1) She lets me experiment and be creative with food the two days a week I wok for her.
2) We laugh all day.
3) She thinks I’m the best cook alive. (she never said this to me, but I was desperate for a third reason).
4) I eat for free.
5) I am able to keep my culinary skills in tip top shape.
“If you think it will sell, you can make it.” Cheryl will say and she’ll order what I ask for and I’ll get busy creating. When it’s time for her to taste what I created, she’ll say with a serious tone, “Oh, yeah, that’s really good. Nice job.” On the rare occasion when I make something she’s doesn’t care for, she’ll say, “You can take that home if you like.” And we’ll both crack up laughing.
I’ve been laughing with Cheryl for some time now. I was twelve years old when we first met at Sterling Junior High School many years ago. I don’t think we spoke any words that day. I think we only looked at each other and laughed. If you’re lucky enough in life you’ll meet a person where laughter between you is an unspoken language. I’m laughing right now thinking of the two days this week when I’ll work with her, well, it’s practically volunteering considering what she pays me. I’m joking of course. I always tease her about my pay, and we laugh, heck, we laugh about everything. Truth is, she pays me fine, not only monetarily but in her giving me creative license and in the joy I see on people’s faces when eating our creations and again, the priceless constant, uncontrollable laughter Cheryl and I share.
There isn’t anything more fun for me than chasing Cheryl around the kitchen with gobs of Egg salad on a plate (she can’t stand the look and smell of it) she runs, flaps her arms, her blue eyes watering, her brown hair up and twisted on her head bouncing about while screams and laughter come out of her mouth. Basically when I do this, I am overcome with hysteria. Cheryl’s laugher and wit are infectious. The best was last Thanksgiving week when I chased her around with a 15 pound raw turkey that I told her was flying on its own and getting ready to attack her or perhaps it was Friday night when she told me in her joshing way that if I continue to eat, I’ll need a male-bra.
In the two years I have worked for Cheryl the list of special dishes I’ve created are endless and this doesn’t include the many other incredible delicious, delectable, mouthwatering, tasty, delightful, gorgeous, lip smacking, yummy, wonderful things Cheryl and Michelle (her other cook) have made the last twenty years of them cooking and creating together. I am merely a dot on a long, prosperous business that Cheryl has commendably maintained at the Weymouth Club for twenty years. She uses the best, freshest of ingredients, her first rule is always pleasing the customer and boy does she ever! Revered and respect by everyone (but me) she is the toast of The Weymouth Club.
For Cheryl I have made every kind of creamy risotto imaginable. I made homemade pastrami, better known as “Johnny’s Pastrami Project” I was teased by Cheryl’s staff because each day I passionately checked the pastrami as it absorb the many spices I had rubbed into it and told the spiced-up meat everyday I loved it, clearly her staff thought this was odd of me. I made marshmallows two summers ago and we sold them in bags in the café and everyone called me “Johnny Marshmallow”.The other day I made chicken mole’ chili and two weeks ago I made chicken mole with a half dozen whole chickens. I’ve made the famous and magnificent New Orleans Muffaletta.I’ve made green, mango, corn and bean salsa and too many to list kinds of salsas. I’ve infused and fused and defused. I made up a Asian Chicken Salad and its our top seller! —Sour bread dough I made from my own Starter. Macaroni and Cheese that is creamy and decadent. I made lox! “Johnny’s lox project. I made corned beef and endless amount of cookies; shortbread and ginger and chocolate spice and whoopee pies; chocolate and red velvet. Carrot, coffee, lemon and orange cakes. And Pizza’s galore; white and red and veggie. I’ve made big pots of stocks; fish, beef and chicken and endless soups; carrot ginger, lentil, Tuscan bean, black bean, split pea and ham, chicken gumbo, potato leek, squash, clam and fish chowders and Cheryl taught me how to make her Caribbean shrimp & coconut soup that I pretended I liked. Chicken curry salads. Infinite trays of tasty tea sandwiches, cheese platters and Jambalaya and Jerk chicken and orange chicken and homemade Boursin Cheese and hummus. Fried Chicken and chicken saltimbocca and hush puppies. Demi-glaze and Quiches and berry tarts and I once I made Cheryl a cheese soufflé. New Brunswick Stew and General Tso’s chicken and cheese sticks and I made Italian Easter Pies and Christmas Cakes and pumpkin pies and berry pies and many Ricotta pies for Cheryl’s handsome hubby Marc. I swirled Swordfish Provençal in a pan and rolled Fish Tacos and made Baja Slaw. Seared Salmon and served it on ginger butter sauce. I’ve made the old New England favorite sole stuff with crab. I’ve made crab cakes and salmon cakes and black bean burger cakes. I made sweet potatoes chips and sweet potatoes baked in cream with chipotle peppers. Pork chops marinated in lemon and oregano and I’ve made endless bowls of luscious lobster salad. Roasted beefs and turkeys and hams and barbeque Pork butts and pork ribs along with roasted ducks and hens and peasants. I buttered noodles and once I made a chicken pot pie. I made pots of Polenta with cream, parmesan and butter and last week I made corn pudding with blackened Cajun tilapia on top. I made Julia Child’s Beef Stew. A few months ago we catered a polish party and made pans of Bigos (a polish stew) and stuffed cabbage. I went shopping for homemade polish sausage when planning that event and ate countless smoky sausages. The other night I made English beer battered fish for 60 and went home smelling like I fished the Atlantic.
Working for Cheryl reminds me that food is fun. It’s a never ending process of thoughtful planning and skillful imagination. It always prompts me to think how lucky we are in this country to actually have a bountiful supply of food to consume and the privilege to be able to create and make food pleasurable to eat. We are very fortunate.
One of my favorite specials at the Cafe is what I call Mad Tuna. I made it up this winter on a rather cold day while waiting for the extremely late Produce man to drop off our order. I wasn’t laughing. In fact I was mad and screamed at a large can of Tuna that seemed to be staring at me.
A few cans of Tuna rinsed and drained.
Add to the tuna plenty of red chili pepper flakes. Chopped capers, pickle, onion, olives, peperoncini, parsley, cucumbers (remove seeds) tomatoes (remove seeds and squeeze in paper towel to get rid of juice) a tiny amount of chopped garlic, fresh cracked pepper, lemon juice, fresh dill (dry is fine too) some good heavy mayonnaise (consider making your own lemon mayo for this) mix it all and serve over salad greens or in a roll-up. It is best to let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours. It’s really incredible and tasty. Each ingredient is optional.