Half-Baked: Cooking With an Old-School Chef

Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. Every week, she shares her kitchen exploits.

I grab my knife bag and temperature gauge and run out the door. Chef hates it when I'm late. I arrive to find her prepping the kitchen, setting up cutting boards, and downing a cup of coffee. I walk in, drop my things, and ask, "So what do we have left to do?"

"I made cook the green beans and broccoli for the casseroles. I started the stuffing, so why don't you finish and I'll do the salsa blanca for the green bean."

"OK, where's the recipe?"

 

"It's on the table," she shouts from the fridge. "You need apple."

"Yeah, sautéed apples."

She comes back with apples and big pans of green beans and broccoli. I dig through drawers, looking for tools. So frustrating when I can't find things.

"What are you looking for?" she asks while chopping an onion.

"A peeler!" I grunt, sifting through drawers.

"Aye carajo! Eres blind? Here," pulling one out from a pile of random stuff.

I mutter a sarcastic thank you and start peeling. This thing can barely catch skin; it's just ripping chunks from the apple.

"This thing sucks!"

"Of course it sucks; those things suck," she's smirks.

"So what do you use?"

"This," she grabs an apple and a large knife. "You kids have so many different things for everything. I don't need a bunch of things. Look, you are making a mess on the floor. Watch! I show you, you learn," she hands me another apple and knife. She takes the apple in one hand and starts at the steam. She gets right under the skin, her thumb guiding the knife all the way around and down the apple.

"See, that's how you do it. Now you do it." She gives me the one long, curly apple peel. Mine is more clumsy, short peels with some meat on them.

"You'll learn -- keep doing it. You kids, you go to cooking school, have tools for everything, and you still don't know. I never go to cooking school, and I'm doing this for 30 years." She goes back to her onions.

I cut the apples and throw them in a hot pan. Working on the burner next to me, she watches my every stir and checks the consistency of the apples. I add them to the stuffing and sneak a taste.

"What do you think?"

"Hmmm, yummy." She nods, agreeing with me. "OK, so what next?"

"Start with the broccoli souffle. First, you make the salsa blanca. Cut some onions very small."

I grab an onion and go to her cutting. This is what she was using? It was four by four, not much bigger than the onion. Whatever, she's so set in her ways. I grab my knife from my bag.

"Oh my goodness! It's so big," she laughs, "You can use mine."

"Well, mine is sharp; yours aren't," I say under my breath.

"What?"

"Nothing," giggling. I struggle to brunoise the onion, since the board is so small. By the time I reach the end of the onion, there's no more room on the board and I'm dicing on the corner. I heat a pan and throw the onions in. Some big, some small.

"Those aren't small enough," she says, stirring in the cream to her sauce. I ignore her, pull out some of the larger pieces, and keep cooking till translucent.

"OK, so now put some flour, only two teaspoons," she directs me, tasting her sauce.

I drop in the flour over the onions. Then notice the huge pile of broccoli.

"This isn't going to be enough sauce."

"It'll be enough. See, for the green beans I put a little saizon, just to give a little sabor. And some cilantro, 'cause I love cilantro," tasting her sauce.

I add chicken stock and cream, but then my sauce becomes too thin.

"Que pasa?"

"The sauce is too thin," frustrated.

"I don't think it's too much sauce."

Ignoring her, I make a quick roux, add it in, and put the sauce back on the heat.

"Be careful you don't cut the sauce."

"I won't," stirring, annoyed at the extra step. She's finishes her sauce and stirs in the green beans.

"Aye, no."

"What?"

"This isn't enough sauce. I have to do again."

"Me too," my frustration is peaking.

"Well, it happens. We quickly make and be done soon. You have to cool your sauce so you can add the egg to it." Long pause. Then she says, "I feel like you are frustrated with me."

"I hate doing things twice! Your cutting board is ridiculousy small! That's why some of the onions are a little big!" I snap. She laughs in my face, then tastes my sauce. She adds her blend of seasonings to it, referring to an old piece of paper written in Spanish. I can barely make out the kitchen-scratch writing on it.

"The trick to the souffle is to cool the sauce. Then you add queso and egg to it. If it's too hot, the sauce will be no good." I've started cleaning while she gives her lesson. I'm cleaning my frustration away when she decides to come and start poking at me to get me to laugh.

"It's no wonder you hate cooking! You make things so difficult! What's difficult?"

"This dwarf cutting board! No sharp knives! You have to make everything twice! UGH!" Then we both laugh at my tantrum.

"Sometimes I have to use my brain and make use what I have."

"OK, Emeril," I say, and we both laugh again.

"OK, go home. Tomorrow's going to be a long day."

"OK, mami. Good night."

"Thanks for your help. Good night."

Next day, I carved 26 turkeys and plated 250 dinners. It was a cakewalk by comparison.


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