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The Laughing Chef
  The Laughing Chef's Column Archive

October 11, 2006

Introducing the Laughing Chef


Eric Baerren had a problem one night. He was hungry, but had only an hour to cook and eat

dinner. There was a defrosted chicken leg. There were tomatoes, onions and peppers fresh from his garden. There was steamed summer squash in the refrigerator, leftovers from a weekend meal. There was a bag of egg noodles, newly arrived from the grocery store.


All of it was crying out to find a new home inside his stomach.


The question was how could he combine them into a meal and return to work.


A search of his cookbooks turned up nothing useful. A search of the Internet produced only recipes that took too long to cook, or required an exotic, expensive sounding ingredient. It began to look more and more like a delivered sandwich and bag of chips would be his dinner.


Desperation turned to inspiration. Previously the kind of guy who’d stick to the letter of recipes and who would find pleasure in recreating the art of others, he instead tapped into his own creative vein. In that moment when things looked darkest, he cast off the yoke of literalism, embraced everything he’d learned from years in the kitchen and pulled out a knife.


He chopped the onion and hot pepper, and began to slowly sauté them in olive oil and garlic. He separated the drumstick from thigh, sliced the thigh in half and browned them while he cut the tomatoes into large chunks.


Then, he added the tomatoes and squash, a dash of oregano, a dash of thyme, and covered and simmered it all while he boiled water for the noodles.


Ten or so minutes later, he crowned the noodles with a thick stew that clung to the noodles, and pronounced it delicious.


But, it was more than a meal.  It was a personal revelation that eating well doesn’t require hours of research and preparation, nor heavy investments in ingredients and equipment. It also revealed that eating well is just something for the weekend. You can, he realized, just make it up as you go along.


Since then, he has embraced an on-the-fly style of cooking. It usually starts with two ingredients and an idea – how can I pair this and that together with what is in the kitchen. There are but two rules – it must be simple, it must be tasty.


And, it must follow a familiar concept – a meal isn’t just a destination, it’s the sum of its ingredients. Each ingredient must be appreciated as part of the bigger recipe.


It is with this philosophy in mind that Eric tackles each week a new meal, consisting solely of the thoughts in his head and the stuff in his kitchen. Although his imagination is boundless, his kitchen isn’t. Most of the things you can find there, you can probably find in your own kitchen.


From shrimp to pasta, from chicken to rice, from bacon to squash, he’ll explore and celebrate the simple pleasure of a well-made meal.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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