A woman’s lipstick should always be perfect, her presence should perfume the air ever so slightly with Bal a Versailles, she should turn out healthy, delectable meals in high-heeled shoes, speak at least two languages and have a career that is as rewarding for her as it is enriching to the community. My dad has high standards. Luckily, he’s a lot of fun and pretty cute. One of the greatest things about being his daughter was growing up with the firm belief that nothing is impossible.
My dad is not a great cook. This is perhaps an understatement–some of his most famous (notorious?) dishes have included charred and blackened hamburgers, cantaloupe with barbeque sauce, omelets with grape jelly rolled up inside, baked beans with curry powder and cardamom, and a special dish, prepared (perpetrated?) at least once a week and designed to use up any leftovers that happened to be lying around, called “Irish Spaghetti.” We ate out a lot when I was growing up, and when we didn’t, I pulled a stool up to the counter and cooked dinner. I was allowed to walk to the corner store and “sign” for any ingredients I wished. He never quashed my creativity, he never told me something wouldn’t work, and he devoured everything I produced with relish and great appreciation. So, I learned to cook.
My father is a Renaissance man. He believed an important part of my liberal education should include travel to cosmopolitan cities and exotic locations. One of my favorite pictures is of the two of us at Delmonico’s in Mexico City. I am eleven. On the wall behind us hang fishing nets and other atmospheric, nautical objets d’arte. My gauzy, ruffled dress is rivaled only by his sideburns and lapels. The photo was taken just before the waiter arrived at our table to set something on fire. From there, we traveled to “21,” The Oak Room, and The Four Seasons in New York, to Brennan’s and Galatoire’s in New Orleans, to Trader Vic’s in The Shamrock Hotel in Houston, and the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio, where I ate lime sherbet while spinning in a slow, dizzy circle, to small pubs in Ireland where I was made to drink pints of Guinness to avoid looking like a tourist, and to countless thatched roof cafes in the jungles of Mexico and Guatamala. My father believes in speaking the native language of the country you’re in, and he always orders in Spanish at Mexican restaurants, in Japanese at the sushi bar, in Vietnamese at the pho restaurant. He believes in holding a lady’s chair out, and standing when she comes back to the table after powdering her nose. He believes in brunch.
Brunch was the one meal he always reliably turned out well. Blessedly, he never felt the need to tweak the Brennan’s recipes for Eggs Benedict and Brandy Milk Punch, and his flawlessly executed, silky hollandaise was always followed by Bananas Foster, which of course, he flames tableside and serves with BlueBell vanilla ice cream. He believes in tradition, in quality, in entertaining in a princely sort of way. Besides the hollandaise, I probably didn’t really learn how to cook from him. But I sure did learn how to live.
The Perfect Burger
For each burger:
1/3 pound grass-fed ground beef
salt and pepper
2 slices raw cheddar
1 brioche bun, buttered and toasted
Make patties with the ground beef, using a light touch. Make a slightly indented center–this keeps the burgers from rounding up in the center when cooking. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Build a fire on one side of the grill and let the coals burn down to medium. Start the burgers over direct heat, then move them over to the cooler side of the grill to continue cooking to medium. When they are close to finished, cover with slices of cheese and cover the grill to melt the cheese. Build burgers on buttered brioche buns with caramelized onions.