Tropic of Cutlet
Posted on February 13th, 2012
To eat you must first open your mouth. You must have an alimentary canal, and a little knowledge of forks. It is not necessary to have a knife or mandoline. The essential thing is to want to eat. Then it is a meal. I am cooking.
It is you, cutlet, that I am eating. I wish that I could eat better, or more languidly, but, then perhaps you never have actually consented to dine with me. Others have eaten you and only half finished, leaving you cold. They claimed to eat beautifully, but, were, let’s face it, kind of picky in the end.
It is the somethingth of February—I no longer keep track of the menus. Would you say—the takeout of last week? There are containers, taken from the fridge between meals, and in the morning there is no consciousness of them left. The kitchen around me is dissolving, leaving here and there spots of unclean linoleum. The kitchen is the shell where I’ve eaten you away…I am thinking that when El Bulli closes everywhere cutlets will at last triumph. When into the breading bowl of fry-cookery everything is again thrown taste will be restored and schnitzel is the page upon which gastronomy is written. You, cutlet, are my chaos. You are why I eat. It is not even I, it is the world tonguing, licking the plate of time. I am still eating, tasting of your pan drippings, a gut to dote upon.
Food coma. The anatomical reality of gluttony. I am a whale, in repose, with a belt that needs to extend six feet. Do bats need belts? Animals don’t wear pants. Except in cartoons. Think of the human race walking round without pants on. I have two sets of sweatpants—one for weekdays, and one for a holiday. Dozing. A post-it from my girlfriend asking if I have found a name for my food blog yet. To be sure: “Phatass Pho”.
Your gastronomic life! A phrase I picked up at the Des Moines food blogger potluck. It is on Wednesdays, but it’s always at Mindy’s. Her partner only eats lentils and makes everyone use napkins. She’s studying Shamanic Nutrition—her favorite phrase is ‘the atavistic lentil’. You can see immediately what a pain in the ass these meetings are. But wait…it gets better…
Mindy wears tracksuits and plays the theremin. Pretty weird for Iowa, especially when you consider that she’s mostly a therapy dog breeder. She puts on that she’s a Foodie, but she is not, of course. She is a Velveeta-eater, and her father worked in the meat-packing plant. In fact, almost all of Des Moines is Velveeta-eaters, or into E-Z Cheez, which is worse. There’s the Casserole Celebration, and the Hot Dog Hoedown, and the Turkey Shuffle Run—all sponsored by Kraft Foods. Even that fudge from the office holiday party turned out to have Velveeta in it. You have to know what I’m working with, to understand.
Kraft is unaware of you, schnitzel, but if they found a way to turn you into a TV dinner, I’d still eat you. Why not? I already fry you twice weekly. I like gravy-inspired sauces. I’m as girthy as the rest of them. Who hates Velveeta more than the secret Superbowl queso eater, anyway?
Snack time. White pepper-flecked gravy, a glass of water, fat glistening and luminescent. The napkin falls away to the floor. The long spaetzle with buttered sides drapes like a lock of hair. This isn’t Austria. This isn’t Poland. It is a cardiovascular hotpot of all of the gravies of Europe and Middle America. The plate hovering below me, the pork crisp, trembling, not ordered by the vegan but fiendish in delectability, like those really good sandwiches at that one subway stop before you get to Zito’s, whose innards cause you to temporarily lose consciousness and register the sidewalk in degrees of black.
Panko is one of those things that I dig on enormously. And in this city, it’s super hard to track it down. It’s all ‘Italian-style breadcrumbs’ all the time. I’ve asked George time and again to order them in for me, but he always forgets. He calls them ‘terrorist crumbs’. And when I come into the store he puts one hand on that secret police-summoning button behind the counter as though I don’t know that he’s doing it. He watches me buy ponzu sauce and talks loudly about the Grand Slam at Denny’s. Then he tells me that I’m a Bad American.
