Have you ever come down with a bad case of first-novelitis? It’s a common ailment for which the only cure is to describe everything in great detail and work through your complicated relationship with your father.
Stanley Park, by Timothy Taylor, has a bad case of first-novelitis, but it’s still a great read. The protagonist, Jeremy Papier, is a chef in Vancouver BC, which puts him in an enviable position. He’s also brash and self-destructive, which is less enviable. Anyway, I’ve read plenty of nonfiction accounts of restaurant cooking (the best of which is Steven Shaw’s “A Week in the Gramercy Tavern Kitchen,” which no longer seems to be online but is available in Best Food Writing 2002), but Taylor’s fantasy trumps them all:
He turned to Benny’s dinner. He would make something Ã la minute. One dish uniquely for her.
He scooped up a skillet in one hand and let it bang onto the black gridded top of the range. He went to the walk-in and found the few remaining pork chops, which had been put awa. He removed one, then picked a large bottle of Chambly La Fin du Monde. A Trappist-style Quebec beer, one of the best in the world as far as Jeremy was concerned. Benny would never have tried it, and he guessed that she would not believe that such delicate effervescence could come from a beer at all.
There were still sliced chanterelles and shiitakes, diced onion, cream, garlic, crushed pepper, all prepped and in containers next to the stove top. Mise en place. He poured Benny a glass of beer, watching the uneven bubbles forming in the firm head, letting the foam rise a good half-inch above the rim of the glass. Then he poured off a cup of beer into a small bowl and put it next to the other prepped ingredients, put the tall bottle next to the glass on a serving tray, slid them onto the stainless steel pass-through for Zeena.
“Table seven, sweetie,” he said…
When the pan was hot he added a knob of butter and some oil from a plastic, red-nozzled bottle, let it heat through and foam while he vigorously salted and peppered the chop. He dusted it with flour, then gripped the protruding bone with tongs and pressed it down into the foaming fat. When it was browned on both sides, he tested its firmness with his thumb, pushing gently on the flank of the hot chop, pulled it out and onto a small plate that he slid into a low oven. A few onions went in to the pan, a grind more pepper, chanterelles and shiitakes sliced thin, some minced parlsey. He tossed the mixture, letting it slide ot the far edge o the pan, pulling it back and up towards him, which made it break loose from the slick surface and turn over before landing. He let it cook through, whistling with the music–they had segued from Tom Waits to Tom Jones. When the mushrooms were starting to brown, he added a bit of garlic and the beer, swirling the contents of the pan to mix them while they boiled. A knob of butter to thicken the sauce. A new dry side-towel before grabbing the chops out of the oven. Back they went into the sauce, half covered and slid just slightly off the flame.
He chose new potatoes for her, much better with the beer. He laid down a bed of the browned mushrooms in their sauce, nestled the chop on top, triangulated with three of the waxy yellow potatoes, sprayed the plate with more parsley and carried it out himself.
“Grenadin de porc au beurre La Fin du Monde,” he said, sliding it on to the table in front of her.
At the time I read this, I’d never had La Fin du Monde, so I sought it out, and it has become my all-time favorite beer. Whether that’s because of its innate goodness or because it whisks me away to Jeremy’s kitchen for a few minutes, I couldn’t say.