RSVPhillippi | April 2017
Love My Chicken, Love Me.
By Dennis Phillippi
For some reason people are always surprised when they learn that I do the majority of the cooking in our house. Even well into the twenty-first century there are still perceptions about gender and preparing a noodle casserole. Women are successful on virtually every level of our society and yet they continue to be expected to be the ones who best understand how to cook an egg. It’s ludicrous. Even Ludacris can probably manage to wrangle up a pot roast. For those of you scoring along at home, yes, that was the same joke three times in a row.
When I was young, watching my mom cook was fascinating to me. And, yes, it was always my mom. My father, to my knowledge, never cooked anything, but lest you think it had something to do with gender roles, he also never cut the yard, painted the house, or taught anyone how to drive. I’m not sure what exactly filled his days, but it certainly didn’t involve anything domestic. Watching my mom cook was like watching a magician; things became other things right before my eyes. A handful of this, a pinch of that, and a couple of smidgens of something else and presto; a meatloaf. Personally I hated my mom’s meatloaf, but that didn’t make the trick any less impressive.
It really wasn’t until I settled down with my wife that I became interested in food prep. Considering before I met my wife I was a very young comedian on the road with a total of two pairs of socks, there hadn’t been a lot of opportunities to learn the my way around a stock pot. Once I had an actual roof over my head, someone had to make dinner, and since I was the one who had lots of time on their hands in the daytime, naturally it fell to me. At the beginning when we referred to “cooking dinner” it generally meant heating up a frozen lasagna and toasting some hot dog buns, or making Tuna Helper and warming up some lima beans before “Full House” came on. It was that long ago. We were proud of the idea that we were “cooking”. Then again, we were also proud of the fact that we had cable, even though we watched it on a black and white TV.
For a stretch my wife made great effort to fulfill what she perceived as her responsibility as the woman in the relationship and put in her time over the stove. The time we’re talking about is so long ago she was operating from a handwritten list she had drawn up at some point of all of the things she could prepare. This list included making spaghetti, hamburgers, and toast. As you can imagine, the list grew thin quickly.
Around this time my wife decided to sit for the CPA exam. This process involved hours and hours of study, prep classes, and a great deal of stress. Because I worked at night, and not very hard, I volunteered to take over the housework, including the cooking. This had nothing to do with the fact that I was sick of spaghetti with toast. The fact that I hadn’t already taken over the housework was a testament to the power of gender roles at that time. It was just assumed that she would do most of the cooking and cleaning simply because that’s the way she was raised. This was a swell situation for me, but it couldn’t last. For a year she slaved at passing the CPA exam, and I learned how to do laundry. As a side note, back then I was such a lugnut I managed to kill a dryer because I didn’t know you had to clean the filter all the time. I didn’t know you had to clean the filter any time.
It is still a standard belief that women cook and men cook out. I suppose it’s more manly to be dealing with fire and meat than being able to make a pan sauce. While I can use a grill, it’s usually to try something I learned from a cooking magazine. I rarely just throw a couple of steaks on the fire and have a beer while they sizzle. That’s actually a lousy way to cook a steak.
I didn’t inherit much from my father other than a neck waddle and a good head of hair, but I did get a solid engineering gene where cooking is concerned. From my mom I got a natural ability in the kitchen, but from my dad I got the knack for having everything come out at the same time. This is an under-rated skill until you have dinner at someone’s house and have a salad an hour before you have your pork chop, followed later by the squash soufflé.
My family and friends think that my desire to cook for them stems from some innate need to give them sustenance and comfort. The truth is; I like to cook for them because I like to show off and I want to buy their love. I want to hear nummy sounds when they’re eating something I made because it makes me feel good about myself. I want them to sit down at our table and have a tasty meal without having to shell out a dime because it makes them happy and therefore they will like me. Like anyone who has been in show business their entire life, I exist on external validation. I don’t write this column for the money, God knows, I write it so you’ll come up to me in a restaurant and tell me you read it. Shallow? Oh yeah. And if you didn’t like my piece this month I can always make you some chicken cordon bleu.