Thursday, August 12, 2010

No. 124 "Bon Appétit."

Lately, I've been getting into cooking. For years I've been able to man a grill like a pro, and consider myself an artist when it comes to microwave cuisine. But, I wanted to challenge myself and become a more well-rounded individual. I could have taken a cooking class at the community center near my house, but did not feel the need to congregate with an endless array of old maids and fat chicks. I decided instead to use television and the internet to master the craft like a normal American.

My new found affinity for cooking arose after watching a reality television program, where a dapper gentleman prepared a three course meal for his date instead of spending money at an expensive restaurant (I really just wanted to save money on dates.) This pleased his lady friend to a great extent. Towards the end of the episode, after giggling nonstop and feeding each other, they both walked into a dark bedroom, hand in hand. Since the episode ended at that point, I can only assume they played a board game or talked all night.

I would utilize my skills in the kitchen to woo attractive women and distract them from my lack of bedazzled t-shirts and steroid-induced muscles. It is also important for men to learn how to feed themselves since women aren't willing to cook like the good ones from yesteryear. I'm sure my future wife (who is probably entering kindergarten this fall) will be a poor cook due to the many commitments of her modeling career. Therefore, I'll have to fend for myself in he culinary department.

While I was flipping through episodes of Emril Live! and 30 Minute Meals I began to ponder about where my inner chef came from. My mother was always an adequate cook, but never won any accolades other than a "World's Best Mommy" award I gave her when I was four. The award was made of macaroni and far too ambiguous to specify her cooking aptitude. My father tried his best to stay out of the kitchen, but was a master of the grill. He even let me run the grill when I was younger, until I tried to throw the neighbor's dachshund on top of the grill in order to cook "hot dogs." Give me a break, I was sixteen.

All of these memories brought me back to where I consumed the majority of my meals growing up - public school. I shudder even thinking about the troughs of penitentiary-quality fodder that were served to my fellow students and I during our formative years. I distinctly remember the smell of my elementary school cafeteria. It was a combination of old bread pudding and disappointment.

Elementary school food was the worst of all. The menu was very simple. Each day the students had three choices for lunch. This usually consisted of a fried item made of chicken, although it could have been whale blubber for all we knew. Then they had an "Italian-style" dish that would make the entire country of Italy spit out their Chianti in disgust and declare war on my elementary school. And finally, there was the mystery meat. I never tried it, but I once heard a kid died of Polio after consuming it. There was also a salad bar for the sad sap vegetarian eight-year old children who quivered at the idea of meat, but would happily chow down on the rancid salad bar, accompanied with a sampling of cottage cheese that I still have nightmares about.

Serving these elegant dishes were a group of grumpy, child-hating women who shunned questions and lacked the ability to smile. Most of their names' fit their attitudes. Gertrude, Blanche and Bernese. I could picture all three of them setting up a meeting in which they planned to poison all the food and run off to Branson, Missouri, cackling and hissing the entire way.

(Pictured: Gertrude)

Middle school saw a limited improvement on our uninspired fare. Instead of milk, we had the option of soda. This was very important to the average thirteen-year old. Most parents disallowed or tempered the availability of fructose-based beverages. It was a grab-and-dash of sugar water for the entire 7th grade class. Many times I would use my lunch money to buy four bottles of Wild Cherry Pepsi instead of using it for a hearty meal.

Two newer items were added to the cafeteria repertoire: pizza and french fries. These were two of the easiest types of food to make. But, somehow the cafeteria ladies had the proficiency to fuck it up royally.

The french fries were soggy morsels of starch that somehow became cold within seconds of being served, even though they just came out of a scalding deep fryer. Most of my middle school mates would use the fries as tripping mechanisms instead of eating them. By covertly laying a few fries near a door and then smashing them repeatedly, one could create a slippery surface. From there, we they would gather around and watch as unassuming classmates tripped and spilled their plates of food onto themselves. Who needed lunch when you had sophomoric entertainment?

The school's version of "pizza" was nothing less than an abomination to mankind. Class-action lawsuits should be filed against any school that serves rectangular pizza. Somehow, this misnomer of a meal created by the award-winning chefs at my middle school was both burnt and undercooked. Its like they cooked the entire pizza with a rusty blow torch. I often wondered if the faculty was intentionally fucking up the pizza just to deride our generation.

My entire schooling career was built upon the facade that high school food was amazing. I had dreamt about finally making it to high school, where I would be treated like a king. Braised short ribs, filet mignon, and fresh lobster flown in daily. I had heard stories for years, and was very much prepared for this sacrosanct feast.

This was not to be.

Instead of a quartet of violinists playing while I ate lunch each day on a marble table with polished silverware, I got a very slightly improved version of the same shit I had experienced over the last ten years. Sure, now they had Taco Bell every Friday and brought in real pizza twice a month, but it was all very disappointing. The same group of burnout, teeth-deprived women served us our processed meals daily, the cafeteria still had the same distinct stench of sadness, and a cauldron of decomposing cottage cheese was readily available for suicide enthusiasts. But, they now offered a snack bar, with their most popular dish: Fritos Bag O' Filth.

Just add hot garbage!

This was an ingenious concoction devised by the gallant group of illiterate individuals working in the shadowy backrooms of the school cafeteria. The Fritos Bag O' Filth consisted of a large bag of original Fritos, a generous helping of greasy ground "beef" that had been sitting in a van for the last week, and finished off with a dirty spoonful of nacho cheese. This was all served in the bag. No bowl. No plate. Bag. The meal would be handed to you by one of the downtrodden workers with a spork, and that was your lunch. Students also had the option of washing down their meal with a thirty-two ounce Pepsi for good measure, but that was an additional charge.

If the school's cuisine was not to one's liking, you could always bring a sack lunch. I would do this intermittently whenever I needed to save my lunch money for new bike pegs or drugs. With sack lunches I could create whatever I wanted instead of having to settle for my school's definition of "food." The only problem with sack lunches was that they sat in my backpack for several hours before I could enjoy them. This more often than not led to many crushed chips and flattened ham sandwiches. That is, if my lunch wasn't already stolen by a pack of ruffians, who would savagely stomp my lunch in front of me as I attempted to contact an absentee faculty member.

Looking back on my schoolboy memories, I feel an even greater need to become an established chef in order to revamp the system. Maybe I could influence schools to serve healthier, better quality food to the next generation of children. Instead of rectangular pizza, kids could be eating glazed salmon and protein-rich carved turkey. I could turn the machine around. I could become an icon. I could save pizza. Eh, fuck it.

I'll just take up racquetball.


L. Avery Brown said...

What a terrific post. Oh, how I remember the infamous school cafeteria lunches. And I was in the South, too. We had the same boring 'cardboard' food BUT every Friday one of the cafeteria ladies would yell out 'Fatback!' (If you don't know what it is, it's the super salty cured thick fat layer that's atop a slab of bacon) and the kids would run...and I mean RUN to get it. I didn't care for the stuff but I was tight w/Ethel (yes, that was her name) and she'd give me a big piece so I could barter for a cup of ice cream.

Ah, good times.

Again, fabulous post and I'll have to drop by again soon!

L. Avery Brown

Paddy 233 said...

Thank you for the kind words. I wish they had 'fatback' at my school growing up. It sounds much tastier than the Frito's Bag O' Filth. Thanks for reading!

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