Kitchen Mystic by Paulette Licitra

The Deconstruction by Karen Cantrell

Patisserie de Pakistan by Gregors Johnson

Meals of a Lifetime by Rebecca Keller

Ode to Risotto by Donald Newlove

Fully Committed by Doug Sovern

Biscuits and Gravy by William Blomstedt

Keeping It Tidy by Alan Linton

If I Knew You Were Coming by Alisha Lumea

On Your Only Day Off by Nicole Edwards

Bagpipes and Pan Fried Smelts by Ted Radakovic

Joseph Conrad’s Dark Linguini by Giovanni Berchtold

Missing Something by Jean-Luc Bouchard

We Love You, Mayonnaise! by Alona Martinez

Japanese Food by Esther Cohen

Raw Köfte by Hardy Griffin

Proust's Soup by Giovanni Berchtold

A Sacred Virgin by Paulette Licitra

on a friday evening by Keith Leidner

Ropa Vieja by Raul Palma

Deidre's Last Meal by Esther Cohen

Wired by Alan Linton

Chestnut by Katherine Gleason

The Moon is an Outdoor Sandwich by Patty Houston

Garlicky Greens by Lois Marie Harrod

First the Shell, Musical; Then the Custard, Irrevocable by Sarah Begley

Meals of Choice by Dorian Fox

A Low Table by Christian Aguiar

The Sylvian Fissure by Rosalie Loewen

Two Versions of Eating Potatoes by David Spiering

Conch Salad by Michele Ruby

Hopper by Michael Onofrey

Caution: Coffee is Hot by Gary Scott

The Fairy Part by Alberto Giuseppe

Foie Gras by Judith Edelman

Rosemary and Olive Oil by Gail Gauthier

Mario's Shoes by Natalie Parker-Lawrence

Cake by Marianne Villanueva

Retreat: October on Copper Mountain by M.E. Parker

The Sandwich Diaries by Angus Woodward

But There Was No Star Anise by Andrew Martell

Fruit Route by Susan King

Mario’s Shoes

by Natalie Parker-Lawrence

December 2012    

I imagine that Mario likes to be called O with friends or in times of intimacy. He gets lots of mileage out of Ooooooo like the lovers and warriors in For Whom The Bell Tolls, Hemingway or Metallica. He grows sixteen different kinds of basil in his herb garden that stretches along his three acres of hotbeds, some herbs, mostly vegetables: sweet white and yellow corn, tiny Thai eggplants, Japanese pumpkins, and wrinkled purple and black heirloom tomatoes. He makes his own sea salt from the coastal waters of Madagascar. He uses jellybeans and Toblerone candy instead of poker chips. He raises his own sheep, goats, and buffalo. Greek children yearn to milk them. Blind men combine the pails of warm milk to make white shiny mozzarella cheese.

I bet when he goes to Parma to buy thick wheels of golden cheese, the owners run out to kiss him (three times on his flushed cheeks) still on his motor scooter on the gravel even before he can get inside to see their wives who later offer to undo his strawberry-blond pony tail while he offers to open their compromised virtue like cut figs pried open smeared with honey with his signature ceramic paring knife. The men who work for him love him, not as THE god, but one of the lesser ones, making him padrino to their children, small ones like Telemachus who will learn to hate the abandonment that follows the mythic quest for the perfect chive and goat cheese omelet. He laughs at the onerous jokes of the sous-chefs about the failings of their soufflées when the weather turns too wet in Memphis or New Orleans or any city submerged in humidity so dense that it feels like we're all swimming in Stracciatella alla Romana.

I wonder if he helps his sous chefs open their own bistros, eight tops, visiting their tucked-away kitchens warmed under the fluorescent heat lamps of suburban strip malls, maybe offering to help out in the steamy kitchen on a rare busy night, never showing up, but instead in the heat of the city, boffing their wives, wearing only aprons tied at their long necks, on the cold granite of their own kitchen tables where he dreams of pushing off bottles of thick cream and bowls of hard-red apples and splintered crates of chard from the top of the long country tables covered in white flour where they rolled pasta all afternoon, his orange clogs kicked off on the cold scored concrete floor and thrown near the well-stocked pantry where the women—the young virgins, the mamas, and yes, even the nonnas—dream of his shorts at his ankles.

I do not know these things about Mario Batali, the greatest chef in the culinary universe. He seems like such a good Italian man, a man my Italian grandmother would have loved, a man with big appetites, a man whose spaghetti gravy is almost as thick and brown as her own, a blond man, but like Robert Taylor, a handsome American movie actor who, she said, could put his shoes under her bed any day. And she said this often in front of my Italian grandfather, Luigi, a meat cutter, whose Weona grocery store in Memphis on McClemore Avenue rested against Stax Records. His response to her: O, Rosie, O Signore. And he walked away pretending to be afraid of whom she might lie with, and he walked away smarting, at the thought that she might cook for someone else besides him if she just had the opportunity.

O Rosie: this one phrase about Robert Taylor was my only sex talk about the hurt that comes when you want someone to love you by cooking for you, only for you.

Offered instead: thousands of lessons on cooking for insatiable mouths, waiting for dinner every Sunday night around pressed white tablecloths of crisp cutwork from Bassignana, and gossiping about who was a dope fiend and eating olives from a jar and laughing about my mother and uncle who, when they were little, used to bite into raw turnips from the truck farm, showing the froth in their mouths, growling, pretending to be rabid dogs; no fretting with placing clogs or feigning, Ooooooo.

  Natalie Parker-Lawrence (MFA, Creative Nonfiction/Playwriting, University of New Orleans) teaches Communications (University of Memphis), as well as AP English Literature and AP World History. Her newest play was produced in September. Natalie writes a weekly column for Wildflower Magazine. Other essays have appeared in a dozen magazines. Her husband, a great cook, received a wind-up Mario (his hero) for Valentine’s Day. Author photo by Jamie Kern.

Photo used under Creative Commons.