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Culinary BFFs

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Why you should never put mayo on your corned beef sandwich

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Classic food pairings are like best friends. Meat and potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, red beans and rice, chocolate and raspberries, tomatoes and basil…I could go on forever. These classic combos enhance and play off each other on your palate often teasing you into wanting more. Ah, tongue titillating bliss.

As a chef, I often wonder how these food unions are born. Who thought of pairing bistro menu BFFs steak and frites or the Italian combo of sausage and peppers? Was there some culinary deity who deemed that for all of gastronomic eternity we shall eat and love peaches and cream? Maybe so, because the classic parings are truly heavenly.

Sometimes I like to push the envelope and come up with my own blends. But I am always careful. It’s like wearing jewelry. There is a fine line between chic and one piece of bling too many.
I have seen a lot of menu train wrecks from chefs, many of them from TV food personalities trying to be oh so au courant. Before you dip your toe into the menu writing waters you need to look at the highlight of the menu and then pick items that are seasonal, regional and complimentary, not items that are fighting for attention and blowing each other away in your mouth.

Recently, there was a bit of a scuffle regarding our President and a corned beef sandwich with—dare I say it—mayo!

Let’s skip over the part that he actually went to a corporate deli that had practically eaten alive the “revered Jewish deli institution” of Rascal House, as David Sax put it in “Save the Deli.” Rather, let’s focus on the fact that a classic Jewish amalgamation of corned beef and mustard on rye was violated in a most sacrilegious way. Don’t you know, Mr. President, that when someone orders a corned beef sandwich with mayonnaise, somewhere a Jewish mother cries?

As it turns out, the shanda sandwich Obama ordered was actually for a congressman he was dining with. Seems that mayo-gate is not so bad after all. Or is it? Jew or not, President or not, as a chef and am really, really upset by this.

I personally have “freaked out” at customers when asked for a side of white rice to go with a steak. Come on—a steak crackling and sizzling right off the grill is screaming for a potato of some kind. And some crispy, salty onions too!

There was the time a regular customer asked for ketchup to go with his Boeuf Bourguignon. After I beheaded the poor innocent waiter for asking for the offending item, I tongue-lashed the customer and then cried in the cooler. The Humanity!

Why, if I were behind the counter at the corporate deli, President or not, I would have advised him of the sandwich snafu. You cannot just go around doing things like that. It is as weird as clashing colors or atonal music. It’s not natural. It’s not right.

The point here is that some things are meant to go together. It’s natural, it’s beshert. We should celebrate and enjoy classic combinations. And if you can’t do that, at least get the mayo on the side.

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