Sunday, April 18, 2010

Julie, Julia, Lobsters and all that

Just finished watching the movie 'Julie and Julia'. Hadn't seen it in the theatre and was therefore condemned to watch it on a 13.3 inch laptop screen as an .avi file. And yet, despite this, it is difficult to imagine that any person with half an epicurean soul would fail to be touched by it.

For some of us like me, though, the movie has a resonance way beyond what most people might feel. I was never a Julia Child cook, leaning more towards the 'Joy of Cooking' (JOC) magnum opus and culinary bible by the Rombauer family (the legendary Irma Rombauer's character makes a brief appearance in the movie) but there are scenes in the movie which I could have penned with my eyes closed.

During my years as a graduate student in the US, I picked up a taste, if you will excuse the pun, for trying new recipes. We had a large American friend, whom I will only identify as David so as not to embarrass him, an amateur weight-lifter and a lover of good food (sometimes it didn't have to be good, as long as there was plenty of it). He along with a bunch of us Indians decided to try and cook the largest live lobster that money could buy along the south shore of Long Island and David finally, after many days of scouring up and down the coast of LI, succeeded in finding a seven pound monster which we all pitched in and bought, having starved ourselves for days to save up enough greenbacks to pay for this creature. David extracted a suitably large pot from his grandmother's garage and we all retired to one of our tiny grad school apartment kitchens in order to cook it.

It had already been decided by common consensus that David would do the honours -- apart from the fact that none of us knew how to steam a lobster, he seemed to be the only member of the party large enough to take on the lobster on its own terms. Water along with some salt, wine and some 'erbs was added to the pot, it was brought to what JOC would call a rolling boil, David grabbed the seven pound behemoth by its midriff, posed with it for numerous pictures -- I still have pictures of this event somewhere -- (those of you who have cooked lobsters in the US will know that their claws are kept shut by thick rubber bands so there is really no danger, except in that occasional instance where a band might spring loose and, to top it all, David did not deign to wear gloves unlike Julie) and then plunged the poor thing into the pot of boiling water and shut the lid. We all clapped and cheered lustily, David took a modest bow, the lobster in its dying throes gave a wild twitch, and the lid flew off and one claw emerged tentatively out of the pot. In an instant, the kitchen had cleared, us puny Indians having decided this was clearly David's baby (or rather lobster) leaving him slightly shell shocked but with enough presence of mind to grab the lid and bring it hurriedly down on the pot and hold it there for about a minute. There were no further surprises and the crustacean turned out to be big enough to satisfy 5 hungry graduate students.

Other scenes from the movie bring to mind, for example, attempts to poach an egg. I was not involved directly in this -- a fellow graduate student (who is now a very distinguished scientist and will therefore remain unnamed) tried his hand at poaching by boiling water in a tureen and dropping an egg in it ('egg drop soup'?) and stirring vigorously. At the end of this exercise, the only way the remains of the egg could be salvaged was by pouring out the water through a fine meshed strainer. The consistency - well, let us draw a veil over these unfortunate events.

When I first went to graduate school, I could barely make tea...having been molly coddled at home as the only child of my parents. However, strangely enough I took to cooking with great gusto, and over the years, while I may not have turned into a michelin starred chef, perhaps because I never went through the Cordon Bleu training Julia Child did, I learnt to follow recipes and turn out perfectly respectable meals. For the Indian part of my repertoire, I have Madhur Jaffrey and her Indian cooking books to thank, particularly her first --"An Invitation to Indian Cooking" -- her subsequent books being more glossy coffee table type ones, though still with that infallible Madhur Jaffrey touch.

'Julie and Julia' the movie therefore speaks to my deepest epicurean dreams.


vbalki said...

That was a most entertaining account. I guess your adventurous spirit is now ready for some REAL cooking: Meenakshi Ammal's "Cook and See" [sic] in three volumes :-)

Rahul Basu said...

Surely you mean Samaithu Paar? I wouldn't mind a lobster recipe from there....but I can't seem to find it :-(

chestnut said...

Meryl Streep == goddess !!
And who was this generous soul who shared this little nugget (.avi) with you?

AmOK said...

Nicely done I am sure. The lobster. Perhaps you should give some cooking lessons to PiccaDelhi in Connaught Place. What a circus! Before you jump to any conclusions -- do you believe in coincidence?