Monday 29 April 2002

Unbelievable

I am not an accomplished cook. I’ve been told often enough — mostly by girlfriends — that I cook as though I’m conducting a chemistry experiment. I suppose it could look like that. What with majoring in chemistry at university and then becoming a photographer, much of my life I’ve been carefully measuring and mixing chemicals.

Those habits must have followed me into the kitchen. I never stray from the recipe: measuring quantities accurately, setting the oven temperature precisely, timing each dish to the minute. By eschewing flair or imagination, applying scientific methods, and restricting myself to a repertoire of three dishes, I can make a meal for two or four people with little fuss and no risk of failure.

I always ask potential guests whether they’ve eaten at my place before and, if so, what did they have: grilled Atlantic salmon with asparagus and new potatoes; chicken cacciatore with steamed corn, carrots, and broccoli; or veal campagnola with a green salad? For newcomers, I like to serve the chicken cacciatore. It seems more ambitious and can be prepared ahead of time, leaving just the vegetables to steam.

So that’s what I cooked for Ayako, the first time she came to dinner. The aromas of garlic, basil, and tomato filled the apartment. Chopped anchovies, olives, and parsley lay in piles on a large white plate. Ayako stood in the doorway of the tiny galley kitchen, holding a glass of white wine, watching me slice carrots and broccoli.

The lid of the saucepan clattered gently. I lifted it, poked at the corn with a fork then — relaxing for a moment — took a sip of beer.
“You should put the broccoli in now,” she told me.
“No,” I replied. “The carrots go in next, for eight minutes, then the broccoli for two.”
Shinjirarenai,” she exclaimed, laughing.
I’d only recently started studying Japanese again and didn’t know the meaning of shinjirarenai.
“Unbelievable,” she said. “A man who knows how to cook broccoli.”

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