. “That’s it,” I commended. “Now you’ve got it.”

I often wondered what sorts of people took classes like this, the kind that took place during the day and lasted for almost a week. The older people were easy to peg: retirees looking for ways to fill their time and have some fun. Middle-aged women were often housewives who didn’t have nine-to-five jobs and needed to get out of the house and get involved. In the case of this class, it was summer, so the really young ones were students on summer break. It was the in-between people I couldn’t peg—those who were too old to be undergrad students but too young to be retirees and seemingly not housewives. Were they independently wealthy? Out of work? In which case, how could they afford the classes?

I
often tried to guess the job or life situation of my students. Sometimes, I found out I was right. Most of the time, I never knew.

I
arrived at Julianna’s table, where she was dicing potatoes. She was making quick work of them and doing a good job with the different cuts. “Nice,” I said, peering down at her board. I caught a whiff of perfume, something a little spicy.

“Nice.” I wasn’t talking about the dicing
that time.

“What?” She looked at me, puzzled.

Oops. I hadn’t meant to say that second “nice” aloud. “Um. Good work on the cuts,” I stammered.

S
he beamed, which made my stomach feel like tapioca. It had been a long time since I’d felt anything like that. Not since the breakup. I continued going around the room, pleased for the most part at the students’ efforts.

Brit called out from the next table. “Excuse me, Chef Jo. Can you come and look at mine. I’m not sure I’m doing it right.”

“Sure.” I gave Julianna another glimpse before going over to Brit’s workstation.

“That’s pretty good,” I said, surveying Brit’s work. “Yeah, you’ve got it.”

“Yeah?” Her teeth gleamed pearly white. I didn’t think anyone actually had teeth that gleamed.

“Yeah
. You’re a fast learner.”

It was very subtle, very quick, so quick that I wasn’t sure I’d actually seen it. But I could swear that she looked me over. In that certain way that
, in a bygone era, men with dimes looked over women at dance halls.

“Well, you’re a really good teacher,” she said.
“I’ll bet you can teach anyone anything.”

Uncomfortable, I moved away
. “Um, thanks.” I walked back toward the demo station. “Okay, people. When you’re done with your vegetables, bring the bowls up to the front.”

At the end of the session, the students handed over bowls of vegetables that would be used by the full-time culinary students for stocks. “
Good work, everyone,” I said. “Now when you get back from lunch, we’re going to make a few simple dishes, just to get our feet in the water. I’ll also introduce you to some classic ingredients in Moroccan cuisine. See you in a few.”

I went back to my office to do some paperwork
. I logged into my computer but realized that I’d left some papers that I needed back in the classroom. I was about to step out of my office but pulled back when I saw Julianna at the front desk talking to Sasha, the office manager. For some strange reason, I didn’t want Julianna to see me. Not at that moment, anyway. I wasn’t very good at small talk, and I didn’t want to sound moronic. And based on the way I’d felt in that classroom, that was a distinct possibility.

So
I cowered just behind the doorway, peeking to see when she left. Her conversation with Sasha seemed to last forever, but she finally walked away and stepped onto the elevator. When the doors slid shut, I left my office.

BOOK: Add Spice to Taste
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