Monday, July 13, 2009


I totally fucked up the Hollandaise. I was the last student in the class left laboring at my station, beating the shit out of two egg yolks so that they would somehow suck up 300 ml of butter and morf into that sunny, airy, lemony component of Eggs Benedict and companion to asparagus everywhere.

Chef X leaned over his marble workstation and stared at me. He could do this easily now since he reassigned us all to new partners for this class and relocated me from the back corner station to the front.

"Look, you are the last one. You are the only one who has to do it again."

Why thank you for pointing that out to me. I was wondering why a veritable white-water river of sweat was flowing between my tits and a greasy sheen of humiliation was building up on my T-zone.

"I know, I'm a bad girl." I tried to smile and shook my head. This is what I get for declaring I'm going to be perfect.

See, here is my theory about how life for humans is organized. God is like the chief executive of a big film studio. Instead of the pearly gates, I picture the grand archway and security booth of Paramount Pictures in Hollywood where I used to do administrative temp work when I lived in L.A. and was chasing an acting career. Inside the endless gargantuan hangars that populate the lot, separate realities are unfolding. War pictures, love stories, family dramas, dark moody films with shady characters and bad outcomes, uplifting stories where the sentimental protagonist beats all the odds to triumph, suburban soap operas and emergency room urgency are all playing out at the same time behind the heavy doors of the sound stages.

The one that I'm stuck in is a cheesy sit-com.

God is too busy to get involved in the minutiae of each individual storyline on the lot. Instead, each "project" is a assigned a group of writers that sit around and brainstorm. In my case they might say, "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if right after she tells the world she's going to be the best student in the class, that she's dedicated to perfection and becoming an expert, that she totally screws up!" It's like Lucille Ball chasing bon bons on the conveyor belt, stuffing them in her bosom and mouth trying to keep up with the task at hand and from getting fired, but ultimately failing because it's funnier than if she just did the job well. For a more un-dated reference, it's like Seinfeld not being able to admit to his girlfriend that he dropped her toothbrush in the toilet and she's been using it all this time....and I'd play the girlfriend.

Ha. Ha.

Did I mention the test? The written test we had at the beginning of the class? I prepared a study guide that took me two days to make. All the vocabulary, all the techniques, French names of the dishes from the first 6 sessions. I reviewed. I had my son test me. I was ready. I could hear the Rocky music playing in my head as I answered each question with ease. Yes! I know this! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! .......NO! Wait, what is the Goddamn word for that other method of cooking vegetables...the one where you take the raw vegetables and cook them "a la minute" right before you serve them, instead of in advance, as with the other method. Come on,'s the one where you do a paper airplane folded thingy out of parchment and cover the veggies, water, butter and salt while they are simmering. WHAT IS THAT FUCKING WORD! I KNOW THIS!

But in the end I can't remember. I have a big, menopausal brain fart and fume over why we even have to know it in fucking French. I write out the description of the method, preceded by a "E_______????" I know it begins with an E and sounds like "Ecriv-ay", but I also know that Ecriv-ay in French means "to write" and that is not the word for the freaking vegetable preparation. So I leave it blank and hand in the test when the time is up.

Hey, now that's hysterical guys! What a side-splitting episode of Mrs. Fabulous' Life!

I guess the good part about being in a life-long sitcom, as opposed to a saga about life in the slums of India or something like that, is that while things can get messy and chaotic and embarrassing, nobody ends up shooting themselves in the bathtub over it all. Nothing is too complicated that it can't be figured out within three commercial breaks or at the most a "too be continued" two-part episode. And there's always a warm, fuzzy moral to the story.

I can hear the writers now. "So, Mrs. F spazzes out and can't remember the term for cooking the vegetables. Then she destroys the Hollandaise and has to ask the assistant chef to take her through the second one, step by step. Her 24-year old partner, tries to bump fists with her to congratulate her on their solid, team-effort Bernaise sauce, but she high-fives him instead. He laughs and says, 'oh, I forgot, Mom's don't know about that.' High fives are sooooooo old school. She feels totally unhip and ancient. But then, as she walks to her car in the soft, summer rain, tired and breathless, she feels strangely alive and warmed by her Mary Tyler Moore-ish outlook on the evening.

" 'SO WHAT!' she says outloud and a homeless person resting in a nook between the columns of a SoHo building looks up at her briefly before hunkering back down under his garbage bag blanket. 'So I didn't get it all perfect!" True, the first Hollandaise sucked. She wouldn't end up with a 100% on the test. But the Bernaise, Buerre Blanc, and Gratin a L'Orange Sabayon Au Grand Marnier she made with her partner were pretty damn good. The mayonnaise she did on her own would have made Hellman's nervous."

The writer's are anxious to wrap up this episode and get home. "So she gets in the car, and it comes to her. 'L'ETUVEE!', she finally remembers the fucking term for the vegetable preparation and laughs and pounds the steering wheel. She's not beating herself up or feeling like quitting even thought she might not have been the best or most brilliant one in class today. This surprises her because she knows that there were times in her life that similar, insignificant failures would have derailed her. She drives uptown to pick up her son who is doing his CIA externship at LeBernardin. He listens to her recount the evenings class and then says to her, 'Good for you, Mom. It sounds like you did great overall.' He looks at her like he's genuinely proud of her, and she realizes she's proud of herself too."

"So it's a wrap." The writer's say as they gather their empty coffee cups and crumpled pages into the waste basket. "Mrs. Fab realizes in the end that mistakes will be a part of the "perfection" of the journey. And she is OK with that."

"Hey, shouldn't we have her throw her hat up in the air or something?" one of the writer's suggests. "Nah, it's been done," says another writer as he flicks the light off in the conference room.

I can't wait to see what happens Tuesday with Session 8: Salads. How can you screw up lettuce?


natalie sztern said...

this past weekend I saw Jacques Pepin make a plain vinaigrette salad with just Romaine and for the first few leaves he cut out the hard vein....never knew to do that and with Caesar salad he used just the hears and did not cut up the leaves....maybe this is good infor for u or not....

Lyn Sheldon said...

Thank you Rachel for the laughter and your masterful way of letting us live the "human" experience of your "soul" journey through your writing...simply genius!

I look forward to your next BLOG writing. Good luck with salad making!

suziwong said...

Fabulous blog entry; as a mature aged student i feel your pain. I'm hoping to get into a PhD program next year. A hint about tests exams: try and find as many way to imput the information as possible. It helps to read and listen at the same time so audio record your notes and then read and listen to them at the same time. You can also listen to them on the drive to and from the institute. Your brain can only take a maximum of 7 new pieces of new information at one time; so pace yourself. Also, It takes time to move info from your short term memory to your long term memory so don't cram; it's not helpful in the long term! Make sure u do/practice the procedures of the things that you are learning because the 'doing' will help you remember the theory of the practical that you need to remember. Also try mnemonics: little tricks to improve your memory e.g. Acronym poems etc but be warned mnemonics are not as good as practical links to theory because mnemonics don't have meaning and understanding and we learn best from understanding. Obviously, my learning domain is education LOL; us mature aged students need to stick together! u go girl!

Ellen said...

I love Mary! Throw up your chef's hat Mrs. Fabulous!