Sriracha? Kimchi? Lovage? Fermented fish flakes? None of the above. A hyper-experimental cook learns the hard way.
I have a problem. I have a daughter, too, but she's not the problem. The problem is, I am happiest in the kitchen when I'm going deep on some quest: studying the finer points of offal cookery, trying to make everything from pork kidneys to ox heart palatable, or testing my theory that a great cassoulet depends upon first butchering a pig and a lamb and a duck. This is a problem because my 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, passionately prefers familiar foods: spaghetti and meatballs, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Most of all, that girl loves hamburgers—old-school, fast food burgers like the ones she gets in classic American burger joints courtesy of certain well-meaning people we might as well call grandparents.
In all fairness to myself, I had dreamed up family burger night as a loving concession, a way to offer the kid at least one meal a month she could feel good about. It should have been a growth opportunity, too—a chance for me to learn that not every meal has to be a step forward on my personal journey. All I had to do was buy the buns, the preground chuck, some lettuce, pickles and ketchup, and then put aside my ego and make my child happy. But I couldn't stop myself from upping the ante, so I flipped through my Alice Waters cookbooks until I found a hamburger recipe, in the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook. California-meets-Provence, bistro-style, it called for toasted levain bread, grilled red onions, an obscure green herb called lovage that took weeks to find and cost a fortune, and nothing but Dijon mustard as a condiment. ("Sorry, kids," I found myself declaring, "no ketchup allowed.")