Fear in a Pan
A simple omelet
I cooked my first omelet for a farmer in a bar in Ravenna, Ohio. The bar was the front portion of a small family restaurant that served Italian food in a town that, until the early 1960s, didn’t really appreciate anything about the Sicilian immigrants who began settling in the area in the early 1900s. Until then, the town was white and Protestant; the newcomers were dark-skinned and Catholic. But by the time the farmer sat down for his morning breakfast, the restaurant and its owners, Nick and Dino, were admired members of the community, especially because they opened their doors soon after the morning farm chores were completed.
As the morning waitress, I had been at work since 6:30 a.m., and the farmer had already drank his shot of Kessler whiskey poured into his coffee. He ordered another and then an omelet. I hurried back to the kitchen. The harried cook was behind in making the day’s lasagna special. I hung the farmer’s little chit on the order spinning wheel before the prep table.
“One cheese omelet, please,” I said.
She didn’t look up from the long pan. “You do it.”
Several thoughts went through my head: I’m the only waitress; more farmers were beginning to crowd up front; my family were sunny-side-up people; I had never made, and probably at the time never ate, an omelet. Taking all this into consideration, another thought streamed in: Could I quit without tanking my newlywed finances?
America Eats! ~ Delightfully Informative
“I don’t know how.”
Still not looking at me and so unable to gauge my panicked face, the cook replied, “It’s easy.”
“Who’s it for?”
“One of the farmers.”
“Go get three eggs and some cheese.”
I gathered the ingredients from the refrigerator and came back beside her.
“Crack the eggs in a bowl.”
I cracked the eggs in a bowl.
“Add the milk.”
I ran back to the refrigerator to retrieve milk.
“Not too much,” she ordered.
I added what seemed like not too much milk.
I found a whisk and beat.
“Pour on the grill.”
The eggs spread across the grill into something that looked like a map of Germany. The cook checked on my progress and raised her voice. “No, no, make a circle, a circle!”
I judiciously separated Poland and Austria from their German borders, creating a much smaller three-egg omelet. But the chef nodded and I moved on to the next step of adding a slice of American cheese. The attempt to fold one half over the other did not go well, but time had run out. Camouflaged under a pile of hash browns, the omelet made its way to the farmer. He mopped it all up with a slice of toast without any complaints at all.
I followed these very instructions for most of the 30 years since then, less for breakfast than for a fast Friday or Saturday dinner. Like the farmer, my husband never mentioned how bad they looked.
A couple of years ago, I made an omelet for my aunt, and she declared it the worst thing she ever saw and ate. This was as deflating as the mess on our plates because she was of the opinion that if you don’t know how to make a proper omelet then you can’t, in any way, claim to be a knowledgeable cook. Her theory rests on the fact that there’s so many basic technical skills involved. My aunt pressed on me her broken-spine, stained copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I’ve practiced ever since until you can come to my house now and it’s possible that I may serve you a more or less fine omelet.
What I love most about cooking an omelet is how observant you need to be to achieve the right composition and texture of such a fragile dish. How much you should remember to have fun with the stirring and the flipping to end in a fine flourish of slipping the omelet onto a plate and then sitting down to savor such elegant and simple perfection.
Stevenson sure knew his eggs, and I would bet the farmer jumped right back on his tractor!
Like they always say: You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Who knew that the first one to crack that truism was Robert Louis Stevenson?
I got a big kick out of watching Julia Childs adjust her creation with her fingertips! A great gesture from a great cook. And I hope that farmer you fed many years ago who didn't try to get back on his tractor after having that shot of whisky with his morning joe!