I like Arthur but I do not share his opinion on veal stock. He’s all ‘but I have a Master’s Degree in Gastronomy from BU’ and I say ‘do you even know how many episodes of Two Fat Ladies I’ve watched, bro?’ He is Achatz-struck, that’s all. And he’ll never be a gourmand. Nor will Norman ever be a decent home cook, even if his Crock Pot Cookery For One is doing well in e-book sales on Amazon. The only cooks near me for whom I have any respect are Hall and Oates. They’ve got that BBQ pit over in that vacant lot on Titus Ave. They’re obsessed. They’re always talking about smoke temps. They’re each missing eyebrows. They’ve suffered for pork.
George, on the other hand, has only been mildly inconvenienced for pork. He’s like a once a week bacon drunk. He’s not on Lipitor, or being forced to watch Food Inc. by concerned relatives. He keeps crapping on about that Mark Bittman ‘mostly vegan’ diet, and his spice rack is organized into those little pewter jars that are like forty dollars for two from the Container Store, the labels written out in Courier New, Comic Sans, Papyrus, Helvetica, Wide Latin, Bookman Old Style, and one old one in what we’re pretty sure is Shoyu…
Mallory says that I should move a mirror into the kitchen so that I can see myself eating over the sink late at night…
Cutlets are like eggplant parm. They expect a fork and a knife. But there are other cutlets, cutlets like communion wafers, scattering crumbs everywhere—or, like the big hook in Smoke On The Water that really just gets into your guts. Cutlets are a fever, too—the pork sweats, the Ham Hummer, the Café of Schnitzel Surrender, ever-widening waistbands, the quiet acquiescence to caftans, a long drag on a post-prandial cigarette, cutlet on cutlet on cutlet, crisp pan leavings, delirium, warm napkins, pork chips, soft burping sighs. Cutlets say so that everyone may hear : “Yes that was Jagermeister!” And while the home cook scalds himself with leaping fat, cutlets say “Sit down and eat me already! O love…the whisk…don’t forget. The sauce—go beat it!”
At night when I look at the grease streaking the pillows I get hungry all over again. O cutlet, where now is that warm shape of yours, that fat, heavy gravy, those soft, bulging meat piles? You may be boneless, but my pants aren’t. I will use up every goddamn paper towel in the house, cutlet, after spraying your grease. I will send you down to digest despite the ache in my belly and my t-shirt turned inside out. Dr. Oz! Sure, he’s still successfully married and on Oprah, but I know how to make the heart burn. It’s all crisp skin and wet grease, cutlet, I make your salt incandescent. The broccoli rabe is a little envious now, isn’t it? It feels limp in the crisper drawer? It sits in the remnants of the last time I tried to diet. I’ve made the waterfront a little wider in my BVDs, I have jam-packed last holiday’s union suit. After eating you, cutlet, I can take on whole briskets, the Bacon Explosion, the Lutheran Lutefisk Luge at the winter Craft Fair, the pork shoulder I just found in the freezer on Tuesday. I can shove whole kielbasa down my throat. Sure, I’ll shit fire later, but for now string sausage around my navel. I am eating you, cutlet, so that you’ll stay eaten. And if you’re afraid of me eating you publicly, I will eat you privately. I will smear a few crumbs from your coating across my chin. I will bite into your naked side and spit grease at my dining companions…
Enormous, fat cutlets, falling crisp before the touching tongue. A pork suitcase without straps. A meat door without a key. You have German origins, Polish desires, Berkshire pork background, and my Iowan ass. Cutlet international. When the dinner flag is waved it is all down the back of the throat. You came in on a plate and came out in a bowl. You made me forget sweetbreads and pork belly—even David Chang’s. At the confluence of fork and me, where the gastric juices sluice through the maw and drip like small rivers beneath bearded bridges, cutlet is lying there now and the mouth is full of panko splinters—the tofu weeps, and so does Mallory when I leave that fat fart hovering near the dining table, fogging up the windowpanes. One cutlet out of a million, darling—a cutlet in which you can read the history of my own coming middle ages.