“Listen up … It’s all in the advance preparation,” the Teutonic giant growls, scowling directly at me. He isn’t tall, but Goddamn he’s wide. His shoulders make him look like a block of quarry granite.
I’ve signed up for a week-long cooking intensive in the hope that by week’s end I’ll be able to boil eggs without blowing them up like hand grenades.
Our chef-instructor calls himself, The Terminator. Why, I don’t know … and thus far, I muse I’m not going to learn. Oh well, after a week with The Terminator, at least I’ll be able to make egg salad without diving under the table dodging in-coming egg bombs!
I signed up for his school after being lured by an exceptionally large and colorful ad inside the front cover of my monthly snooty wine, cheese and fine dining magazine. The intriguing part of the ad revealed his “boot camp” approach to cooking.
I think about the advertised trips I’d almost signed up for: Tuscany for Italian, Barcelona for haute Mediterranean and Provence for the ubiquitous French. But, these all seem to be more about the travel, scenery and eating, with less emphasis on the cooking.
The Terminator guarantees that you’ll either be a chef or a casualty of the Kitchen Wars. His approach is based on discipline, dedication and advance preparation. He demands complete adherence to his style and approach or you’re “Terminated” without a refund.
Sounded scary and at the same time exactly what I needed.
Learning to prepare simple yet elegant dinners is high on my list. I’ve tried many other ways to meet and impress women … all ending in dismal and humiliating failures. Here I am, 42 still single and eating microwave dinners alone in front of my 42 inch flat screen HD surround sound system.
The only good meals I have are at mom’s condo. Between my mouthfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy, she spends all her time asking, “Warren, when are you going to bring a nice girl to dinner?”
What a drag.
Anyway, I’m here and enlisted in “The Terminator’s Cook or Die Culinary Skills School.”
The Terminator bounds into the staging area, AKA the kitchen … a totally sparse and immaculate work space with maple butcher-block chopping tables, highly polished stainless sinks in the center, and commercial sized coolers and ten burner gas ranges lining the perimeter. Huge metal racks hang precariously from the ceiling dangling all manner of pots, pans and bowls. Every chopping, paring, slicing and peeling device known to man is displayed on the counters. The ultra bright fluorescent lighting makes the room look like an interrogation cell … or a morgue autopsy room.
The Terminator strides through his domain assessing each of us individually. Dressed in culinary fatigues topped off with a cammo chef’s hat, he sports knives, scrapers, whisks and spoons hanging from his utility-belted waist. He’s armed and ready for kitchen combat.
After 15 minutes of warm-up calisthenics we disperse to our work stations.
“You will follow my instructions to the letter or this exercise will end in a complete disaster. We take no prisoners when we prepare a meal in my school. We cook to the death and we leave no man or woman behind. Is that clear?” he shouts.
“Yes Sir”… “I understand Sir”… “I’m with you, Sir,” we bellow in unison.
“Take your stations. We are about to begin. And remember, it’s all in the advance preparation. We will accept nothing less than perfection. Now, load your wine glasses. We are ready for ‘Pasta la Vista, Baby!’ ”
The ingredients and the recipe are based on dinner for four adults. If you’re an average eater by today’s serving sizes, two people will polish this off with no problem.
- 8 oz. of dried linguine pasta
- 2 teaspoons of salt for pasta water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 4 small shallots chopped finely
- 8 oz. smoked wild salmon cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup 2% milk
- 1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese (can substitute Parmesan)
- 1 cup frozen baby peas
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Bring a large lot of water to boil, then add 2 teaspoons of salt.
- Add pasta to water. Bring to boil. Cook 11 minutes.
- While pasta is cooking, melt butter in large skillet.
- Add shallots to skillet. Sauté on medium heat until soft – about 5 minutes.
- Add chopped salmon to skillet. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- Add milk to skillet. Bring to gentle boil over low heat.
- Stir in Asiago cheese stirring continuously.
- Add drained, cooked pasta to skillet, stirring to absorb sauce.
- Stir in frozen peas and remove from burner to avoid over cooking.
- Top with fresh dill.
Serve the “Pasta la Vista, Baby” to the plates and carry the plates out to the table with a big smile and a strong sense of power. And remember to say in your best Terminator impersonation:
“PASTA LA VISTA, BABY … I’LL BE BACK!”
I have found excellent accompaniments with this entrée are fresh steamed asparagus drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and topped with fresh grated Asiago. Add either a Caesar salad, or an abundant garden salad with shredded carrots, bite sized cut and peeled cucumber, tomato and celery topped with either a light vinaigrette or fresh lemon juice and fresh minced dill.
Any battle plan calls for a complete rundown of the situation at hand. Remember, the Terminator’s warning: “It’s all in the advance preparation.”
Make sure all ingredients for the entire meal are chopped, prepared and close at hand before you start any cooking. The entrée cooks very quickly and you want to serve it immediately. If you wait even a few minutes trying to catch-up with the veggies and salads, then you’ll be serving a pasta blob, not a superb salmon prima vera type dish!
I prepare the salads ahead and keep them cool in the fridge. The asparagus can be prepared in the microwave once you add the milk to your pan.
Once you start cooking the shallots for the pasta dish, you will be non-stop busy for 8-10 minutes and you leave the dish unattended at your own peril.