After years of constant practice and countless hours of absorbing Food Network programming like it holds the secret to world domination, I feel like I’ve become a pretty good amateur chef. This story, however, will make you doubt my skills, not only as a chef but as a functional human being.
Let’s rewind the clock 5 ½ years. I’d recently packed up everything I owned and moved out West with dreams of making it big as a discount death ray salesman. I’d also decided that it was time to become a real adult (at least on the outside), and that required learning to cook. I started cooking less than a month after the move, and threw myself into it with fearless determination. Observers might have called it reckless abandon. They might also have called it an elaborate plot to assassinate myself and make it look like a cooking mishap.
On this fateful night, I’d only been cooking for a few months and even the simplest meals felt daunting. I was attempting seared chicken breast, roasted lemon-pepper potatoes, and pan gravy – a meal that Future Ryan could accomplish today with one pan, one cookie sheet, and about thirty minutes. Past Ryan, though, had somehow managed to use up 1 ½ hours, two pans and two pots, both cutting boards, and his will to live. This dinner was kicking me up and down the kitchen like I’d stolen something from it.
To top it all off, my chicken was burning. The accursed glass-top stove (which I hate to this day – give me a gas range and open flame) kept switching the burner on and off in order to “manage” the heat, if “manage” really stood for “force chef to contemplate murder”. Past Ryan had no clue how to balance the cooking temperature under these conditions. The chicken breasts began to blacken on the outside while staying a nice shade of raw on the inside. Mm-mm delicious burned/raw chicken!
I turned the burner off, but it still held massive residual heat. I needed to lower the pan’s temperature quickly, but all the other burners were occupied with various pots of failure, and I hadn’t learned yet that I could set it on the granite countertop. I was stuck, and soon my chicken breasts would be raw-centered cinders. Then I got a flash of inspiration, a bright idea that could save the day – the idea that nearly killed me.
My eyes fell upon a bright red potholder. It stared at me as if to say, “Hey I protect stuff from heat all the time, man. Let’s save your chicken together.” I grinned from ear to ear. “Good point, Red Potholder! I’m overwhelmed by how clever we are.”
With the type of joy that only a man who’s about to die from his own stupidity can experience, I lifted the searing hot pan and slid the potholder underneath, effectively shielding it from the worst of the burner’s heat. That should take care of it. A few minutes off the direct heat and my main course would be back on track.
It might have worked except for one minor detail – that red potholder talked a good game, but it was cheap. Like, Dollar Store kind of cheap. This meant that all the nice materials you find in quality, high-end potholders were nowhere to be found. In their place were lots of polyester and near-plastic fabrics. And what do those materials do when they come in contact with extreme heat? They don’t melt.
Within two minutes, I noticed odd tendrils of a smoke-like substance wafting from underneath the pan. “Hmm,” I thought, “maybe this wasn’t the best idea.” Feeling equally clever for figuring out that my previous clever plan was ridiculous, I lifted the pan to retrieve my poor, misused red potholder. And that’s when it attacked.
A wave of gray-white fog puffed up and engulfed my face. This wasn’t smoke. Oh no, smoke would’ve been too easy. It was a noxious cloud of death fumes, the vaporized remains of my potholder back from the fiery depths to seek toxic vengeance upon me. This cloud decided that I didn’t deserve oxygen, and proceeded to suck every bit of it from my lungs. In seconds it expanded to fill my kitchen, then my living room, then it called my family and tried to invade their houses, too.
In a panic, I threw open the patio door and burst outside, drinking in the sweet night air and questioning where I’d gone wrong in my life. Soon, though, I had to dive back inside and open every window to let the rolling wave of doom find its way out. After a half-hour walk I came back to find that the cloud had moved on, no doubt to travel the world and murder innocent cooks in defense of potholders everywhere. I’m pretty sure it’s still out there somewhere, though I do my best to treat all potholders with respect now.
I’d like to say that was the last time I nearly killed myself in those first six months of cooking…but it wasn’t.
That, however, is another story.