I am not a cook. While I'm at work, I take my meals in the cafeteria. In Utah, this was synonymous with waterboarding. I could never get over the Styrofoam plates and plastic crockery at the Union. The Burger King that attracted customer in the medical school like you wouldn't believe it kept me shaking my head forever.
Well, forever is a strong word. I'm not shaking my head anymore, so forever isn't the right word to use. I haven't exactly found out yet why people go to Burger King, but I did it myself once, late one night, when I was working longer than most people do, facing another five hours when most had gone home already. I was hungry and got a Whopper. I can still not explain why I chose this, but I can now understand those who eat there. Well, with limitations. I can understand it somewhat, but people eat fast food more than they work serious overtime. Where's the logic? If you're going home before ten, there's no reason to stop at Burger King or McDo or Chicken Cottage.
In Grenoble, things were the exact opposite. The refectory (to use a word that an Italian coworker surprised me with) served magnificent dishes, justifying a good hour every day. Every day around eleven, shouts would reverberate across the lab. "Are you coming for lunch?" "When are we going?" In the end, everyone went, the boss included. I tremendously enjoyed this daily break, especially after escaping the crude life in the US. The Imperial College cafeteria is somewhere in between.
When I started this post, I was in the thick of making a fine vegetarian gratin. The deal is this: In the lab, we have a lunch club, an exclusive gathering, invitation only, of friends who cook for each other. Every Monday, another member of the lunch club cooks and the others enjoy. Currently, we are four, though we could probably deal with six. Add any more, and the cooking would be too cumbersome. You'd need an army provisions officer to put things in place. For four cooking isn't too difficult, and every week, every Monday, we have a good lunch. The only problem with this scheme, at least as I see it, is that every four weeks, I have too cook. Tomorrow is my turn, and tonight I'm cooking.
The gratin I had set out to make is already in its final stages. All it takes it an hour in the oven. The potatoes have been sliced and washed, the milk and cream have been heated, the vegetables cubed. The first time it was my turn to cook lunch, I had remembered the gigantic tin of confit de canard in a drawer and decided to pair it with a Gratin Dauphinois – an appropriate selection given that I had lived in Grenoble for two years where this dish is from, approximately.
I heated the ducks in the skillet and cooked the gratin in the oven and was quite delighted with the result. What I was much more delighted with was that two colleagues who grew up very close to Grenoble liked the gratin very much and commended me on my cooking. Wow.
This time around, I went for a variation of the theme. I wasn't ready to invest another tin of confit de canard, which is nearly impossible to get outside of France, and decided to go for vegetables instead. To make a long story short, when everything was ready the oven, which was supposed to be preheated, was cold. I stuck my hand inside and there was nothing. Damn. How do you make a gratin with a broken oven?
For the last hour or so, the ingredients of my gratin have been sitting, in their approximate spacial order, in a skillet on my stove top. The result is not a gratin, and it never will be. But maybe it will be something that my labmates will accept and eat without much complaining.