Last night, while watching the PBS annual donations drive, the programmers there decided to run the classic series, The French Chef hosted by none other than Mdme. Julia Child. In her iconic kitchen, she jerked a non stick pan over her electric coil stove in an attempt to form the perfect omelette.
Flashback to 1976 maybe, when I would savor every episode of The French Chef which was then shown on our local PBS channel 13. I vividly remember watching that epidsode and then later attempting to recreate her technique in the kitchen of our L shaped bi level home built to the exacting standards of the Hovnanian Building Group. Our home could not have been more post war middle America, finished in 1969 and entered into with optimism and hope. The appliances were by Norge, in Avocado green, and although they did not approach the power of the Viking and Thermidor appliances in my kitchen today, I did my best to create what I considered magic in that 120 sq. foot space.
It was then, in 1976, that our grandmother came to visit us from Greece. Yiayia, as she was known, would shuttle between the three homes of her children within half a mile of each other, staying for periods of one year or more. We had, in fact, created a Greek commune there in Manalapan, New Jersey (then known as Englishtown), where we lived in the subdivision of Holiday Park. I can almost see the literature which Hovnanian Enterprises printed to entice prospective buyers to move to the “country” and be within 1 hour of New York. A stylishly dressed mother, kissing her suited husband goodbye as she turns toward their “state of the art” kitchen to percolate a fresh cup of Maxwell House coffee. It could have been Manalapan, New Jersey or Levittown, New York, or even Eastpoint, Michigan.
We lived on Becket Road, my Uncle Felix on Gawain Drive and my Uncle John on Baron Court (do you see a pattern?). Our grandmother, once situated in her new home for a week or two, would delight us with dishes such as rabbit stew with pearl onions and cinnamon, and kalitsounia, which were little pockets of dough stuffed with cheese or spinach and cheese. To say that food was an integral component of our lives is an understatement. We earned our living that way, running the Reo Diner in Woodbridge, New Jersey and the McAteer’s Restaurant in Somerset, New Jersey. A mini empire that supported 5 families.
Now, back to my omelette. Attempting to recreate Julia’s technique on the Norge range top (no six burner Viking range top here!), I jerked the pan back and forth while my Yiayia watched (certainly in horror). “What are you doing?” she asked in Greek. I responded that I was trying to make an omelette, but did not divulge the inspiration of Mdme. Child.
I vividly remember the next thing she said. Yiayia shot back that I was not using the proper technique and then asked me if I had seen Julia Child (the “mayirisa” on TV) make the omelette? Simultaneously it appears, we had both seen Julia Child make the omelette. Speaking not a word of English, Yiayia understood exactly what Julia Child was doing and filed it exactly where I had. In a universal language, Mdme. Child had taught both my Yiayia and myself how to make the perfect omelette.
That is one of my earliest memories of actually working on the line. LOL. With my Yiayia sous chef beside me, I began to learn technique and my desire and instinct supplied the rest. It was to be a lifelong journey of obsession with everything food.