In Honour of Father's Day: A Story About My Dad
“Jimmy, come quick, Dad’s cooking!”
“Dad’s cooking?” My brother knew something was up. Mom always did the cooking at our house.
“Yeah, come on, let’s watch him. He’s making french fries!”
We dashed into the house and sank down on the vinyl chairs around the arborite table. Dad stood in the middle of the kitchen, a tea towel tucked around his pants, like a chef. Holding a few potatoes in one hand, a paring knife in the other, he dropped them into the enamel sink and ran the cold water. After peeling them, he moved to a cutting board on the table and stood over the pile. Without saying a word, he began to slice the potatoes into layers and sliver them into long squared pieces, carefully dropping them into cold water as he worked. His rough fingers, plump like sausages, were more used to manual labour than food preparation. In the days before frozen supermarket fries, he amazed us by replicating what we’d only seen in restaurants.
In fact, Dad had worked as a short-order cook. In the 1930s, after riding the rails to New Brunswick and back to Manitoba, a sawmill foreman told him to “get a trade”, to make something of himself. When he first arrived in Toronto, he waitered occasionally at the Savarin Hotel while taking welding courses at night. One night, the owner of Hunt’s Restaurant offered him a training course and steady job at $7.00 a week. Dad accepted because welding jobs were still scarce. He worked for Hunt’s for 5 years, moving from a kitchen on Mount Pleasant Road, to another at St. Clair and Oakwood, and finally, to College and Dovercourt, increasing his pay by $1.00 a week with each move and advancing to manager. In those days, you could get Today’s Special, a complete meal, for 35 cents! In 1939, when wartime created industrial jobs, Dad moved on to welding and never looked back. Except for these odd moments of culinary inspiration.
Sometimes when preparing french fries Dad used the sunken burner and deep pot in the back left corner of the electric range. This time, he bent over the pot cupboard, pulled the deep-fryer from the back and poured in the oil. After bringing it to a boil, he carefully lowered the basket of raw potatoes into the yellow bubbles, his eyes fixed on the pot. Sometimes he would par-boil them and set the potatoes aside to be finished off to a golden brown at the last moment before eating. All four of us sat entranced with the entire process, nostrils filled with the heady smell of frying oil, our mouths open and watering, impatient to taste his masterpiece.
Mom remained in the background while Dad cooked, only emerging at the end to hand us the malt vinegar, salt and ketchup and slip in a vegetable and a few slices of meat to complete the meal.
Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson