Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Uh, what do you think about women in the kitchen?

Lucky for me that I love to eat fish and shellfish. Three quarters of the food in class is made with a broth or base of smoked dried shrimp and then often has fish, shellfish or chicken as the featured protein. I always seem to be in heaven by lunchtime. Everyday I try to think of some way to get Cliff to come and join me. He would love the abundance of fresh fish. And, to give you a sense of reality, a kilo of freshly shucked crabmeat is about $12.00 reals or about eight bucks. Shucked mussels, clams and oysters are usually less. Pristine shrimp in the shell, Squid, Skate, Red Snapper, Corvina, Oily fish like Sardines and Mackerel, even Salmon. I have seen three types of Crab, and there is Spiny Lobster too.

Well in the last few classes I have had a few culinary ephiphanies. Last week was Cozido, and today we made Caruru. I previously described Cozido from my trip to the Festa de Boa Morte. I may have mentioned Caruru at that point as well. In any case both dishes are emblematic recipes passed on from slavery days, as a reminder and reinforcement of the African and Indentured heritage that goes with being Brazilian, black or otherwise. In the terreiro's both of these dishes, among others are foods for the Orixa. It is quite informative to watch them being produced in a terreiro to feed an Orixa and a crowd, and compare it with the precise culinary technique employed by Chef Josuenilton, (Joe-sway-nil-Ton) at Senac. Chef is a sweet and passionate young man, probably twenty nine to thirty one years old, and a father of two children under eight. It sounds as though he left the restaurant and hotel scene to raise a family and have normal hours as a culinary professor. He is a linear, no nonsense, not one spot on his white's kinda guy. Good hearted and politically conservative.

You should know that my folks chose my first name, and Craig my brother's because they were clear and simple. They do not necessarily lend themselves to diminution, i.e.; Margaret, Meg, Peg, Peggy, Maggie, etc. Well, every time I leave the country, no one can pronounce my first name. The dipthong throws them. The only way they can achieve it is if I become Scotchy. You see where that is going. I have even had people give me the drinking sign, and a side glance suggesting that this must be a nickname based on my predilections, No? Well, Chef Josuenilton, you can call him Chef Jonilton, for short, refers to me as Chef, once he learned of my background.

Friday, one of the more strident young women in class wanted to engage him and our classmates on the role of women in food. My class is made up of about fifteen people, of mixed backgrounds; almost all Baianos. A few seem to be matriculating as culinary students with the restaurant aspirations. Some folks just want to cook better; or learn their native recipes properly. Nobody is sitting on fat cash or living as a housewife/husband. Well, this gutsy young woman thought that women could and should aspire to culinary careers including management or Executive Chef status. Chef Jonilton, tried his best to be diplomatic. He hemmed around the idea of difference, you know the stock pot analogy...so much lifting and physical labor involved with cooking. The raucous nature of working, "The Line" on a Friday night. If you know the biz, the usual jive suspects. He began with the anatomy and physical limitations of women, and then moved onto discipline and leadership. You know that drill, when it comes to the bottom line, can she be an asshole drill sergeant and get the food out. At this point, even the working class women with no apparent feminist leanings or culinary aspirations began to take issue with him. Do you see what stop the train is headed for?

"Entao, Chef, (Scotchy), que pensa voce sobre a ideia a ter molheres dentro da cozinha, ou pra ter cozinheres-chefas? {What did I think about the idea of women in the kitchen, and or women as chefs?}-Hmmm? Lead balloon in my lap. Do I side with the women in a scenario that is not at all analogous to where we are at based on my culinary experiences, stick with the dude on a position of gender or professionalism; or pretened not to understand his Portuguese and deflect the question? I thought for a moment and said, in Portuguese, "I have worked for women chefs before." The room quieted. "Entao, que pas......? "In my experience women bring a different energy into the kitchen that I appreciate. A different sensitivity to food, team building and authority or manageme..." Before I could truly finish my thoughts of how many women ignited the farm to table movement, have fought for fair wages for all folks in the culinary food chain, and though they are not exempt from being jerks; just don't automatically just put on the "I am a big f-ing a-hole and you are going to redo all of that mis en place-NOW game-face" and ruin your life; Chef Jonilton started discussing better ways to create a smooth blend in your Fundo Misto, (equal mixture of ground dried shrimp, cashews and peanuts). I was off the hook of sorts.

Then today, he rolled a simple conversation of what I did for my weekend, with details of a family dinner in an outdoor restaurant complete with ocean views into a diatribe of conservative political ideology. I made sure that this time, I was busy snapping photos of the food in preparation to be cooked, so that I would be seemingly caught unawares if called upon. I guess he felt that local politics was out of my purview. I had followed his argument, silently questioning his agenda and the appropriateness of presenting his views in a forum where we all have to answer to him. Ugh, the demands of Petty power. Picture that we have to ask to be excused at the end of class.

Please don't get me wrong either, I like the guy. He is sweet, informative, a good cook and an careful teacher. He just needs to find that consciousness group or Biofeedback session. The Moqueca de Mariscos (squid, clams, mussels, shrimp, oysters and clams) Kicked Butt. I think that his Caruru, might have been my favorite so far. The comparisons are awkward since in ways the Comida de Santo at times can tend to run to excess in favor of a given ingredient that is seen as desirable by a sought after Orixa. One of my culinary connections, Urania told me last week that when her grandmother taught her to cook, she began by saying, "Neta, voce deve por atencao a sua comida. Pode fazer amor o matar com sua culinaria." *

{*Grandaughter, pay attention to your cooking. You can seduce someone or kill them with your cooking}. Nuff said.

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