I once thought of myself as a damn good cook, back before the big revelation. I’d choose an entree—like the Silver Palate Cookbook’s Chicken Marbella or Costco’s butterflied leg of lamb—set a lovely table, zhush up my platters, and bask in the praise. Not, however, from my two young boys, who were wary of anything more complicated than hot dogs. Rory, our youngest, was such a finicky eater he earned the nickname Air Fern. Only one dish seemed to work for the whole family: a casserole made with refrigerator biscuits called Pizza Burger Pie.
Imagine my surprise when my boys grew up to be food fascists.
We saw the first glimmer of Jed’s interest in sixth grade, when he videotaped himself making French fries for a school project. By college, he’d mastered deep-fried turkey and homemade ketchup and since then has pickled pretty much everything that grows in dirt. For the better part of a year, my freezer housed a pig that he and his cronies chipped in to fatten up and eventually, butcher. While the only thing I’ve ever entered in a contest is a moony poem I wrote for Mademoiselle (honorable mention!) my older son is also fond of cook-offs. I was a proud mama indeed when his poached eggs in garlic broth nabbed “Most Creative” in the Brooklyn Ballfest.
The Gastronomic Tipping Point
I knew Rory had passed the gastronomic tipping point when at the age of 20 he applied for a summer waiter job at a restaurant known for serving two dozen varieties of oysters. His interview included an exam harder than the LSAT: pair a wine with ceviche, identify the correct temperature for preparing squid, list the ingredients in ciopinno. Like that. He aced the test, and from there, vaulted up the food chain.
The boys’ glossiest family memory is, I’m guessing, our trip to Copenhagen when they were 30 and 25. We’d allowed each son to pick one restaurant during the trip; Rory chose the Michelin-starred Noma, one of the priciest in the world. He and his big brother still ooh and ah about the amuse-bouche of radish, turnip and edible soil and the fried reindeer moss. All my husband recalls is an open kitchen where a flotilla of knife-wielding prep cooks were hunched over food with the intensity of neurosurgeons. That and the bill.
When Rory graduated from college and got his own apartment, one of his first purchases was a torch to caramelize crème brulee. “I learned to cook,” he snickered, “so I could eat what I wanted.” This might include turducken, white truffle risotto, and 27-ingredient dishes from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook, which he gave me as a birthday gift. Subtle. Recipes from McCall’s, where I labored as editor-in-chief for many years, just didn’t cut it for him, no matter how many times the dishes were tweaked in the magazine’s test kitchens.
Jed is now a New York lawyer and Rory, a Hollywood film producer. Each guy has two young children, but work and fatherhood haven’t eroded their standards. The Koslow kids dip homemade pita in homemade hummus followed by fish sticks delicately crafted from freshly caught sea bass. Jed’s offspring’s Jell-O doesn’t start in a package from Walmart; he concocts his own from freshly-squeezed fruit juice and grass-fed gelatin. Rory makes his three-year-old daughter vegan ice cream. I believe my grandchildren’s first words were “organic,” “greenmarket,” and “Whole Foods.”
It must be clear by now that neither of my sons picked up their on-trend epicurean skills at my knee. Their tutor was the Food Network, which they began watching during college with as much gusto as NFL football. I regret that years ago I failed to start manufacturing trading cards with the lifetime braising averages of Emeril Lagasse, Tom Colicchio, and Alton Brown, since young men of the 21st century identify with these action heroes in a way that young women simply cannot. The female hotshots—even Giada De Laurentiis, who sautés in a low-cut dress and a push-up bra—fail to inspire. Knowing how hectic women’s lives are, these female talents tend to create recipes that feature the occasional shortcut or even—the shame—packaged goods. To deft male cooks, this is a food felony. Also, for you, me, and our daughters, where’s the surprise in cooking? It’s part of our cultural core curriculum. For men, it’s an elective.
It’s Show Time
When my husband and I want comfort food, I still I make Pizza Burger Pie, followed by My-T-Fine cook-and-serve chocolate pudding. But if I’m cooking for my kids, which happens rarely these days, I’ve learned, in self-defense, to raise the stakes. Last night Rory, visiting from California, joined us for dinner along with Jed and his wife, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and manager of the coolest bakery in Brooklyn.
Nervous as a bride entertaining her in-laws, I found a Peruvian steak salad recipe from Barcelona, and beseeched my husband to julienne the vegetables with the mandolin the boys gave us, since the damn thing scares the bejesus out of me. We sliced, diced, and marinated our hearts out until, finally, I plated the entrée. I held my breath, but, yes, the meal tasted as delicious as it looked, and my kids flung a compliment or two in my direction.
I must, however, confess. The first course of cold curried soup was made with frozen peas, the orzo side came from my favorite community cookbook, Shalom on the Range, and the peach pie had a Pillsbury crust. And my Thanksgiving menu? Vintage McCall’s plus my mom’s pumpkin pie, straight from that culinary capital, Fargo, North Dakota.
Tradition! Suck it up, boys.
A version of this story was originally published in November 2017.