Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Six O'Clock Dilemma

One of the first things people say to me when they discover I'm a chef's wife is: "Oh, so he must cook for you all the time!" It's a logical enough remark, but I always feel a desperate twitch to correct assumptions about the home life of a chef.

Chef Matt does cook, to be sure, but it is not often and is not the luxurious three-course meal that people may imagine. Once a month or so, he'll make a delicious reduction of some kind and ladle it over a sauteed pork chop and cream cheese mashed potatoes, but the reality is that he works five nights a week and is generally not home to cook for us. When he is home, he doesn't necessarily have the desire, or ingredients, to execute a lavish meal for me and our selectively finicky toddler.

That leaves me in the role of "chef du maison." I alternately love and dread this role. I love to employ the skills absorbed while watching my chef work his kitchen magic, particularly when I manage to create a passable cream sauce. I dread it when I must assemble a mildly delicious meal on short notice and a long day, much like, I am sure, thousands of other grown-ups attempting to be grown-ups.

Every day that I am home alone with kids, I open the refrigerator around 6:00 and blankly stare at its contents, willing inspiration to hit. I close the fridge and open the pantry cupboard, calculating an equation of starch + meat + vegetables before closing the cupboard and going back to the fridge in an endless cycle of passivity.

This regular indecision has made me a master of the creative dinner. I can take five random ingredients and a baking dish and thirty minutes, and have at least an edible dish to give my family. I rarely use recipes or ingredients fancier than a box of rigatoni, and as a result, the family of the chef eats not sirloin and crab cakes but sloppy concoctions of whatever we happen to have hiding in the cabinets.

In an effort to ensure that our kids do not go out into the world thinking that a hot dish is the only possible evening meal, I recently started planning out dinners and shopping accordingly. So far, so good, but I know that my days of the apathetic refrigerator stare are not gone. And in a very strange way, this makes me feel proud, and a little like McGyver. Matt can cook a dish worthy of fine-dining restaurants, but I can scramble together five nights' dinners with nothing but a wooden spoon, a can of soup, and that box of rigatoni.

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