Humor by John Christmann

Hitting The Sauce

a can of Spaghettios

Let me just start off by saying that I do not like to cook.

I could add a snarky rejoinder such as If you could taste my cooking you would understand why. But the fact is, despite my aversion to the kitchen, I actually prepare meals admirably well.

As proof, I offer my healthy children who are far more than half alive—my wife and I split the cooking chores—and sometimes they even ask me to fix a favorite meal. Often times their favorite meal is takeout, but occasionally they ask for something that I can actually chop, saute, fry, grill, mix, or pull from a can.

Like a lot of people who do not like to cook, I learned by necessity. In college I figured out how to boil hot dogs and zap a cup of ramen noodles in a microwave when I grew hungry at two in the morning. Over time I learned to scramble eggs, make grilled cheese sandwiches, and eventually prepare the staple of all home cooked meals, spaghetti.

When I got married I even learned how to prepare salads and fresh vegetables. Also by necessity.

As a result, I have now spent many, many years perfecting spaghetti dishes for my family. And much like pizza and sex, when my pasta sauce is good it is really really good, and when it is bad, it is still pretty good.

And I am not talking about dumping a bottle of Ragu in a pot and heating it up. No, I am talking about complex, aromatic, zesty bolognese sauces with fresh ingredients and savory spices and premium cuts of ground meats that simmer for hours to create just the right flavor.

Usually as determined by my wife who feels compelled to add a few extra pinches of some seasoning I have never heard of before it is served.

I realize that a discourse over pasta sauces approaches that of a holy war or maybe a republican debate. And I also realize that the best sauces are entirely the domain of the Mommas of good Italian boys. But I am neither Italian or good, and my mother wasn’t the greatest cook in the world, so as a reluctant chef I got where I am solely by trial and error.

I learned to start with a big pot and then add a little of this and a little of that. At first I threw in anything in the refrigerator that didn’t have mold on it. But over the years I became much more discriminating and actually purchased fresh ingredients. And over time my pasta sauce began to develop a flavor and character all its own.

And that is why I recently entered a friendly pasta sauce contest for a local organization I actively belong to. It ran like this: one member of the group prepared a large pot of fresh pasta for about fifty people while roughly eight participant sauces were placed on a table identified only by numbers. One by one members of the organization would grab a plate of pasta and sample the various sauces on top noting their favorite as they happily consumed their dinner.

It was fun and unusual, and I immediately identified my contribution on the serving table by the rich, deep burgundy color and the enticing hints of tomato and basil that wafted through the aromatic wisps of steam.

Or maybe it was from the bowl next to mine.

It didn’t matter. I didn’t tell anyone I prepared it, even though I wanted to.

At the end of the meeting, my well-fed colleagues voted for their favorite pasta sauce.

It was really no contest. Someone cheated and made cheese filled meatballs which were a hit.

But as fun and low key as the event was, I nervously realized the runoff for second place was somehow incredibly important to me. Even for someone who doesn’t like to cook, there was a certain sense of public validation that yes, an adult man with no culinary skills to speak of, but with a lifetime of formulating spaghetti behind him, could actually prepare food that other people might enjoy and appreciate.

A prideful dish which showed thought and caring, and great subtlety of taste.

I received zero votes. That is 0 with a capital Z. Nobody deemed my culinary creation worthy of mention. I didn’t even vote for myself for fear that I would betray the originator of this obviously foul dish.

Dejected, I took home the still full serving bowl and plopped a very small serving on a plate. I set the plate on the floor.

The cat wouldn’t eat it.

But I am not going to cry over spilled pasta sauce. Because after years and years of experience, I actually know the true success to preparing really good meals.