My Life as a Child Chef

Adam Shatz in The New Yorker:

Twice a month, when my daughter, Ella, spends the weekend with me, my apartment turns into a cooking school. Ella is thirteen and started to make cookies and scones a few years ago. She moved on to tarts, fresh tagliatelle, and, lately, croissants. Early on Saturdays, before heading to our local green market, we have impassioned conversations about her dinner plans. Pork adobo with citrus and coriander, she asks me, or red lentils simmered Ethiopian-style, with fresh tomatoes and berbere? And then she’s sure to ask if she can bake. I’m already thinking of the scabs of flour I’ll be scraping off my counter on Monday morning, and of how much pâtisserie I’ll have consumed, but I give in. I love watching the skill and authority of her fingers in a bowl of flour, eggs, butter, and chocolate; her intensity as she pipes ganache from a pastry bag or dusts éclairs with finely ground pistachios.

When she’s not cooking, she often watches shows like “Chef’s Table,” the sumptuously produced Netflix series featuring sombre, admiring portraits of culinary stars. With painterly cinematography and introspective voice-overs, “Chef’s Table” pays professional cooks the kind of homage once reserved for artists. Most of the dishes are impossible to replicate in a home kitchen—who has the time to make Enrique Olvera’s thousand-day mole, or even find all the ingredients?—but Ella doesn’t watch the show for recipes. She watches it for the spectacle of mastery, much as other teens hang out on YouTube watching Lionel Messi’s greatest goals or Yuja Wang playing “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

The show’s self-serious musings on the mysteries of food make me cringe a bit, but I was once fluent in that idiom. From the time I was nine until well into my teens, I was determined to be a chef. I ran a catering business out of my parents’ house, in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and did apprenticeships with notable chefs.

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