The Best Cook in the World


I used to earnestly believe that my mother was, without serious question the best cook in the whole world, until I discovered, somewhere around the age of twenty-three, that lamb chops weren't best when they were toasted to a cardboard-like crisp in the broiler; that a comprehensive approach to breakfast was not offered by bacon and toast one morning, cold cereal, milk and fruit the second, and by an egg of some sort on the third; and that amazing baking, including America's finest homemade apple pie, could be accomplished without following any written recipe, without measuring out any of the ingredients, and without any apparent effort.

My mother was a born baker, champion of the Christmas cookie, Queen of cakes, Master biscuit-maker, the Muse of pies. But she didn't bake bread. That was something the world got back into again in the 1960s. But the other side of it was, you might say, pancakes and dumplings--these were my father's featured items in home kitchen appearances, predictably Sunday mornings, and always on the morning of Christmas day. The oven baking my father left to my mother; but he was the true professional of the kitchen. The dumplings were light and fluffy potato dumplings in a rich soup of chicken and vegetables. The next morning, they would be pulled out cold and thinly sliced then fried in bacon fat until golden brown, real Kartoeffelpfankuechen.

All of the influences at home were totally taken for granted. I remember watching my father sharpen knives--the lessons indelibly etched their image on my brain pan, but it did not occur to seek formal instruction in the culinary arts until the junior year of high school. There was a void in the first period schedule for a half a dozen or so of the guys out for football at Carmel High School, and bless her! Mrs. Bourne graciously took the boys into her Home Economics classroom and taught them to cook it all, from soup to roast turkey and the trimmings, to baking bread and cakes (with measuring). My father had died when I was about eleven years old, and so it was only in childhood memories as jogged and documented by photos in the family albums that he provided much of a role model for me in the kitchen. My mother still uses one of his favorite knives, a ham slicer with an amazing suppleness and edge to its steel blade.

Kurt von Meier