My KitchenAid and bench knife have been watching from the sidelines. Like Statler and Waldorf, the two old Muppets in the balcony, they heckle when I pass them and taunt me about the creaming method, or Johnny Iuzzini. I hear their laughter, “Ho-ho-ho-ho-hoh.” Excluding my passive-aggressive, perverse kitchen appliances, this may have been my dynamic food season yet. From Food History class and eating my first “Perfection Salad” (a crazy Jell-O salad of the 1950’s) to trying over five different gumbos in a week in New Orleans, I’ve eaten, learned and been re-reminded that Food is more than a study, creative outlet, job, cultural marker, or service adrenaline rush – food is fun.
In New Orleans, my “New Orleans Food and Culture” class spent the last night in town at a crawfish boil. Originally, I’d dragged my feet about going. I was just getting to know the city and the last thing I wanted to do was take a cab to the suburbs to some random person’s house. I hadn’t even gotten to Commander’s Palace yet, or Brennan’s, or Antoine’s, or the other six-dozen amazing and iconic restaurants of New Orleans. Yet, I was required to go. So, as a chronic rule-follower, I did.
The little exoskeleton creatures kept trying to escape the giant bucket/cage. Someone from nowhere handed me a paddle. Apparently, I was the elected prison guard. I swatted down spiny limbs, as random, new friends kept my beer bottle full. The first round of the now bright red critters were piled-high out onto the table, along with corn, Andouille sausage, potatoes and whole bulbs of garlic. The second bucket of crawfish was dumped into a boiling tub, and I was freed from crustacean hostage duty.
I joined the long picnic table and several people walked me through the crawfish eating process – Hold the crawfish on both sides of the tail joint, twist and snap, suck out the head and pinch the tail to pull our the the meat. I was an obvious beginner, both hesitant to suck the head and clumsy with the tail, but everyone was encouraging and I was beginning to get the hang of it. In return for my hosts’ patience and kindness, I demonstrated by beer opening skills and popped a top (or two) using my bicuspids. My dentist and mother might cringe, but it’s one of my only party-tricks and I had an engaged and emboldening audience.
Throughout the night of laughs, bottle-opening, and crawfish eating, I promised to email cake recipes to two people, promised a whiskey tour of the Hudson Valley to another and made a couple good friends. I also played an epic and lawless game of Cranium with a precocious five year-old and her older sister. Together, the tree of us raced the last two living crawfish on the block and cheered, despite that they scurried in opposite directions.
So much for my original hesitation to attend the party. Seven hours later, I was among the last people to leave. I’d forgotten how much I love food for its simple fun. This party wasn’t about ratings or reviews, or politics, or sustainability, and it wasn’t about the adrenaline of the kitchen. It was about food as a simple vehicle for hospitality and fun…and these guys knew how to host a party. Beyond books, words, and even professional kitchens, this was the true meaning of food. New friends gathered outside until the mosquitoes became too ferocious and despite that it was only April, summer had begun. Happy summer everyone.