As my undercover penchant for ghetto fabulous women has been well-documented, I feel safe confessing that I used to have a serious thing for Keyshia Cole. This was up until the point where I read an interview where she confessed that the idea of a man cooking was a turn-off for her. I wasn’t really surprised as much as I was disappointed. It wasn’t like I was ever going to holler at her for real anyway. But it made me think about the nature of cooking and men in the kitchen and how the last connotation it’s ever had in my mind has be as a reflection of being “soft” or “unmanly”.
I remembered interviewing a Puerto Rican sous chef for a book project who had done some time for armed robbery and found himself working the kitchen. Every day, with limited ingredients and his life and ass on the line, this former junkie made meals for the 400 inmates in his cell block, teaching himself how to season and portion and getting props from some of the most dangerous men in New York for the way he made the usual slop into something his fellow convicts came to savor.
I think about my grandfather Melvin Jasper, Sr., the all-city athlete, lifeguard and war veteran, who I had the blessing of watching many a Sunday morning as he prepared multiple dishes all by himself. He and his boys would go in on a hog each season and make some of the best pork ribs I’ve ever had to date, not to mention top-notch kale, rabbit, steaks and too many other things to list here. All six foot two and at least 250 of him would load bushels of live crabs into boiling pot of seasoned water and beer for Memorial Day and the 4th of July every summer wearing nothing but a t-shirt and a pair of cargo shorts. War flicks, news programming or football were the official soundtracks and the Dixie cup of scotch close by was a regular staple. He, along with my Dad, were all the heroes I ever needed.
I think about those massive dudes with necks the size of my head who I see at the backs of restaurants, their hands scarred and calloused from decades of burns, cuts
scars from handling scalding pots and carrying massive amounts of ingredients from place to place. I mean hell, look at former coke kingpin turned acclaimed author and TV star, Jeff ‘Chef Jeff’ Henderson. I wouldn’t box with that dude unless I had a pistol on me.
It’s ever crazier that so many of the women in my life, including my own Mom, have begun to actually come to me for cooking advice. I remember being at the bar with my homegirl Kris and having ask me to order for her, like I was some kind of an authority. And when I did she was completely satisfied. So I guess I’m doing something right. But even I’m not, at least I’m having fun.
Saying that men shouldn’t cook is like saying that women shouldn’t know how to do car maintenance or know how to put up drywall. It’s just another holdover from a time that’s more and more in the rear-view. Out.