March 3, 2009
“Don’t be such a snob Michelle, these bagels are perfectly fine.” But they weren’t. They never were. They were imposters- steam injected, sparsely topped, and “baked” to an ungodly pale color. You had to toast them to make them even remotely edible and worse, the bottom was caked in cornmeal. I wouldn’t stand for it, I never did. Ever since I can remember I’ve always looked at food and thought: this could be better. I’ve had better, and even though I go to college nowhere near good bagels, I’m not eating those. In fact, theirs a great artisan bakery down the road, they have the best sourdough rye, let’s have that instead.
So unlike jobs or men or mismatched socks, I don’t settle with food. I improve on it. I seek it out. I’m always looking for the best – no matter where the best is found. My bagels? I prefer the Jersey variety, 3 Stars Bagels in Fort Lee, NJ to get specific. I get them still warm. The chewy, crispy, crunchy, slightly shiny exterior is perfect. The toppings are generous, the bottom bubbled slightly from the heat and above all, light – not obnoxiously heavy like those imposters. Personally, I prefer the burnt ones and have been known to hang over the counter, pointing at the baskets to specify which bagel looks the most “well done.” This practice makes me feel more like a cranky old lady at the meat counter than a serious bagel connoisseur, but those old ladies always get what they want, don’t they?
And I’m ok with getting what I want. In fact, I’d go as far to say I thrive on the idea of finding my favorite, or “best,” or for that matter, “worst” – where I shouldn’t shop or eat again. For this reason, I cannot walk past a bakery and not step foot inside. Any kind, anywhere, they are all fair game. And I’ve always been this way, always wanting it in that Veruca Salt kind of way – no self-control, a slave to both the hunt and the sugar.
Now I wish I could pinpoint a specific moment in time when I realized food mattered. That it was more than something to torture my Mother with by declaring I was a “vegetarian“ as a tween – or simply as nourishment due to a strict diet after fat camp. I can’t. I can tell you how I remember making scrambled eggs for the first time; how my first fine dining experience was at Le Cote Basque, or when I realized that everyone did not eat matzah ball soup. The time I ate a whole pineapple and broke out in hives – or my first day working in a restaurant kitchen. The day I decided that my botched Campbell’s soup can tattoo was just a good idea as sleeping with the guy I met at the farmers market, the way a former co-worker insisted on lending me Ruhlman’s Charcuterie.
In a way I’m thankful I don’t have just one shining moment though – but rather a huge library to reflect on. Every culinary class, every job – every meal, every man, is another story, another memory – another step to finding my best or worst or in-between. Continuing to season myself with every cookie, every piece of bread, even every bagel.