Pain in the Pane

How exciting for a lowly cook-only-at-home type of cook to see the inside of the White House kitchen! Actually seeing the inside of most any industrial or commercial type of kitchen is kind of cool. Crazy energy, dreamy aromas, fancy plating, and the quantities! So much fun to observe, I have no idea what it could be like in real life when a kitchen is going full tilt, except for what they show in the movies or television. On this particular day, the Today Show was doing a spot with Giada DeLarentiis and I was hired to do her makeup. I am very pleased to announce that this is a down to earth, upbeat, optimistic and a cheery-as-she-is-beautiful, person. We were there to do an interview with the First Lady (are we supposed to capitalize that?) and more importantly with the first female chef, Cristeta Pasia Comerford or as we were instructed to call her Chris.
During the time we spent there I met some of the pastry chefs and am very sorry to say I was married, especially for one of them, a real cutie. We started talking about bread (something I’ve always been into baking) and was guided to Bill the head pastry chef. Bill and I talked for awhile and he then gave me a recipe for a Pugliese (an Italian peasant bread with air holes and a crunchy crust, that I’ve been trying to perfect for decades). My little Ducky Buddhist (one of my daughter’s many nicknames) can testify that I’ve been trying to figure out how to make this particular recipe for the past 15 years. Why it’s so hard I’m not sure, but there you have it. Apparently, and what I didn’t know, was that this Italian type of bread is all the rage in France and the head chef at the White House was overjoyed to give me hints and tips for the recipe. Afterwards he took my email address and said he would send me the recipe. Ecstatic?…no doubt! Did I think he would ever actually send me the recipe…never. But it was fun to tell the story.
Several years later I had to go back for another documentary type of film and landed in the kitchens again. Lo and behold both the head chef and the head pastry chef not only remembered me but the pastry chef remembered that he had forgotten to send along the recipe. He whispered something to one of his minions and moments later I was presented with a plastic container of sour dough starter and Mr. Pastry Chef’s own official White House Pugliese recipe!
I was feeling so honored and delighted that I vowed to myself that I would keep this starter alive for years to come and share it with the neighbors and my great grandchildren! I would, with a broad smile on my face, tell everyone about the magical-life-giving-gift until they were so sick of the story they would refuse the bread! Ahh, my heart would beat with uppity-ego-centered joy! That was my fantasy, in the meantime, reality can come at you swiftly and with no regard for it’s cruelty. I was able to get one loaf of bread out of that starter before it completely died a miserably flat and unenthusiastic death, two weeks later. How the heck do you keep a starter alive?? I read every book and tip online even cheating by adding a bit yeast to help it along but even with all that I somehow failed. My one true link to self-esteem heaven and fame amongst the peasants was dashed. Shame and sadness enveloped me. How will I ever be able to show my face in that kitchen again? My 15 minutes of fame rose and fell with some sourdough starter. What a letdown.
However, back to the first adventure into the White House Kitchen and the piece de resistance! It only had a little bit of bread involved, not much. It was a sous chef. Not a head chef or any one that looked like he was in control, just one of the worker bees. This little worker bee came in at 6’6′ (at least, I think) and goodness only knows how much he weighed but he stood a full foot or more above everyone else. He was a moose basically, quite majestic, taking up far more vertical space than horizontal. His skin was a beautiful deep black and his bald head allowed him to work without a net. In any other setting I would have said he was a bouncer at a night club, apart of a some horrible street gang, or at a minimum a linebacker. Here, in the White House Kitchen (capitalized right?), he towered over the stainless steel work tables in his spotless white chef’s coat and ever so gently and delicately spread something white and creamy on very thin, petite slices of bread. He then placed tiny pieces of watercress in lacy patterns on top. He worked quietly, efficiently and ever so tenderly on each of those sandwiches. The dichotomy was wonderful. I was so fascinated by this image that I had to tear myself away to keep my eye on the star of the show. So, perhaps I should forget about the Pain in the Pane. If I have to go there again, I will make friends with the tall guy and hide behind him if any head chefs show up.

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