So far I have been doing more eating than cooking around here. I’ve eaten my way through aubergines and chickpeas nearly all around the country, from the Cedars forest in Bcharre,
east to the Bekaa Valley, down to the evergreen Chouf and back to Beirut again. All of this courtesy of my ‘internship’. Delicious as the food is – and I haven’t seen the end of its deliciousness- if I carry on like this the only thing getting interned will be the endless
supply of endless varieties of kebbeh in my stomach. So I was happy to read this handy hint for portion control during a Lebanese lunch:
‘Keep your plate full at all times in order to avoid infinite refills’
My cooking to date has basically involved two days ‘shadowing’ chefs, and the aforementioned chopping vegetables into tiny pieces. I borrow this term from my previous job where shadowing is actually meant to be a positive, structured, thing. But at my weaker moments it feels more like being some kind of unwelcome ghost (i.e. most kinds of ghosts) hovering around, trying to peer over people’s shoulders into pots and pans and somehow decipher the holy grail of ingredients contained within. My ghosty skills need more practice though, as today I knocked over a packet of bulghur and spilt it everywhere as I tried to silently delve into the spice cupboard.
Since I expect that internships are meant to be a two-way thing, I was getting worried that there could be no such thing as 10 free lunches, let alone one. So I was happy –for those friends who know my emotional inhibitions well let’s say around a 9 on a scale of 1-10, which equates to practically overjoyed – when it was suggested to me that I should join in the kitchen training for the set up of the organisation’s latest restaurant, and I could help by noting the portions of each ingredient used (Yes! Like basically writing down the recipes to keep locked up in a treasure chest forever!) and the end of day tasting and evaluation of the food that was prepared (Like, hello!!! Picture the food critics on Masterchef coming in to do their pretentious posturing over people’s carefully crafted dishes…well, perhaps not quite so pretentious). Thus today was my first day with a proper task that did not involve eating, and well, I failed on all fronts, due to the fact that (a)I did not have the raw materials and (b) I can’t really speak Arabic. But of course I blamed it on (c) that I am an abject failure on all fronts.
The whole experience is a bit like an emotional pendulum at the moment. From delighting in the lack of structure and obligation to feeling lost and without value because I have no job description, and no paycheck coming in telling me what that value is. From enjoying the privileged position on the sidelines afforded me by my lack of language skills, to despairing that I may actually have become invisible (though not enough to be able to knock over a packet of bulghur without people noticing). But it is all part of the process I suppose. Summits and valleys…
Yalla! I must go, and hope tomorrow I can put some of my indescribable skills to use.