Sometimes it’s important to get a fresh perspective. Sometimes it’s important to revitalise your technique.
Sometimes it’s important to let somebody else into your kitchen, however confronting that might be.That is how we ended up with Mexico night. We have a Mexican friend who is a constant state of shock and horror at what passes for Mexican food here in New Zealand.
After a particularly passionate debate, passion being one thing that is in no short supply from that part of the world, about what actually constituted a quesadilla, she offered to show us how to cook the real deal. We said Si! and prepared our taste buds for a trip down Mexico way.
All fine and good, I duly got the list of ingredients together and prepared to sous chef; but I wasn’t prepared for the extraordinary discomfort that arose from having my thoughts on cooking challenged the way they were about to.
“Put the water on”, was my first instruction.
The water for what? I queried. “to boil the chicken”. Boil? Boil?!! The only thing that gets boiled in my kitchen is water for tea, and the occasional egg for breakfast. Dame Maggie Smith spluttering ‘this meat has surely being boiled for stock’ in a Florentine Pensione sprung to mind. The thought was abhorrent. I was deeply, almost physically resistant; cant we just fry it I asked? “No”.
So with a very heavy heart and firmly closed mind I put the water on. Oil, salt and pepper were added with the large chunks of chicken breast. Like that was going to ameliorate the situation.
Then it hit me like a sharp blow to the head how immutable we are in our cultural beliefs about food and cooking. How entrenched we are with our methodologies and practice, our flavours and expectations, because we come to the kitchen with our pre-ordained knowledge and tastes, then set about to imprint those onto new ideas, in effect making them our ideas, old ideas, rather than being ready to receive the new.
Italian food prepared in Italy doesn’t taste like Italian food prepared outside of Italy. It’s not just technique or even ingredients at fault, it’s a complex web of tastes and cultural heritage, ways and ways of being that get lost in translation.
So I prepared to receive the new. Did exactly as I was instructed and boiled the chicken. I also ‘caramelised’ a chopped tomato, it shook me to the core, but I did it.
I pan-fried tortillas, filled with cheese, till they were blackened and blistered on both sides. I peeled them apart, revealing the gooey cheesy centre, to add the chicken, chipotle, pepper and tomato filling, and sealed them again. I mashed a naked avocado and left my opinions at the door throughout.
Deliciously smokey, slightly soft, parcels of joy.
And our Mexican friend is right, we don’t eat true Mexican food here, except perhaps in our kitchen tonight. With a side order of humble, just for me.