I found cooking through filmmaking — filming chefs in restaurants for documentaries and short cooking shows — which is to say that I’ve had four years of informal cooking lessons. Previously, I washed dishes at The Primadonna, in McKees Rocks, but my creations at the time were limited to “Sesame Oil Noodles” and the terrible “Sugar Pasta.” After years of cheap restaurant food and reaping the benefits of outdated (unfair/oppressive) gender roles, I slowly began cooking. Through filming chefs making very specific dishes with very specific ingredients, I found that I could steal small ideas and bits of technique, synthesizing them into my own creative culinary practice. I have an approach to cooking that avoids recipes and is improvisational. The list of ingredients below represents the contents of a Penn’s Corner CSA box and whatever else is in the kitchen — not necessarily a fixed plan.
- Whole-wheat sourdough bread
- ¾ red onion, sliced
- ½ banana pepper, preferably pickled
- ¼ eggplant
- ¼ green cabbage, shredded
- 4 Roma tomatoes
- an inch of fresh ginger, finely chopped
- goat cheese
- a bit of Japanese BBQ sauce
- a half-handful of black sesame seeds
- two splashes of red wine
- salt, to taste
Slice bread thinly and fry in olive oil, adding salt on each side. When both sides are browned, spread on goat cheese and set aside. Slice a red onion, combine with pickled banana pepper, and partially sauté in olive oil until onions are lightly browned. Split mixture into two bowls. Take one bowl, combine with raw cabbage, and sauté on high heat until crispy, adding barbeque sauce, salt, ginger and black sesame seeds. Once mixture has caramelized, plate on top of the bread.
I saw chef Hoa Le (of Banhmilicious) place onions directly on the fire, and ever since all my vegetables go directly into the flame. Fire up a burner and set the eggplant directly on the flame, rotating until skin is gently blackened. Repeat with tomatoes. Once blackened, dice both and combine with remaining onion/pepper mix in a pan. Sauté until slightly browned. Splash red wine into the pan and cook until it reduces. Scoop vegetables onto the plate. Add goat cheese to taste.
David Bernabo is a filmmaker from Bloomfield.