Heaven's kitchen

A Mendocino idyll --minus the scorpions

As an unreconstructed autocrat of the kitchen, I was surprised to discover recently that two cooks working in the same space need not sting each other to death, like scorpions in a bottle — even if one of them is me. It helps, of course, if the space is adequate and the cooks have agreed beforehand as to who is making what. This is a matter of what lawyers like to call comity, which basically means trying not to step on other people's toes, lest one's own be trampled.

Two cooks were needed for our Mendocino idyll (complete with vegetable garden!) because the constituency of hungry people was larger than either cook was accustomed to providing for and included several small children who enjoy watching Hell's Kitchen on Fox. If these children expected screaming matches and dismissal scenes mixed equally from scorn and tears, they must have been disappointed; our sounds were mostly agreeable ones, with the occasional foul word discreetly spat into a napkin, like a peach pit.

The feeding of children — even cheerful and well-mannered children who aren't picky — left me humbled. How spoiled I have been all these years, running my little food fief with scarcely a hint of interference or meddling, stocking and cleaning it as I've seen fit, turning out a medley of dishes that have reflected my own evolving concerns about health, environment, and ethical responsibility with the full-throated support of my audience of one. When people agree about food, they are well on their way to agreeing about a great deal more, and agreement is a chief ingredient of that elusive state we often call happiness.

Children, it turns out, are subject to spells of intense, almost disabling hunger, which then have a way of subsiding after three or four bites of a burrito or some petrale sole, or half a Pop-Tart or a swig of organic lemonade or ball of chocolate-chocolate-chip-cookie dough from a ready-to-bake tray. Children, like birds, eat continually but lightly, leaving behind them a trail of half-consumed edibles with tooth marks, and it falls to the people in charge to collect these devalued but not worthless items and try to figure out what can be done with them. If the producers of "Hell's Kitchen" need a fresh idea, I know a nice place on a hill overlooking the coast.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

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