Man in the Kitchen: The Joy of Cooking (alone)

Man in the Kitchen: The Joy of Cooking (alone)

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Ken Carlton in kitchen.
Man in the Kitchen Ken Carlton. Photo courtesy of author.

These are strange times. You watch the news coming out of Washington and just when you think it can’t get any odder, voila! Another bizarro headline, another tweetstorm, and all you can do is scratch your head. Nothing feels real to me these days. Except food. The place I turn to for solace is the kitchen. It has of late become my balm for calm, culinary Klonopin for the soul.

Time marches on and sadly, I am down to one kid at home. A teenager who, once pasta-ed, disappears into the maw of his room. My hard-working wife eats early on weeknights and often not much at all. Whereas I would craft a four-course repast, she is oft comfortable with a ramekin of steamed edamame or a bowl of Lucky Charms. I love her dearly but long after she is sated, I need more at the end of the day.

Ken Carlton
Writer by day; Man in the kitchen at night. © Ken Carlton

So I dine late. Very late. (Nutritionists take cover.) After the house has grown quiet I pour two fingers of scotch and pore over CNN until I can’t take it another second. Then the TV goes off and the music comes on. Jazz, or Radio France Bleu. A mind-clearing palette for what’s to come next.

My solo late-night machinations tend to invite raw squishy ingredients and lots of fancy knife work. The tartare and sashimis come out after dark. Wild caught tuna or a hunk of glistening salmon require special handling. I dig the razor-thin artistry of creating a plate of Carpaccio, or the eye-hand coordination to render a hunk of fish into a delicate crudo.

The accoutrement that spice these dishes inspire their own creative approach. I am a shameless Instagrammer and looks matter. A finely chopped jalapeno and shallot mirepoix create a lovely highlight for any protein. A slick melding of flavorful oils adds a splash of color, a bit of Van Gogh with the crazy swirls of chili or olive.

Ken Carlton
© BLK Chai Photography for INSPIRELLE

But best of all, my midnight snacking affords me the opportunity to do something real. By day I am a writer. I create words. I send them off into space. I rarely know where they land. But the fridge and the stove and the well-worn chopping block – that is my studio, my blank canvas. Just the tactile joy of mixing a single raw egg into a glass bowl of prime red meat fills my heart and eases my mind. I work with whatever’s handy and ad lib as I go. A bit of this and a shake of that and the transformation is sublime. Instant gratification with a quick and palpable reward. Dinner!

Why bother when there are so many easier ways to quash hunger at your fingertips? Because cooking is art and risk, nourishment and reward – and it is something you can do solely for yourself. Your downtime, your moment of peace. Honestly, do those dozen games of “Words with Friends” soothe your soul after a maddening day with the kids? Has “clearing email” ever really brightened your evening?

A midnight plate of raw meat may not be for everyone, but we all deserve a precious few moments that we call our own. When life’s exigencies have you up against the wall, consider the kitchen. It can be about so much more than just another chore.

steak tartare
Steak Tartare and a healthy salad. © Ken Carlton

Steak Tartare

My American readers will be sending me links to the FDA, but the lovers of all things French will get it. There are reasons we love café life. This is one of them.

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb. fresh ground lean sirloin
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 egg
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • A tsp of capers

Method:

  • Place meat in a glass mixing bowl
  • Add just the yolk of one small egg
  • Add the mustard and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
  • Finely chop the shallot and jalapeno and keep aside
  • Roll up your sleeves and gently knead the meat mixture until the egg is mixed in and the patty feels nearly dry
  • Spread out evenly on a small plate
  • Sprinkle the onion/jalapeno mix across the top of the tartare
  • Adorn with capers for some extra pop
  • Add salt, fresh ground pepper, or any zesty seasonings to taste
Ken Carlton
Ken Carlton is an author and screenwriter. He is currently working on the screenplay for his latest novel, FOOD FOR MARRIAGE. He co-authored the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a “dating expert” on Oprah. His television credits include shows on ABC, CBS, HBO and PBS. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has written for President Jacques Chirac and scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Never far from his passion for food, he is producing a documentary on the fishing industry in New England. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago.

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