THIS MAN’S WORK
I see it every day in their youthful faces, in a tender moment’s hug, and in the glee of their smiles as they greet her when she returns home at the end of the day, that intangible, yet comprehensible, undeniably special tether between children and their mother. Impossible to mimic, not that I would dare to, but rather I behold the bond in awe for the beauty it is; a natural wonder.
I cannot do Mother Nature’s work, but I can hold hers in my hands, and manipulate it so that I may do my work.
The butt of the steel blade gave a resounding thud upon the cutting board dividing the bulbous, fleshy white onion in two. Instantaneously a whiff of sweet allium darted to my nostrils; it conjured up grayscale images in my mind of soil, roots and earthy nurture. To my eyes, however, the airborne mist from slice after slice of the vegetable brought a searing sting. Soon thereafter, the initial sweet aroma gave way to pungency, yet I pushed through, completing the task towards something becoming utterly delicious.
Truth be told, it has been decades since I made French onion soup. I learned how to make it not from a written recipe, but was shown the process by Executive Chef Paul Panella, who I worked under at this establishment. Hands-on training is some of the best way to learn a new task, especially a recipe, and particularly in the kitchen. When the children requested the beef stock-based dish this past Valentine’s Day, I was only happy to comply. I smiled at the notion of their request, for I knew the true target which piqued their interest, was the cheese of the gratinéed crouton atop the soup―the glorious, crusty virtues of which they heard about in a previous discussion at the dinner table.
Given the special request of the holiday menu, I desired to fulfill it correctly, to present an honest, classic representation of onion soup. Armed with a faded recollection of how to make it, I turned to a book from my collection, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Juila Child. I was not only thrilled to read my instinct of the process was on point, but the recipe was along parallel lines to the one shown to me 30 years ago.
“The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew.” ―Julia Child
Four cast iron country kettles of soup emerged from under the broiler, the golden blisters of bubbling cheese concealed the crouton and savory broth inside, while the heady aroma of molten Swiss and parmesan filled the room. The candles were lit, the family was seated, and the meal commenced.
I watched the children in silent observation as their spoons broke through the crust, loving them, forming my own special tether to them, through my hands, through my work.