Flavour Guy: In the kitchen with the rhetorical cook

Need eggs? Call a neighbour and you might get a few apples in the deal.

The Flavourguy is a rhetorical cook. He cannot cook for one. He must make an impression. In cooking as in language, rhetoric requires a response. As a rhetorical cook, the Flavourguy considers how someone may react to his cooking or even a comment about someone else’s dish.

A simple phrase like “that was the most interesting peanut butter lasagne I ever had” can be taken in so many ways, not that the Flavourguy has ever made a peanut butter lasagne, but there was a friend who made it… once.

The lasagne started off as basic: a few layers of cooked lasagne noodles, tomato sauce and cheese, but then he smoothed a large dollop of peanut butter on top. My friend had recently eaten a chicken and peanut butter dish (common in Chinese, Thai, and African cooking) and figured that peanut butter would work with any cuisine, so why not lasagne. In the oven, the peanut butter turned to peanut brittle.

He wouldn’t have made this for himself, but as guests were coming for dinner… Without realizing it, he had become a rhetorical cook.

This requires further explanation. There are cooks who enjoy cooking for themselves, who take pleasure in making, for example, a perfect omelette, which no one else will see, never mind eat. It will be buttery in taste and colour and flip over easily in the pan. There might be a chiffonade of fresh herbs or a heaping spoonful of grated cheddar oozing through. As tasty as it may be, making an omelette for oneself is not rhetorical cooking. Executive chefs often require a potential recruit to make an omelette for them and then make it again and again and again. Over and over, with each one as perfect as the first. No one may even eat them. This is pure performance, perhaps the apex of rhetorical cooking.

When the rhetorical cook does make an egg for himself, it won’t be an omelette. It is more likely to be a fried egg laid over a slice of toast. Omelettes are reserved for those who will pay attention, for an audience, for making a statement.

The rhetorical cook thinks “if people aren’t going to talk about a dish, why make it?” My friend knows that. People have been talking about his peanut butter lasagne for years. Or as one said at the time “do we have to eat this?”

Devilled eggs

Devilled eggs are a great example of rhetorical cooking. It may be eggs-acting but it will get you plaudits. Hard-boil an egg per person by putting them in a pot covered with room temperature tap water. Eggs that are a week or so old are often easier to peel. If you are worried that your eggs are too old, just put them in a pan of water. If they don’t float, they are fine.

Bring the water to a boil, cover and turn off the heat. The eggs will be perfectly cooked in 13 minutes. Put them in cold water, shell them when they are cool. Slice the eggs lengthwise and scoop out the yolk. Mash the yolks with a fork, using just enough mayo to make them very smooth. Add Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the yolk mixture into a piping bag or a Ziploc or similar plastic bag from which you snip off a corner. Make a decorative mound by squeezing the filling into the cavity of the whites. Top with a sprinkle of paprika and maybe a pinch of finely chopped chives. You could also add capers, anchovies, pimentos or other garnishes. Of course, you wouldn’t go through all this trouble for yourself. That’s why this dish makes you a rhetorical cook!

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