How do, People? First there was Yo! MTV Raps! And now there’s Yo! Joey B Cooks! (Well, I added the yo, because it seemed to fit with the picture I chose.)
I turned 51 this year, and I’ve been figuring out cooking on my own since I was a kid. My history with cooking can be summed-up in 2 quotes I heard on the radio. I don’t remember who said either one, but both made me say, “That sounds like my childhood!”
The first was from someone who said, “Yes, there was abuse in my home when I was a child, but it was mostly cooking-related.” The ironic thing about my mother and cooking was that she constantly said that her mother was a great cook. At the time I didn’t realize how little street cred my mom had when it came to actually identifying a great cook. But the fact that she considered Ponderosa Steak House (T-bone, salad, potato, Texas Toast and drink special – only $4.99!) to be a really nice restaurant, or that her idea of pizza was the 3-pack of John’s frozen cheese. (I literally never had pizza from a pizza parlor until I was at the house of one of my friends in High School., should have tipped me off. But sadly, those were my only frames of reference at the time.
The second was from a food editor who described her mother as “taste blind.” That really nailed it. When it came to
cooking (and I think in many ways, eating), my mother was taste blind. When she made pasta (which had only one real name…spaghetti. Be it rotini, mostaccioli, or vermicelli, it was referred to as spaghetti), she wouldn’t use that fancy, high-falutin’ Ragu. No way. Her sauce (as it came to be known) was made with Campbell’s Tomato Soup, and ketchup. And water, I guess. The spaghetti, which was about as al dente as pudding, got doused in butter (no garlic salt even), then drenched in that red stuff. No garlic, no oregano, no basil, no salt even! I could go on and on. But taste blind sums it up. (By the way, garlic, oregano, basil, etc., were as foreign to me as pizzeria pizza. I heard about these things on TV and in movies. I read about them in books and magazines. I heard other people mention them. But to me, they were just fantasy characters in the kitchens of mythical cooks.)
So, my learning to cook became a matter of survival…survival of taste. There was food to eat. I clearly didn’t starve. But there was no taste, no flavors, certainly no variety. Oh, and nothing fresh. As far as I knew corn and beans (pretty much the only things I knew as vegetables) were grown in cans. Speaking of cans, they were my only refuge. The ones I remember best were those made by my childhood food idol – Chef Boyardee. I didn’t know who this guy was, but he was my idea of a great cook. After all, the cans of his ravioli I discovered contained an incredible feast for the senses (filled with food coloring, artificial flavors, and plenty of sodium!), compared with the usually gray (in color and flavor) concoctions my mother would put on the table.