x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

When kitchen disasters strike, employ grace

It always amuses me that people don¿t like cooking for cooks, when I always think we make the most forgiving and appreciative diners.

It's great to have friends who raise poultry. When Naser brought over a half-dozen tiny bantam eggs, I was too enchanted at first to consider eating them. They came in shades of taupe or ecru, like a collection of antique love letters. Nestled in their paper crate next to a towering half-dozen powder blue duck eggs from another friend, they looked like a party waiting to happen. The duck eggs disappeared first and two at a time: poached, then soft-boiled, then hard-boiled and pushed through a mesh sieve over a late-night interpreted Caesar salad.

The bantam eggs met a different fate, which I'll get to in a minute.

Aside from fresh eggs, news updates and significant recaps are a big perk of having friends who stay connected to the world. Ironically, my most culturally observant and informed friends are the very ones who raise poultry in the sticks. I call them the poster children for satellite service.

In the absence of tweets, tags and memes, life can be quiet for the social network dropout. If that person also happens not to own a television, life might be almost peaceful at times, if it weren't for the undue crows of the neighbourhood rooster. I'd read a bit here and there about the Amy's Baking Company debacle, but, having missed the televised and online drama first-hand, I asked friends to bring me up to speed.

Here's what I learnt: Amy Bouzaglo and her husband Samy own an Arizona restaurant that had developed notoriety among locals for the owners' abysmal treatment of staff and aggressive responses to any patron, blogger or Yelper with any sentiment to share besides appreciation. The restaurant achieved global fame in May after it was featured in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, in which Gordon Ramsay cited the owners' irrationality and ill treatment of others in the first hopeless case he'd ever encountered on the programme, and he eventually gives up on them. People who can dish it out but can't take it are bad enough, but people like the Bouzaglos who invite criticism and then defy it are a special kind of cuckoo.

Unlike the Bouzaglos, when I'm having a bad day I don't want to hear that I'm great. I just want to confront fallibility and then try to be better. It always amuses me that people don't like cooking for cooks, when I always think we make the most forgiving and appreciative diners. We take risks, we crash and burn and we're usually the hungriest ones at the table. Sometimes I think I'm not such a good cook as an unencumbered one - embarrassed by failure but not deterred by it.

So what happened to the bantam eggs? Well, I layered six small ramekins with tomatoes, feta and fresh herbs, and then cracked the eggs over the top and baked them. Because bantam eggs are small and I live 2,000 metres above sea level, where everything takes longer to cook, I kept an eye on them until the whites were set and the yolks were still glossy. But when we tried to dunk our garlic toasts into them, the yolks yielded rigidly and didn't flood like liquid gold. "They're overcooked," I said. "Yes they are," said my friends. And they smiled and kept eating.

Nouf Al Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico

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