This was supposed to be the blog that explained the origins of The Jemima Code, but when my 17-year-old son Christian asks you to do something, it’s kind of hard not to agree.
Last night, he and five of his friends took possesion of my kitchen, and prepared a seven-course holiday dinner party straight off the pages of Food and Wine. By the time the evening was over, I had learned a lesson about the spirit of giving and about myself. I had to write about it.
Not because I was at all surprised that Christian’s all-male team of non-cooks was planning to prep and serve a holiday feast to strut for the female half of their little group, or even that he composed a classical menu for the occasion. These kids have spent a long fall semester preparing for graduation — writing essays, applying for college, and maintaining outstanding GPAs. They needed to celebrate.
What took my breath away was that he scheduled the party on a day when I would not be home to help. I teach cooking and have a well-stocked kitchen pantry and cookbook library, and my son figured the gig would be easy and sure to impress whether I supervised or not. But these were high school seniors who’ve been cooped up for months with their heads buried in World Geography textbooks. My thoughts didn’t immediately reflect on all of the lovely culinary experiences Chris and I had shared over the years. Instead, I secretly, okay, vocally, pondered whether I needed to distribute parental liability release forms for kids slicing potatoes and fingers on the mandoline, and envisioned Mushroom Veloute splattered everywhere.
Christian offered some sage advice: “Shhhh. Calm down. There are worse things that could happen three days before Christmas — like the tree catches fire or a burglar steals all the gifts.” He said something wonderful, too.
Christian grew up listening to stories about the unsung heroes of the kitchen who I intend to profile here starting in January, and he congratulated me for becoming one of them. He assured me that the self-confidence and discipline he learned were transferrable skills that he would pass on to the guys as they jabbered about mise en place or the proper technique for folding egg yolks and whites together, just the way I had transmitted them to him all these years.
I knew that Christian always really loved to cook. When he was just 2, he would push a chair up to the sink and demand an assignment.
“Cook, cook,” he cooed.
Later, he began making his own special whole wheat pancakes, which were featured in Edible Austin Magazine’s Summer 2009 issue. Christian has also served as my assistant during summer cooking camps, organizing giddy six-year-olds and regaling 6th graders with his Alton Brown imitation.
With this massive dinner party, he confirmed that the love language of my kitchen had taught him patience and how to follow instructions; he also developed some intangible values, such as discipline and encouragement as we nurtured the most disinterested and intimidated novices into cooking from scratch. My brand of kitchen wisdom, he said, had motivated a bunch of really smart guys to devote an entire afternoon to preparing Kansas City Fritters, Caprese Salad, Herbed Roasted Leg of Lamb, Cheese Souffle, and Tarte Tatin as a gift. I was speechless.
I hope the coming stories of some truly fantastic cooks will inspire you into the kitchen, too. In the meantime, Christian’s Herbed Roasted Leg of Lamb, which he adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, is a delicious place for you to start developing a culinary love language of your own.
Herbed Roasted Leg of Lamb
- One (4.5-pound) trimmed, boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup minced flat leaf parsley, plus 2 sprigs
- 1/8 cup minced fresh rosemary, plus 2 sprigs
- 1/8 cup minced fresh oregano, plus 2 sprigs
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- Salt, pepper
- 4 small baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Open the leg of lamb on a work surface, fat side down. Drizzle with olive oil and rub in the herbs and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Roll up the lamb, fat side down, and tie with kitchen twine at 1-inch intervals. Season with salt and pepper. Spray a small roasting pan with nonstick vegetable spray. Place herb sprigs in the bottom of the pan. Top with potatoes. Place roast on top and roast for about 1 hour, or until a thermometer inserted into the meat registers 125 degrees for medium-rare. Transfer to a carving board, tent with foil and let rest for 15 minutes. Strain the juices into a cup and skim off the fat. Discard the strings and thinly slice the roast. Drizzle with the juices and serve with potatoes.
Number of servings: 8