a man view

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Can't Cook or Won't Cook
- A Man's View

by William Bernal

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OK, let’s talk universals.

We men like to eat. A lot!

Put a stockpile of hot, juicy meat-n-potatoes in front of us and you’ll undoubtedly see our inner-caveman emerge from prehistoric shadows, ripping into our food like we just killed it ourselves and savoring the spoils of our manly victory.

As stereotypes go, this is almost certainly on the more accurate side of our personal, social profiles and arguably, a reasonable facsimile of our dining techniques. Of course there are any number of other male stereotypes we sometimes live down to despite our best intentions. One of the prevailing stains on our collective manhood is that although we revel in the partaking of our daily bread we’re somewhat reluctant to engage in its procurement and preparation lest we be deemed as insufficiently in charge of our domestic situations. And some might argue we’re more than just somewhat reluctant.

Yes, we expect to be served and well, but we sometimes come up a tad short in the shopping, prep, cooking and serving departments.

We here at Melting-Pots understand that this stereotype creeps stealthily around our global villages like a cultural virus of machismo mixed uncomfortably with our oft dreaded King-of-the-Castle syndrome.

But before we get into any finger pointing let’s take a closer look at some of our friendlier neighbors and maybe into our own mirrors as well.

Writing personally as a former ex-pat, long-term resident of Japan, I can tell you without shame that the unrepentantly male-dominated hierarchy inside the Land of the Rising Son routinely enjoys quite a luxurious level of service after their very long, hard day’s work. Take it from me when I tell you that in many, many Japanese households the arrival of the male breadwinner after his day in the office trenches triggers an undeniably regal level of energetic service from his feminine Better Half. In short, the primary responsibility of the average samurai salariman upon return to his domain is to SIT DOWN!

His dinner will then be bustled into heated action and his cold beer poured promptly while he patiently awaits the timely service of his evening meal.

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Conversation is absolutely optional for the stoic Japanese male with grunts of approval or pointed hand gestures entirely sufficient to keep the service moving along briskly as he tears into his dinner and drink. This is the majority portrait of the daily bread breaking ritual inside that hard shelled society and you can bet on it. But how does this basic, albeit astute, picture miss the mark?

It utterly fails to reveal so many of the subtleties to a much deeper relationship with food and much more fluid ideas concerning adult relationships and responsibilities.

The average Japanese male (especially the younger generations) has not only an educated palate but also an adoring appreciation for his native cuisine and an overriding interest in its preparation, presentation, and attributes of taste and satisfaction. Digging just a little deeper, you’ll discover that most Japanese men take an enormous amount of quiet pride in their own ability to prepare their favorite dish (or handle their hibachi when BBQ season arrives), all the while passionately subscribing to the culinary efforts of their wives, mothers and girlfriends. If love is a savory beast, then this is a truly wild love.

In Japan, I finally and gratefully learned, being served doesn’t make you superior and serving someone absolutely cannot make you inferior. Food is love and giving is often better than receiving!

And now, back home in Brooklyn, I’m privileged to live next door to my hard working, friendly, family oriented Egyptian neighbors.

The first time my neighbor Hasani graciously invited me to enjoy dinner with his family I was struck by the differences (and similarities) of his household dining rituals.

Haz is a gregarious host although I’ve never seen him touch food except to offer it to others. As guest of honor in his home for the first time, I distinctly recall being served first before he served himself, his eldest son and then, seemingly as a casual afterthought, the women.

Haz exerted a genial, hospitable control of the service throughout the meal with his wife providing more than adequate support. Of course, it wasn’t until days after the meal, and after the wives had privately shared information, that I learned Haz had had vigorous input into its preparation although upon arrival he’d demonstrated, perhaps for my benefit and doubtlessly for his own, an absolutely casual attitude to service despite his herculean efforts. But, being proud and proper, he couldn’t allow me to see him toiling away in the kitchen.

Yes, many of our more Middle Eastern neighbors maintain an almost unhealthy level of male dominance when it comes to their cultural politics but life on the personal home front can be quite a good deal more cooperative than they might choose to admit. And our favorite, local shawarma and falafel shop in our beloved Brooklyn? All men doing the cooking and all the time!

Which brings us to our great, good friends and epicurean experts famous the world over for their heavenly cuisine, the passionate Italians.

Is there anyone, anywhere who doesn’t love Italian cooking?

We didn’t think so.

Yet as any woman who has ever walked the streets of Rome solo can faithfully attest, Italian men can be…how can we put it…quite direct in their mating techniques if not entirely politically correct in their approach. And yet, although an overabundance of modern feminist feeling may appear to be lacking in this most romantic of lands and languages, we would all be hard pressed to find any male, anywhere, who so faithfully worships that absolute Madonna of ultimate love and devotion, his Mama!

And what has this most feminine bastion of sacrifice, service and strength provided to this typically virile progeny and enthusiastic proponent of all that is raw machismo? Nothing less than some of the world’s finest home cooking which sublimely sustained him as a growing boy and that he now tirelessly seeks out as a very grown man, passionately searching for the epicurean equal to his one and only Mom’s home-cooking!

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The results? We can point to Antonio Carluccio, Giorgio Locatelli, Tom Colichio, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Rocco DeSpirito to name only a few of our favorite Mamma’s Boys and with many, many aspiring Chefs on the way!

Which brings us round, we certainly hope, to our overriding vision and the foodie future of our manly direction.

Yes. We agree that we can be less than enthusiastic on occasion when it comes to engaging in our own culinary satisfaction but deep down inside the warm heart of every little boy is that passionate, creative, committed gourmet just burning to get into the kitchen and make that gastro-magic/action happen. And please believe us when we say-
We definitely want to share that love!

Best chefs in the world? We know we are.
We just need a little push sometimes to get there.