When Olivia told me that a French chef had offered to come over to her apartment and cook a dinner for her and her friends, I, for some reason, failed to ask who, how, or why—I simply replied, "Hell yeah, I'll be there!" Not exactly the inquisitive type, you see.
The chef ended up being Robert Arbor, proprietor of Le Gamin, a sizable chain of French restaurants in New York City, and author of the cookbook Joie de Vivre. (By the way, I'd just like to note that if you buy things through my amazon.com associates code thingymajigger, you are helping me fund my life as purchased through amazon.com, which adds up to about 50% of my possessions. Don't you want me to be happy? Don't you want me to have material goods?!) As for how Olivia convinced him to spend a Thursday night (January 17th) holed up in her small East Village apartment and cook a meal for her, Kathy, and me, it was as simple as telling him that her love for him burned deeply and she regularly made offerings to the shrine that she erected in his honor. That Olivia; she's one dedicated gal.
Oh wait, she didn't make a shrine...I did. And it wasn't for Robert Arbor, but for Jakob Dylan. And this took place in 1998 when I was the ripe age of 13. And I'm only 25% joking.
What Olivia really did was quite simple. She went to Le Gamin, saw him in the restaurant and told him how much she loved his book. That's all it took for him to lavish his skills onto her: "You are a student? I cook for you!" (Olivia might also have mind-control powers, but this has yet to be proven.)
[Update: Olivia pointed out that he recorded the night for his podcast about cooking in a typical student's kitchen. Yeeeeaah, I didn't mention that, although I did take a photo of his ipod. My note taking = fail! Looking at the podcast's page, I don't get the impression it's going to be available anytime soon, if the recording even came out. At some point during the night he said our conversation may not have been recorded clearly. Hm. If the podcast ever appears, I'll let you know!]
So, back to that night. Robert wanted to do an Asian-themed dinner of pork chops marinated in ginger, garlic, and soy sauce accompanied by bok choy cooked in what may have been the saucy residue from the pork chops. I know that's a crappy description, but recalling stuff that happened three weeks ago with the additional barrier of "lack of cooking experience" doesn't make for a good description. The slack, I'd like you to cut me some.
Robert effortlessly maneuvered the workings of the kitchen and chatted with us (with his endearing French accent) as though we had known each other for ages. It was crazy. Why was he so nice? WHAT DID HE WANT FROM US?
He just wanted to teach us about the wonders of bok choy, baby.
For our vegetable dish, he separated the leaves from the stems (or told Olivia, the kitchen slave for the night, to do this) before chopping them so that we could cook them at separate times and match up the final textures of...done-ness. You know what I mean.
To cook the pork chops, he took the pre-marinated slabs-o-meat out of the bath of tastiness...
...Pan-fried them (that's a correct description, I suppose?) until the bloody juices had all seeped out of the surface...
...And after he had mostly cooked the two batches of pork chops, he placed them back in the first clear dish (ala the "marinating tub") and popped the dish in the oven to finish.
While the pork chops continued de-rawing in the oven, Robert and Olivia chopped the bok choy.
...Along with some garlic.
Lacking a lid for the pan holding the bok choy, Robert made one out of foil.
It wasn't long before we had a ginormous bowl of bok choy, containing more vegetable matter than I had eaten in a long time...
...And a pile of perfectly cooked pork chops. Kind of sweet and tender and moist. A flawless slab of porkliness.
He also fried chopped green onions to use as topping for the rice. It seemed like a little thing, but it added a lot to the meal.
"I can't believe this food came out of my kitchen," said Olivia. The food wasn't complicated, but of course Robert made it look easy. If any of us tried to do the same thing we'd probably burn something. But now we knew that we had the potential to make something delicious if any of us had the inclination to spend the effort on such a meal.
I think one reason we would hesitate to try and make a meal like this is that we would only be cooking for ourselves. Cooking a meal for four people is more "worth it" than cooking for one. ...WHICH MEANS WE SHOULD HAVE MORE COOKING PARTIES! Yeeeah. Oh, how much money we would save.
After Robert left to meet up with a friend, Olivia, Kathy, and I feasted on huge-ass quintuple-chocolate muffins from Dunkin' Donuts that I had received from a woman who works with the company (thanks, Sue-Jean!). These weren't muffins so much as hefty cake lumps masquerading as suitable breakfast items. Not that I have anything against eating cake for breakfast. Nor muffins for dessert, in this case. They were surprisingly good—moist, not too sweet, and very chocolatey, with chocolate chunks embedded in chocolate cake, possibly sprinkled in chocolate fairy dust.
While gorging on our muffins we mostly talked about how fat we were getting and, hey, did we just have a professional French chef cook for us? What was that about? Like...what awesome thing did we do to deserve this? Absolutely nothing. We couldn't thank him enough for giving us his time and experience for a night. But Robert must've taken a liking to us because he said he planned on coming back to cook a Japanese cuisine-inspired meal. Considering that he left some ingredients at Olivia's apartment, I think he'll be true to his word.
In conclusion, FRENCH PEOPLE ROXORZ.