Meant2Be: Mr. Delicious
My daddy was raised in a Jewish delicatessen during the Depression, where rich food made his family wealthy and unhealthy. Unaware of the correlation, the high fat content took my father and his father from the neighborhood far too soon.
In the ethnic stew of New Haven, Dad’s family would barter with the Irish families for blood pudding and Italian families for lasagna, trading the shmaltz my grandmother slopped into pickle jars for them. Feasting until groaning was the focal point of Dad’s days, and his wife and daughters learned to share his appetites for deli case delights — the tongue, stuffed derma and beet borscht of his youth. It was how we bonded and felt closest.
Our Sunday suppers were an orgy of bickering over some roasted animal parts, eating with our hands despite their gravies. We fought over chewing on the part that goes over the fence last, sucking the turkey neck audibly, the giblets, the teensy eggs from the kosher chicken, and the gusto of ingesting the pupik.
So imagine my delight when a nice Jewish guy of letters, who made my mind awaken in our chaste early courtship, made my mouth water when he invited me to his new bachelor flat for a steak supper he’d prepare.
As soon as I came in the door, he began to seduce my salivary glands, and a few others, with two huge, thick, raw, bone-in New York steaks, shallots pre-chopped and sauteed in butter on top, an enormous undressed salad in the rough, and crudités awaiting me, as he sat me down in the kitchenette. Oh, this foodie knew how to woo me.
“Can I help?” I asked with faked inflection.
“I don’t want you to do a thing!” he said. “You just relax.”
I loved that. I was already falling for him. A Ph.D. who liked to shop for big cuts of meat on the bone — how lucky could a never-married, middle-aged, semi-Jewish woman and her manicure get?
He slammed the two bloody slabs and shallots onto a cookie sheet with some kosher salt, put them into the preheating oven, and tossed an anchovy and herb dressing he’d made himself into the salad. We hardly noticed the room getting hot (I thought it was just me) until the smoke detector went off. He grabbed a towel and fanned it until it faded out.
Peeking at the steaks, he said, “Just a little longer — let’s have salad!”
Slobbering anchovy oil down my chin, blotting often, I tried to eat the uncut leaves in a ladylike way. I noticed that none of the cloth napkins, flatware or plates matched. We’d get new sets when we wed, I said to myself, then slapped my mind silly.
“So, what’s your favorite food?” he asked.
“Honestly?” I replied. “Onions, peas, and cheese browned onto an iron skillet and scraped off.”
He dropped his fork. Uh-oh, I thought.
“You do that deliberately?”
“Ye-es?” I responded meekly.
“Boy, when I do that accidentally, I am always so happy …”
“I also like to disembowel an entire chicken, skin and all, with my hands, bite the bones and suck the marrow right out of them … eating roasted fowl was a family Sunday tradition.”
“We did, too!” he cried.
Delighted with our earthy common ground, we continued to consume our rough-hewn greens like human garbage compactors until the smoke alarm went off again. He opened the balcony door and used a newspaper to fan the alarm, then dismantled, or possibly broke, it with a fork. Silenced, it dangled in midair. Jewish men don’t usually fix things but will pay people to do so, I reassured myself.
Peeking at the steaks, he muttered, “Hmm. Must be because they’re so thick. Rice? Music?”
“Both,” I said. We’d have music and rice at our wedding, I mused, to myself, but the smell and smoke emanating from the kitchenette began moving my mood from erotic to alarmed.
As he put on Pandora and stirred rice into boiling water, the dangling alarm again alerted us, as did “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters. Coughing and concerned, I insisted, “Let me help!” without the upturned voice.
“Sure,” he said.
I ran into the kitchenette, opened the oven and saw it was lit only by an oven light, not a flame. I removed the cookie sheet, opened the broiler door below, revealing the prior tenant’s dirty broiler pan scorching antique grease beneath the roaring flame.
“Yikes,” I stated neutrally.
“I’ll wash that,” he said. “I didn’t know there was a separate broiler down there.”
Within 30 minutes, the room was aired, the steaks were succulent, the Rice-A-Roni, into which he scraped white truffles, so flavorful. I praised him to the skies, like we did with my daddy or my dog, and watched him clean up, noting that he washed the tops but not the undersides of dishes.
I knew I would have to give him thorough kitchen orientation when we wed. And I did.
Melanie Chartoff has acted on and off Broadway, and starred in many TV series. She appears in the upcoming film “Alexander IRL” and “The Consul, the Tramp and America’s Sweetheart,” which opens Nov. 17 at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills.