“No, Child, that’s how white people do it. Give me that sauce,” Ma’am said taking the pan of BBQ sauce out of my hands. She’d told me to pour it into a pan. I wondered why at the time. I mean, there’s a squirt thing at the top of the bottle for a reason; you squirt it on the meat while you’re cooking it. It seemed logical, a no-brainer even.
She took the pan and set it on the stove. “You gotta add some flavor and simmer it at least a few minutes if you aren’t making it from scratch, she said. “And you definitely aren’t ready for that. Where’d that boy find you anyway?” she asked with a chuckle. She added molasses, garlic, vinegar, ketchup, onion powder and the ever present ghetto seasoning duJour: season salt. Not sure what to put on that meat? Season salt, pepper and garlic. Is that paprika or season salt on there? I dunno, but put some Lawrys just in case. And you gotta string out the name when you say it, Laaaawwwryyzzz, and change the order of the “w” and “r” if you’re a true chef.
That “boy” was her son and where he found me is a whole other story. What’s important here is food. Food is actually very important everywhere to me. Growing up we didn’t own a stove. I asked my mom why we didn’t have a stove. “They take up too much room,” she said. That also seemed completely logical at the time. Now, not so much. She also wouldn’t allow irons in her house. I had to iron my cheer leading skirt with a curling iron. We ate out EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Did you hear me? EVERY NIGHT, I am not exaggerating. Lucky for me, we didn’t do fast food, my mom was in a position financially that we were able to eat well in nice restaurants. Breakfast was Cheerios, lunch was a Lean Cuisine in the microwave, and dinner out. Period. No changes.
The first time I cooked for that boy he requested spaghetti. No problem! I boiled noodles in my plug in wok. I opened a jar of Ragu and nuked it in the microwave. I was so proud when I handed it to him. He of course asked, “What is this?” I replied, “Spaghetti, duh.” He moved the noodles around for a few seconds, looked at me and said, “There’s supposed to be meat and grease and shit.”
So, we got a stove. He was going to teach me to cook. He only had one bad cooking experience. He tried to make fried chicken on top of a portable heater when his family’s gas got cut off when he was a teenager. He burnt the house down. The whole house. But, other than that, he assured me, he was an ace in the kitchen. During our first lesson he told me to turn on the broiler. I did, then I asked him what temperature to put it on. “On broiler,” he replied. “I know, I need to know what Temp-ra-chure!!”, this was going to be a long day. “Turn it off,” he said and before I knew it I was a student at his mom’s school of cooking.
That woman was amazing. She taught me everything.
“Get the cast iron skillet, put some lard in it, heat it up. We making cornbread,” she’d say.
“That’s the heavy one, right?”
“What?” she asked with a sigh.
“Cast iron, that’s that real heavy one, right?”
She also taught me valuable life lessons.
“You see them dishes in the sink?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I will do them.”
“No, now wait. Know the difference between that party tonight and those dishes?”
“Those dishes will still be here tomorrow, but that party won’t be. Let’s go get dressed! We gonna clean up that dance floor.”