The True and Never Before Revealed Facts of Mr. Henry’s First Successes in the Kitchen
There came a day sometime around 1966 when young Mr. Henry excused himself from the dining table and declared voicelessly that he had eaten his last bite of Wish-Bone Italian Dressing. On that fateful day at that fateful hour was born a new, true foodie.
Marketing geniuses at Wish-Bone had recently convinced forward-thinking Americans that a packet of “secret herbs and spices” added to oil and vinegar and shaken in a specially designed 3-Mile Island shaped vessel might constitute “home-made salad dressing.” The Henry family took great pride in their reach into culinary sophistication. Feasting on palate-busting “herbs and spices,” an unholy trinity of oregano, garlic powder, and monosodium glutamate, they sat blissfully together on Sunday nights watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
But though still a boy Mr. Henry already harbored within his breast the fierce iconoclasm and resistance to authority that would lead him before the age of sixteen to denounce another unholy trinity – church, war, and tackle football – the core beliefs of the USA.
Apart from unwrapping a slice of American cheese, placing it on a piece of bread, and running the exotic ensemble under the toaster oven broiler, young Henry had never before performed anything like real cooking. The kitchen was not the domain of children or even the domain of Mom. It was the domain of Bertha, old Birdie, the cook, whose placid demeanor and enormous girth could not be stirred except by the entrance of children over the kitchen threshold. “Chile, get out my kitchen!” she sweetly yelled in a voice utterly devoid of menace. Bertha’s gravies were the stuff of legend. Her roast leg of lamb fell off the bone and into our mouths like ambrosia from Olympus. Great earth mother figure from whom all life flowed, she was our object of worship.
But Bertha did not do salad dressing.
In those simpler times salad was synonymous with iceberg lettuce, cold, crunchy and virtually flavorless. That bottle of Wish-Bone, therefore, was the salad’s only theme, an insistent nightly insult, a gelatinous sock in the jaw.
In the cupboard young Henry found red wine vinegar, cooking oil (NOT olive oil, and not even nearly close to almost being virgin), French’s yellow mustard (What made it so brightly yellow? Best not to ask.), and honey. Without recipe or guidepost, young Henry through bold experimentation visited upon unsuspecting younger brothers finally arrived at a reasonably tasty salad dressing which in its conception was not too dissimilar from the dressing his own little Henry whips up today, the little darling devotee of Top Chef and Food Network.
Yes, the torch has passed. Chez Henry a new obstinacy has emerged with regard to salad dressing, a new direction under the unfailing guide of Little Henry whose authority must not be brooked.
Granted, Little Henry’s vinegar is now from Jerez or Modena, oil from California or Tuscany, and mustard pure Dijon, but the impetus to establish one’s own flavor protocols remains pure vintage Mr. Henry, paterfamilias. Such pride.
Little Henry has already mastered fried eggs, almond cookies, carrot cupcakes, raspberry coulis as well as guacamole. Indeed there are no limits. The future is not so dim as we might imagine.