February 21, 2024 | Rome, Italy

One too many in the kitchen

By |2020-06-02T12:52:18+02:00May 31st, 2020|"Suzanne's Taste"|
A 1950s ad for kitchen appliances… missing a screen door you can lock.

love an audience when I’m cooking. My kitchen is normally open to the world. Though I invite interested guests to behold the goings-on, there are limits.

A scenario: You have asked a few dear friends to dinner, but there is one in particular, the Looker-On-Er, who always, innocently enough, decides there’s a better view of the stove and pots and pans from the doorway of your very small kitchen in your very small apartment. This doorway is right next to the fridge, which you have to open several times but can’t because there is this very curious body leaning almost directly in front of the fridge door, this while asking questions about, say, the environmental policies of Greenland (at least I’m not fricasseeing whale meat) or what your summer plans might be (why would I know anything in November?). You, the hero of this story, are trying your best to keep up your end of the conversation politely while flipping the crêpes to be stuffed with Cognac-butter-infused seafood and then spread with a buttery bechamel and quickly browned in the oven. But the fact is you can’t get to the fridge to pull out the chilled filling to bring it to room temperature in order to fill the crêpes, and so you say, “Oh, darling old friend, I’d love to discuss the disappearance of tundra with you a bit later, but right now I have focaccia in the oven and must remove it right away (!) in order to lower the oven heat and put in the crêpes (for 8), and I desperately need something out of the (blockaded) fridge, so do you mind, uh, could you just step aside for one teensy moment while I open the door?”

You are trying your best to keep up your end of the conversation while flipping the crêpes.

To which the very old and dear friend about to show me her grandkids on her iPhone, reluctantly steps aside for exactly one teensy moment, allowing you to (quickly) take out the precious filling to warm. At this point, the well-meaning very old friend ambles back to exactly the spot where she’d been, this time leaning a bit further into the kitchen.

Now the dear one is not only blocking the fridge door but also the cabinet just to the right of it in which sits the large water pitcher you need for the table. So you ask nicely again, feeling guilty as hell about not being the hostess with the mostess, but before you can even express your urgent need you are bombarded with questions about where to get perfect shrimp (or fish or whatever) and the best way to peel them and what are the exact measurements of each ingredient. And oh, one more thing, how many drops of lemon juice are in the sauce, which will not easily be gotten from me (a no-measurer-after-all-these-years kind of cook).

And you reply by saying you’d be delighted to tell all at another time, but right now you need just a little space for the prep, and the dear old friend once again steps aside, knocking over the small tumbler of wine you have poured to sustain yourself during the body-standing-in-doorway ordeal, and there it goes, the contents of your little helper glass, down the front of the lower cabinet. You have to mop it up with paper towels and pour another for yourself (a much larger one this time), all the while carefully eyeing the contents of the bottle to see that there is more, just in case, and hoping not to be downright rude as you suggest that maybe, just maybe, it would be better not to get into too much detail right now as you pour for your guest too, realizing that you, hero and cook, might just be a bit tipsy after the wine (No. 1 rule of the kitchen: never get the cook stoned). You are about to handle a very hot baking sheet, which, in the tiny kitchen, needs to be placed exactly where the dear old friend has placed her purse, explaining she must find a notepad and something to write with in order to get all the details about making focaccia and seafood crêpes (can she cut the amount of butter and cream?) and, oh yes, where did the wonderful vino come from, and do I have on hand the address of the wine shop, and how about that article in “Medium” magazine on 12 things you can do so as not to offend others (I might need to read that one right now —the crêpes can wait), and, well, so on…

But we’re not through. Far from it.

The dear old friend once again steps aside, knocking over the small tumbler of wine.

There is also the Let Me-Tell/Show-You-How-I-Do It kibitzer, a non-cook himself, who I know (I love this guy but…) from past experience will stand right next to me as I am in my sauté state at the stovetop. He will first casually move my skillet about ¼ inch over its fire “to make sure it’s squarely on the flame” while I am marveling at the hutzpah that this non-cook shows in coming into your hero’s kitchen and playing with her toys, uninvited. But the uninvited old friend suggests that the olive oil might be getting a bit too hot and could cause unmentionable C-word diseases when ingested over long periods of time, and then, without further ado, reaches for the dial that will lower the fire under my (let me say that again, my) skillet containing my disease-causing olive oil, and in the process jars my elbow, which in turn jars the skillet, which in turn prompts the irritated (with good reason) olive oil to toss forth a few of its beads into the air and on to my wrist while I am trying to figure out why my trustworthy oil did not pop onto the wandering hand of the non-cook, thus possibly dissuading the interloper from standing over my sauté pan with more suggestions.

So, your hero asks, does this ever happen to you?

Okay, okay, but the same two people seem to have the same habits each time.

I realize suddenly that I can plan for the next time, I certainly can, or scheme might be a better word.

As the kibitzer sidles up to let me know how things should be done, I tell him sweetly, batting eyelashes (I am shameless), to feel free to pour himself a liberal shot from the single-malt bottle, because I’m sure the other guests in the living room are dying to know about…well… everything, and I’m certain he is the perfect man to enlighten them.

As for the oblivious Looker-On-Er, I have solved that one, too: a screen door to the kitchen that comes with a lock.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.