I am not a “foodie”. I’m just an old cook who misses the trade sometimes. For one thing, it paid. Yet it also taught. Every day. Especially when the vodka pickled restaurant owner allowed you total experimentation during the slow time. An education with the added bonus of an hourly wage. I have been out of the business for several years, and can look back on its teachings fondly. Now, as everyone knows, you must boil the calf’s head. Yet in the painting I have it roasting. Ha, not entirely true! I simmered it low to be sure, and also the brain and tongue, for two hours with a mirepoix, and added a mainly tarragon bouquet garni, to maintain a happily scented kitchen while I prepared dessert. After straining the head, I rubbed it (also brain and tongue) with butter and salt and set it in the stove to rest while I arranged a platter of tomatoes, olives and hard boiled eggs.
It would have been a delicious entree, had I ever cooked a calf’s head before. Come to think of it now, this painting could serve as reminder to vegans and vegetarians alike that eating a cow’s head today is probably one of the most disgusting unnecessary culinary wastes to earth and its systems, second only to shark fin soup served at nearly every table on holiday.
However, to me, its history is magical, thanks to the miracle of aging—its staple herb and spice, memory and nostalgia. A farmer Frenchman knew the calf personally, or at least the farm where it was born and partially raised. Even the Paris chef of 1875 had his connection to the countryside. I cannot even imagine what truckloads of unpoetry are graduating today from our American culinary schools, nor the tourist trap Carnival Cruise ships where they are set up to intern—just 2 years after developing rudimentary knife skills. Certainly the numbers are unsustainable. All at once, so many toilets flushing calf’s heads into the sea, when just a few hours before, the tall chef hat server boy with some rehearsed éclat, flashed a psychotic smile for the army of iPhones clicking.
I am no foodie. Still, I can open Larousse Gastronomique to any page, and melt.