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Learning From Food Shows On TV

I love good food and admire great cooks or "chefs" as the more urbane like to call them. While I did have fleeting thoughts of becoming a chef I chose instead to go a different route and become a truck driver. I also thought, albeit briefly, about becoming an aircraft pilot, an RCMP officer, a lawyer, accountant, electrician and even a bricklayer, instead I took the diesel engine gear jamming route and fed my family for a time speeding along the highway somewhat out of control behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound mass of steel and rubber.

While driving truck was fun and paid the bills the time away from home wore on me and I found it necessary to make a change and looking back it was the best decision I could have come to for everyone involved. I will say however that the thousands of hours I spent driving truck gave me opportunity to dream about careers missed and one of the careers I dreamed I missed was becoming a legendary chef toiling in my own restaurant making a million bucks a year, then I learned of the reality of becoming a professional chef.

I did look into going to school to become a chef and when looking closely at the requirements I felt it wasn't for me. Firstly one had to go to school, even after going to school for 12 years previously. Imagine! More schooling! No doubt they didn't realize that I was the smartest person that ever walked the face of the earth when telling me I needed more schooling. Fuckers... So, strike one.

Second strike was even when going to school you had to get a job in a professional kitchen to gain experience to qualify towards the culinary degree. Now, while I may have been the smartestguy that ever walked on Terra Firma, I think they thought I just fell of a turnip truck, when, after describing what I needed to do by way of employment, they expected me to sign up eagerly . Nay, nay. They were very wrong. I looked into kitchen work and was delighted to learn that I would begin by washing dishes and other assorted positions in the kitchen best occupied by indentured slaves. My enthusiasm waned.

Strike three was when I met some people working in the business and they described the Atilla the Hun they all work for in the kitchen, the chef. Or just “Chef “as a name, title, salutation, honorarium or otherwise personal recognition. In talking with the men and women I came to the conclusion that they were all daft putting themselves in such a place as to suffer debasement, ridicule and hostility, directed at them on a daily basis by Chef. It seemed unanimous that the chefs were all escapees from some asylum at best or at worst they were Nazis that never made it to Brazil in '45, electing instead to come to Canada and take residence in kitchens where their rabid mad dog personalities would be considered acceptable and not cause any enquiries from international authorities..

The fourth strike (are there 4 strikes in badminton?) was when we got down to the important thing – money! Discussing money was a shocker, a huge shocker. Starting out and for a number of years after, the money was very poor. So poor in fact that by doing a quick calculation I determined that my rum and cigarette budget was more than these poor sods were earning in the kitchen at that time. Possibly, in time, if they did not starve or freeze to death as they huddled under bridges in the cardboard box shanties they called home they would begin to earn more, even a lot more than a trucker, but I was unconvinced. So I took a swing and a miss at that career.

To be a top chef one has to be artistic, driven, imaginative, self assured and willing to work very, very hard to excel, I have none of those traits. I think the most important trait is being artistic followed closely by liking very hard work and both of those traits passed me by at birth. Instead I received sloth and gluttony and excelled at both. Of all the traits I wish I had, the artistic trait is the one I pine for the most. Sadly it passed me by  (but my son ended up with a truckload of it and then some), thus, not possessing the number one prerequisite necessary to becoming a world class chef, I drove my truck. But I was a great truck driver damn it. Just ask me!!!

Fortunately for me there was PBS television, KCTS Seattle to be precise, and KCTS offered up hours of food television on weekend mornings long before there were food television networks. On many weekend mornings I watched as Julia Child created and wove stories as she took command of the kitchen set. I also enjoyed Justin Wilson who worked Cajun magic, Rick Bayless who is a master by any definition, the Frugal Gourmet Jeff Smith was and will always be one of my best remembered TV chefs and then there was my favourite of all time (no offense intended to other great chefs) - Jacques Pépin; Msr. Pépin is for me, by far and away, the best TV chef that has occupied the space ever.

Msr. Pépin is a class act bar none. His skill is legendary and his on screen demeanour is affable to say the least. It was via watching his TV shows in the '80's that I gained new found respect for what culinary artistry is when exampled by a master such as he. I idolized him and still do I suppose. One of my signature dishes (Stuffed Chicken Legs) is Msr. Pépin's creation and I learned the technique by watching him one weekend morning and have made it countless times since with subtle variation of course.

There are other food TV personalities I learned from in years past as well. Who can forget Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet? Or Stephen Yan from Wok With Yan (hot wok, cold oil, food won't stick!!!)? As I sit here typing I am struck by how some part of these people are still with me today, years after their shows went off the air, and much of my cooking ability and knowledge came from these people and for that I am very grateful.

There are many other TV foodies I like to watch and have learned from, but the ones I have mentioned above are still the top in my books for teaching me skills and techniques I use in the kitchen.Chef's like Anthony Bourdain and Emeril Lagasse have entertained me and taught me as well, but, none are like Msr. Pépin. If I have one dream unfulfilled, it is not being able to meet and cook with Msr. Pépin and learn more from him, but he is memorialized on video and thanks to YouTube I call him up once in a while to learn something new or polish an old technique. I still have trouble deboning a whole chicken and it pisses me off that Msr. Pépin makes it look so easy when in fact it is not, the mark of a great chef.

The stuffed chicken leg recipe on this blog is one of my all time favourite entrees. It serves well to guests and family and is a stunning presentation on a platter in the centre of the dining table. The taste is very rich and is as savoury a meat dish as you will find anywhere. This technique of deboning a whole leg is fairly common (relatively easy with practice and it is worth the effort to learn) and the stuffing can run the gamut from my stuffing recipe to sausage, vegetables, shrimp and crab to simple salt and pepper seasoning. The skin being left on adds a lot of flavour to make the fat content acceptable for those that watch that type of thing (sadly I have to) and like all good things in moderation what can go wrong by eating just one, once in a while?

Deboning a chicken leg

If you are going to give deboning a chicken leg a go, have a little sipping pleasure at the ready and I suggest:


7 Deadly Zins - Michael David Winery - California

Simply fantastic.

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