My secondhand invitation to the party warned, “Don’t be late, the food goes quick!” And this was no ordinary party. First of all, it was at the house of El Jefe. Second, it was a garlic party, and the only rule was that your dish had to celebrate garlic.
It was a grueling afternoon in the kitchen. I brought home some loot from the farmers’ market and canned bread ’n’ butter pickles and peppers ’n’ carrots. I was pushing to get through it all in time to cook something legendary for the party at the house of El Jefe. So, in between sterilizing jars, salting peppers, and other canning whatnot, I tried to make this Bhutanese curry recipe, but with purple potatoes instead of yellow. That way, I could put whole yellowish cloves of garlic in the pot, which would stand out brilliantly juxtaposed against the purple background.
It kind of felt like too much turmeric when I added it, but instead of following my gut and scooping it out, I just stirred it in. Those Purple Peruvian potatoes were much starchier than those gluttonous Bhutanese Gold, and soon they were falling apart in the black skillet. Everything in the skillet was looking a gray shade of black. Starting to panic, I departed completely from the recipe by adding neon-fresh corn. Hmmmmm.
Sol Sista was walking through the kitchen. I asked her what she thought of the dish, juxtaposed against a baseline calibrated in terms of what kind of flavor she normally expects from me.
She said, “Well…it will get eaten.” Sure, with a little mayo, anything tastes good.
I put my hands on the counter, stared down the sink drain, and shook my head in disbelief. I’m Chef Boy Ari. I CANNOT show up at a potluck with something that looks gross and doesn’t taste stellar. I have to rule. I’m not used to whiffing in the kitchen—with the bases loaded, no less.
That’s when I thought to myself, “Oh. My. God. I’m turning into Martha.” I’m getting stressed out about a potluck. And with the amount of shit I’ve pitched at her, I’m not only Martha, I’m a hypocrite, too! I might as well just buy some new silverware and get it over with. Sol Sista helped me peel some garlic for “Plan B.” I wasn’t sure if “Plan B” was going to work, but it was quick, and it was getting late. It was going to be one of those nights, I could tell, full count with the bases loaded. I remembered the words of Eric Bergoust: “I wanted to finish first or last. I got last.” Here we go.
First I melted some Earth Balance veggie lard into a little pan. Then I added a block of bulk dark chocolate (Giardelli, Good Food Store, best deal I know on chocolate). Yup: chocolate-dipped garlic cloves. Maybe not everyday fare, but when you want a little thrill at the end of a daring night of garlic exploration...when you want all of the sexiness of chocolate-dipped strawberries, combined with all of the spicy bite of the still-live glowing garlic ember…Oh baby baaaby.
I dipped a small test clove into the melting chocolate. The garlic fire was like a freight train squashing the innocent chocolate. No culinary value beyond “novelty.” Sol Sista spat it out. Hmmm.
Then I remembered a great molé dish I had at Viva Mexico on South Avenue. Oh, molé, that extra bittersweet chocolate-nutty-sesame-chili-very-non-desert flavor from Mexico.
Then I remembered the jar of molé I purchased at a Mexican store in the Inland Empire coming home from Portland. I spooned some molé into the melting chocolate in the pan.
Then I put some water on to boil, parboiled the garlic to take the edge off, then drained and dunked immediately into cold water to give it that crispy, refreshing feel. I parboiled a test clove for 20 seconds, then dipped. It was still way too spicy, but oh, did it taste good with the mole. All this garlic, and my mouth was getting a little numb. The next clove I boiled for a minute and 20 seconds. It still tasted pretty strong, but compared to the raw garlic, it was mellow. And the flavor of that molé. Oh. My. God. I’d just have to warn people to take nibbles.
Chef Boy Ari showed up at the party with his molé-dipped garlic on his peach ceramic plate. Everybody was at the party, though CBA hardly knew any of them. It seemed like even fewer knew him, none of whom were exactly rushing up for his autograph. As he was walking, Don Guido Ashkinazi called out, “Senor, whatcha got?’”
“Got molé,” I said. But before I could warn him, DGA popped a clove in his mouth. “I only parboiled them,” I started to say, “a minute and 20 seconds...” Suddenly, his face was far away. His face looked pained. Don Guido Ashkinazi said, “I wish I had a Corona with lime.”
Then, from across the yard, walking toward us with a bowl of tangy garlic artichoke heart soup, was El Jefe.
I was licked.
E-mail Chef Boy Ari: Flash@missoulanews.com