Food & Drink

A Stove Named Gertie

I have built my catering business over the years with the equivalent of Legos. I was a chef (Cordon Bleu trained), in the executive dining room of a large Park Avenue law firm. The executives would ask me to cater their dinner parties at their homes, thus started the once-upon-a-time of my business.

Having just arrived in New York, I had a normal household kitchen with minimal equipment to serve the needs of a home cook who had dinner parties occasionally but mostly went out: a few pots and pans, some bowls, wooden spoon or two, metal and rubber spatula, roasting pans . . . you get the picture.

The significant difference was that the kitchen was in an open-space loft. This was the key to my ability to expand and build my kitchen and my business the way I needed it—as I needed it. Each time a client chose a menu that required a tool I didn’t possess, I bought it. So I collected my Cuisinart food processor, Kitchen Aid Mixer, Osterizer blender, Wusthof smoked salmon slicing knife, oyster shucker, Chinatown spider ladles, aluminum speed-racks, spiked tomato core shucker (don’t ask!), professional Pelouze kitchen scale – well, you get the picture.

I revel in my adventurous, food-manic clients, the ones who push me to explore other cuisines and strange-to-me ingredients and combinations! They are vital to the beating heart of my curiosity and creativity. A client who had just returned from a vacation in Thailand wanted me to reproduce some of the dishes she had met and loved. This was a steep shopping in Chinatown-Thai technique flavor-profile learning curve. To this day I bless and feature red Thai curry shrimp bisque on my menus, garnished crazed-creative style with sweet pea-cilantro ice cream. It works!

A food publication company asked me to explore the possibilities of black beans. So jumping and screaming out-of-the box one of the ideas I came up with was black bean cheesecake crêpes with passionfruit sauce. The dense bean-chili-cheese flavor profile in the light fluffy mousse was spot-on. I tucked the gray-flecked deliciosity in a light frilly-at-the-edges petticoat crêpe and graced it with a passionfruit syrup enhanced with butter and Barbados rum—it bombed with the client. Still thinking about this . . .

One of the most important new pieces of equipment happened when Pat Allen, MD, a brand-new client, asked for a whole roasted suckling pig as an entrée on New Year’s Eve. Back in the dark ages of the early ‘80s I had a standard (small) household oven. I couldn’t possibly disappoint my lovely new client, so off I trotted to the Bowery, and as if buying a can opener, I looked at several ovens and settled on a 32” deep, 36” wide, professional Garland stove.

Moving counters and shelving was easy in the loft and the Garland was delivered, installed, and one-inch gas lines connected the same day— all for the lofty sum of $800. The power of the Garland made a huge difference to my work and advanced the possibilities for my menus by leaps and bounds. As we fell in love with the stove we had to give her a name. So Gertie was named with great aplomb when we roasted the whole suckling pig in the oven!

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  • hillsmom August 15, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    A well-told tale of cooking love. It’s making me hungry, too.
    Our first down-size had a propane Chambers gas stove in a light green. (The owner’s father had a propane business). For me, being from the Midwest, it was nice to cook on gas again. Fortunately, when we switched to gas, it was an easy conversion to natural gas. The oven was small, but the only way I know how to cook a turkey is in our Weber charcoal grill. (11 minutes a pound un-stuffed). I’m only mentioning this because Chef Howe might be familiar with the Chambers brand, and I’m not a chef anyway. The next downsize 25 miles west, out of 19035 and back to electric. IIRC, the Chambers would work during power outages. My favorite cookbook is still “The I Hate to Cookbook” by Peg Bracken. TMI?

    I’ll stop only to mention that your Dr. Bill is to be treasured as is my beloved plumber. Going to get a wee snack now. Thanks for some good memories.