What’s in a name

When we were preparing for our oldest child to enter middle school, we had to choose which language he would take. The obvious choice in my opinion is Latin, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option, so it was either French or Spanish. I’ve held a suspicion for a while that Liam might have a future as a culinary school student (I also was certain that my daughter would be born a redhead (she’s blonde as a daisy) and my third child would be a girl (he is most definitely a boy from top to bottom), so it’s possible that I’m wrong about this, too). Harboring that speculation, however, did make the decision a bit more complex. I posited that French would be most helpful in pursuing a culinary education, but for working in an actual restaurant, at least in the US, Spanish is the obvious choice.

Assuming that I’m probably incorrect in thinking that he has a future in gastronomy, and because Spanish seems a practical language for young Americans to learn in general, that’s eventually what we chose, though I did feel wistful about the idea of Liam walking into his first day of an internship at Le Cordon Bleu with a brain full of fluent French. Not that he couldn’t learn it later on, of course, but there certainly is something romantic about a little boy speaking en français in a little boy voice. And though it’s quite possible that I’m just projecting about the idea of him as a future chef, the child sure does share my delight in Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook” collection from the eighties, and if I ever want someone to binge-watch every episode of “The Great British Baking Show” (again), he’d be my pick. He also has interesting sentiments about food, and his palate is remarkable.

For example, one morning he took his first bite of a bowl of cereal, and a look of disgust immediately colored his face as he declared that the milk had soured. I sipped my coffee, full of milk from that same half-gallon, and disagreed. His sister, who was also eating cereal, agreed with me; the milk was fine. Well, what do you know, but the next morning when I poured some in my coffee: curds. Damn, I thought, that boy was right (again). A few weeks later I used some cheese in his baked potato that was pushing its expiration date, but it tasted fine and was only beginning to smell a tad on the ripe side, but he pushed it away. “There’s something wrong with the cheese,” he diagnosed, having merely smelled the fork. Meanwhile, his siblings found no fault in the aging cheddar, but I started to think: this kid knows flavor. He frequently comments on aspects of balance and texture, and he’s always been especially sensitive to the temperature of food. He also likes to experiment with making combinations, like putting avocado on a hotdog or sautéed clover on pizza. This isn’t to say that he’s particularly adventuresome when it comes to eating; in fact, he’s pretty picky. But he often has interesting ideas for recipes, including adding bacon to a quesadilla or making what we call burgerritos.

He suggested that we make cheeseburgers and wrap them, with some guacamole, in flour tortillas, and I’m obviously a sucker for a portmanteau opportunity, so the “burgerrito” was born. I’d picked up some organic wagyu ground beef that was on sale and suggested that we mold the patties into an oblong shape with the cheese pocketed inside. That way, the baking time would be short because the layer of meat would be thin, and the cheese would melt at the end of the cooking process due to convection. Then we could wrap these in warmed tortillas and serve with guacamole for dipping (or ketchup as an alternative). It was a great success, and everyone raved about the beef. I said, “It’s wagyu, so it’s really rich. I’ll have to see if it’s still on sale.” Liam reacted to this with a fit of giggles, and we all looked at him quizzically. “Wagyu!” he said. “So it’s tail meat?! You know, ‘wag you’??” and commenced his hilarity.

Maybe I should have him take Japanese instead.

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