My Vineyard- 18
by Nancy Aronie
“Did you teach him to cook?” has become the salutation I’ve gotten used to on the Island. No. I taught him nothing. In fact, he hated my food. For his ninth birthday, my son Josh begged me to buy him a Carvel ice cream cake, but in 1978 I was Queen of Tofu, growing my own sprouts, grinding my own peanut butter, making seven-grain bread when grain only meant alcohol or sand. My poor kids apologized to their friends when they came over to play with Legos and I offered them yogurt chips (the kale chips of yesteryear) and stir-fried tempeh cubes. No, I said with the arrogance of a self-proclaimed expert, I am not buying a Carvel Chemical Cake to poison your friends. I’ll make carob with goat cheese frosting and the kids will love it, you’ll see.
He winced, I baked, and as the mini-guests arrived I saw his embarrassed, forced smile and promptly took a four minute drive to Carvel and bought what I should have bought in the first place. I did my own wincing as they scrawled his name in red dye number 2 across the top of the extra large sheet concoction and raced back just in time to serve the perfect little squares of white on white on non-biodegradable plastic plates. So, no, Josh learned nothing from me.
The first inkling I had that Josh was a great cook occurred 15 years ago. We had been coming to our cabin in Chilmark every summer, when, in his twenties, Josh decided to spend a winter here and invited us to dinner. Hmm, I wondered, what might he create for us? When it comes to food, my husband is easy, I’m the fussy one. For dinner, Josh made a white fish in a coconut lime sauce with jalapeño peppers and jasmine rice that blew me away. Thai restaurants weren’t that prevalent yet and I had never had those flavors before. On our way home that night I thought to myself, who is this kid? I thought he was going to be a writer or a painter, both talents he has in spades, but wait, what have we here?
What we had there might have emerged from the hundreds of meals we ate out during our “flush” period, when my husband and I started a Lucite business in the early ‘70s and for about eight years, we actually made a lovely amount of money. With that abundance one of the things we did was eat out. A lot. When the bread would come to the table, the If the bread isn’t good we won’t come back.” Or, “This isn’t Parmigiano Reggiano. This is Pecorino. I hate Pecorino.” Or, “This pasta was precooked. I will not return.”
It would seem that I had been brought up with a silver spoon in my layette. But I, like so many of my contemporaries from the ‘50s, grew up thinking Spam and Lorna Dunes and iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing were food. I never saw a spice until way after college. I didn’t get my tastes and pomposity from growing up in Campbell Soup land, but once I tasted fabulous food there was no turning back. And since we could (briefly, ever so briefly) afford the best I took full advantage. So maybe even though he didn’t learn great cooking at his mother’s knee, he may have picked up some hints at his mother’s behest.
Forty-five years ago when I first married Joel Aronie he explained to me why meat was a selfish food. It takes too much water and acreage, he said. So he stopped eating beef. But all these years later, Josh’s meatloaf has become the exception to his rule. I drool over Josh’s barbecued chicken and pureed carrot sauce. I don’t like fish unless he’s cooked it. His clam chowder is the best I’ve ever tasted and his falafel? Don’t even start with me.
So next time someone asks me, “Did Josh learn to cook in your kitchen?” I might say no, but if I keep eating at his table I am going to learn in his.