Lesson #1. April 10, 2018.
Cooking in a small kitchen that is not tailor-made for Instagram, where the single oven is packed with pans and foodstuffs like dates, there are two eager cooks, 20-something sisters, waiting to begin my “lesson plans” so that they’ll pass the online ServSafe exam, the industry standard.
The program, developed and administered by the National Restaurant Association, helps train the food service industry on all aspects of food safety. Each time we meet, they’ll be cooking up a recipe I bring, and move through a handful of the test questions: temperature’s effect on bacteria; thawing, refrigeration, cooking, and holding; at what temperature do bacteria multiply; and open containers and leftovers should be marked with a “use by date.”
If you think about the intersection of immigration and employment, food is at the core. So, we are working toward the launch of a catering business, “R&R”, which Am Shalom member Alvin Katz’s firm already filed with the state of Illinois.
Fried chicken. That day I brought in cooking tools, and a market bag with one whole organic chicken cut into pieces and brined overnight. Their task was to follow the recipe for za’atar fried chicken from a cookbook I’d just received from PenguinRandomHouse: “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food Back to Israel” by Alon Shaya. In the publisher’s words it’s “A moving, deeply personal journey of survival and discovery that tells of the evolution of a cuisine and of the transformative power and magic of food and cooking.” This holds promise. Starting out by cooking a chef who has won two Beards!
Although Rokan and Rokhash share a culinary sensibility, they lack some cooking tools: a whisk, tongs, cooling rack, and a couple of different thermometers for testing the doneness of deep fried chicken (165˚F.), and the temp of the oil (375˚F.)
Three cooking aprons—one sewn by my daughter—were passed around. I had already prepared the flour mixture since I didn’t know what ingredients were there, gave the whisk and the flour mix to Rokhash’s 3rd-grade daughter Lamis, and asked her to put the flour mix in a bowl with one cup of water (I brought liquid and dry measures), and whisk until smooth.
I had to stop Lamis after fifteen minutes of whisking. This would be the smoothest dip for chicken ever to hit the oil that was pre-heating on the stove. It would have the crust and crunch I was looking for and I was sure they’d like it! Aziz, Rokhash, Rokan, and Lamis.
Lamis looked up at me with her big brown eyes, and softly declared, “I want to be a chef.” Music to my ears. I am a food journalist.
When I relayed the day’s events to Laura Horn at Am Shalom, and sent her a few pictures shot that afternoon, she replied with one word and the emoji of a face with tears: “Crying.” Why, I emailed back. “For joy. That they are worried about how the chicken comes out and not getting killed.”
What I didn’t know walking into this food project was that I would be adjusting my outlook on the life I have lived.