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Ever since I read Mike Weiss’s meandering, 4,515-word think piece titled “What is it about the cooking of WOMEN CHEFS that makes it more memorable, more comforting than that of men?” a few days ago, I’ve been second-guessing my culinary id. In his story, Weiss nuzzles up to several of the Bay Area’s top matriarchal chefs (Loretta Keller, Joyce Goldstein, Nancy Oakes and Traci Des Jardins) to find out why his best meals have been at the hands of women. He and his surrogate mothers decide that there are two kinds of cooks: the nurturing, food-is-love “mama cook” and the flashy, food-is-art “show-off cook.” Joyce Goldstein explains it best: “Now, not all mama cooks are women, but all the show-off cooks are men. Boys with chemistry sets. Boy food is about: ‘Look at me!’”
Which brings me to my existential snag. Am I a mama cook or a show-off? Or both? Would any man want to be labeled a “mama cook”? (Sorry, Mom.) And what is it about the writing of MIKE WEISS that makes it more distressing, more confusing than that of anyone else? I can't answer any of these right now, because I just don’t know. As much as I’d like to, I can’t really disagree with Weiss. But I also don’t think it’s as a black-and-white as he says.
I was turning this puzzle over in my head yesterday at the farmers’ market, where I had stopped to buy some shell peas (I love shell peas). After unzipping a sample pod and scooping out a mouthful of bright green gems with my finger, I asked the young farmer for a couple of pounds. “Why don’t you try these sugar snap peas instead?” he said, sticking a pod in my face. “Here: eat one. They’re like shell peas, but you can even eat the pod.” I obliged, then asked for my shell peas, thank you. “We usually steer guys towards the sugar snaps,” he explained. They’re much less work. And more impressive.”