Everything I know about cooking I learned at the gym



For a significant period in the sort-of recent past, before I had children, I managed to get exercise in both the course of the day, by walking or biking to work, and by stopping at a gym on the way home. The facility was always mostly a sports medicine and orthopedic treatment center, and now I think they have ditched the gym memberships altogether, but for a while there, I would wander into a soaring space formerly occupied by a pasta manufacturer and trot along on the treadmill or take a yoga class with people suffering from fibromyalgia. It was the kind of place where an occupational therapist was always removing a dripping, Caucasian-with-a-vitamin-D-deficiency-flesh colored heating pad from a broth of aseptic hot water with tongs and applying it an injured softball player. There was a lot to watch, because the walls were lined with tables upon which injured people were being manipulated by therapists in polo shirts, and there were mini obstacle courses for almost-healed high school athletes, but I often ended up watching Top Chef on the screens attached to the treadmills or bikes.


Once I did this after meeting a friend for a beer on the way home, and I don’t know whether it was the carbs or the diminished awareness of what my body was doing, but I ran for something like 50 minutes on a treadmill, a device that keeps you from going anywhere, so I could watch a back-to-back episodes. I remember looking up at the end, realizing it was dark outside and the place was mostly empty and I was super dehydrated and thinking, “so can you have a sauce with cheese spiedini or what was Gail’s point?”


The fact that the show forced a bunch of talented cooks to sprint around a kitchen and elbow each other for the least-disgusting offal from the challenge pile seemed bananas, though yes, I understand the demands of reality tv, and I was alarmed that a show about cooking managed to include, on occasion, the same kind of from-scratch racialized incident that MTV’s Real World specialized in, but also… it was news to me, sort of, that food preparation was something that could be talked about so much, and from different theoretical standpoints.


As someone whose general aim is to not to endanger anyone’s life with the products of my cooking, and who grew up in a house where eight people got fed every night at six by a woman who mostly wanted everyone OUT of the kitchen! Get out of the kitchen! You are underfoot! Get out! until it was time to set the table, I tend to just want dinner to be nutritious, reasonably tasty, and then over with. Or preferably, take out Indian food. But I am also someone who grew up believing that my future, which seemed to stretch no further than age 27, was going to involve me and either Hawaii 5-0-era Tom Selleck or Ted Lange (Isaac from the Love Boat) racing motorcycles along cliffsides, as well as a light-filled office full of Danish furniture where I went to do something professional and easy for 1980’s style fantasy paychecks. Nights would be spent in the company of Robert Smith near dumpsters because life is either a daytime lounge-about with easygoing mustachioed men who are unafraid of white short shorts and make their professional lives in vacation destinations, coupled with Lady Business-style nonjobs, or a nighttime situation with someone who uses a shaky hand while applying lipstick.


I sometimes wonder if my appreciation of Robert Smith’s appearance led to my sense that food dumped on a plate is presentation enough. According to Top Chef and also everyone everywhere, it is not. I learned that onions should be cut properly with a very specific methodology but very fast, that meat will continue to cook after you turn off the heat, that mushrooms and other vegetables will steam rather than become golden or crispy if you crowd them in the pan, that if you and the contestant you have a crush on shave your head in the middle of the season of Top Chef because you are going insane from the stressful circumstances you are in and the relatively paltry $100,000 prize you might win, which will in no way fund your future restaurant, you won’t get the delighted response you are looking for from the judges, that running in clogs is a cloppy business, that some people like their eggs loosely cooked which is fucking nonsense, go drink a Rocky-style tumbler of eggs you foul creature, and that you might end up using chopsticks to pick up individual leaves of mint and place them on a plate despite having a clock running out in front of you.


Knowledge I have applied: don’t crowd the vegetables.


Otherwise, if I am going to cook meat, I am going to cook the shit out of that meat. If someone wants loosely scrambled eggs, I will have to leave the scene. Shaving one’s head: I already did that, and I did it solo, because if you’re doing it in pairs and not for medical reasons you are maybe either in the armed forces or are flirting with white supremacy. Make your own decisions, yo. Running in clogs: sometimes you have to. Embrace the horsiness. Getting finicky with mint leaves: I have a life to live! Not with Ted or Tom or in Hawaii or Acapulco, at least not right now, but come on.


I now, once in a blue moon, go to a gym that costs $10 a month and has 20 elevated tv screens which you can depend on to show Bones, that show about two supernatural brothers who look like Hardy boys but might be demons or the sons of Lucifer, and is SO BLOODY; various reality shows about women’s boobs creeping up to their chins and the way those women continually offend each other and therefore must grab each other’s hair or weaves over men who are generally stocky and, to me, unattractive; that show where people date naked; telenovelas; channels that seem to consist solely of infomercials advertising rubber suits that will help you sweat off weight or body-shaping panels that function like corsets and also make you sweat off body weight, but only from your abdomen; and shows about real estate. I have learned nothing from these.


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