My father and his father were professional chefs and there was a spirited competition between the two.
Grandpa published his own cookbook: “What’s Cookin? in Florida, The private recipe collection of a master chef,” by Richard Nickerson.
The competition between father and son showed up with Dad’s frequent grousing about Grandpa’s choice to use only one of his recipes in the book. It did not satisfy him with the placement, either. Grandpa’s recipe appeared on page 14, Dad’s on 15.
About 20 years later, Dad hands me a book called “Sharing Our Best,” a cookbook by the American Culinary Federation. He opens the cover, points to a sticky note and boasts, “Here’s a list of where my recipes appear.” He clears his throat and continues, “That’s four more than what was in my father’s cookbook.”
I sometimes think Dad was so occupied seeking his father’s approval, he didn’t notice me seeking his.
While I didn’t inherit the desire to be a chef, I enjoyed helping in various kitchens Dad worked over the years. He taught me knife etiquette, the value of a sous chef, and that Lawry’s Seasoned Salt is the best. He preached, “Pepper the fat,” on a standing rib roast and “It should be at room temperature before it goes in the oven.”
The first prime rib I ever made was delicious. His directions weren’t in either of the personal Nickerson recipe collections, but I had them written on a scrap sheet of paper.
A scrap sheet I often misplaced and now know why. Dad wasn’t keen on phone conversations, so whenever I wanted to hear his voice, I used the excuse as a ruse to get him talking. I don’t know why I felt I had to do that.
The last time I made a prime rib was 18 years ago. I called Dad and wrote his instructions on a piece of grid paper torn from a binder. The way I repeatedly traced letters meant we probably talked for about 10 minutes after he riddled off the basics, yet once again.
Today, the sheet of paper, creased and wrinkled, offers information I could find anywhere. It may seem pointless to keep what appears worthless, but its value is unseen in the memory it holds.
His voice and words, from 300 miles away and a lifetime ago, transcribed during a phone conversation I can never have with him again.
This is the 29th story in the Objects as Waypoints Writing Project series.