Brian Le

Applause Issue 32 Label

The Perfect Simmer

  1. The perfect simmer, in the world of cooking, requires the greatest amount of skill, precision, and intention. What distinguishes a cook from a chef is intention, not talent.
  1. Too much heat underneath results in a raging torrent. While not enough results in a still, unchanging concoction. If the simmer is not simmering, it is bathing. Sitting in its grime like a traditional human bath. The only way to homogenize the ingredients when simmering requires intention and impeccable timing.
  1. When creating a masterful simmer, there must be balance. Balance between the hot magma-like liquid and the precise cooling required.
  1. Take a perfect caramel, the timing must be impeccable. The microscopic, sweet crystals must be melted down, not scorched. The second an amber color unveils itself, you have approximately nine blinks until it burns, so act quick.
  1. Oh, that’s not good, your infamous last words said before your caramel’s beautiful light amber quickly got infected by the black of burnt sugar.
  1. If you mess up, try again, said your wise yet annoying tutorial, the YouTube video.
  1. Your patience hung in the balance. You started leveling off the red plastic one cup measurement of white sugar and dumped it into the shiny stainless-steel pan. While doing so, the sugar slipped off the sides of the cup like sand would through fingertips at a beach, mingling together on the no longer clean tiled kitchen floor.
  1. Sticky.
  1. In went equal parts of water—its purpose here to help melt the sugar evenly, then evaporate and leave—and brought that to a boil.
  1. Remember… NEVER EVER STIR YOUR CARAMEL. The instructor was distracting, so you decided to wing it. Silence came from the locked screen.
  1. You made sure not to tempt yourself by stirring the bubbling hot sugary potion. Trust the process, you thought, a true chef trusts their instincts.
  1. As the liquid simmered, you carefully brushed the sides of the pan with water to ensure it didn’t crystallize on the edges of the pan. Mindful when doing so, as to not allow your arm to accidentally get scorched from the bubbling hot thousand-degree sugar mixture below.
  1. When the steam from the evaporating water decreased, it was game time. Time to really pay attention, please don’t burn, you pleaded to the caramel gods. Queue the Ratatouille theme song in your mind. The heat on medium-low; you didn’t want to miss the window of perfection. The mixture bubbled with each bubble getting periodically smaller and smaller as they burst and splashed bullets of sugar on the stovetop. The color went from clear, to a natural teeth color yellow to an artificial lemonade yellow, then light amber. Oh shit, I got to cut the heat, you thought to yourself as you lifted the pan off the bright red-hot electric stovetop, and phew.
  1. The perfect caramel.
  1. This was going to top off your homemade crème brûlée, which was made with melted vanilla ice cream and egg yolks… you couldn’t make everything from scratch. You knew when to pick your battles.
  1. The first exposure to cooking was with your mother.
  1. Men don’t belong in the kitchen, women do, the phrase always said when you were growing up but you simply did not care. What you did care about was who said it, your mother.
  1. In Vietnam, gender roles are not as challenged there as they are in the States. Your mom is a beautifully kind, gentle, and powerful soul, as is your father—who also shares those same qualities. Even with those qualities, statements that would be frowned upon in American society are very common in your household. Your parents weren’t sure how they felt about their son expressing himself through the art of cooking.
  1. You better find a wife who can cook for you, so you don’t have to do all this work, older relatives teased you. After cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner for them, a thanks would have been much nicer.
  1. It’s funny, the men of the family would oftentimes brag about how good at cooking or grilling barbeque they were.
  1. Because cooking with hot, fiery coals is super manly and very masculine! You wouldn’t want to be seen cutting up… onions! With a knife! On a cutting board!
  1. Oh, the humanity!
  1. You never see cooking or cuisine as anything but art. You just love to cook.
  1. To you, cooking has always been a way to show someone that you love them.
  1. The five basic love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, receiving/giving gifts.
  1. No better feeling than being loved. And it’s important to be shown love in the appropriate love language.
  1. Your girlfriend, Emma. Her love language is words of affirmation, yours — quality time.
  1. It’s easy to express love and feel loved with someone who understands the love languages.
  1. But how do you express love appropriately for those whom you’ve just met?
  1. Time. Patience. Respect.
  1. Oh, and simmering.
  1. The first time you ever met Emma’s parents, you sat on this idea for a very long time.
  1. You knew that you loved them before the first word was spoken, but how were you to express that?
  1. What time will your parents be here, Em? you said, not patiently. To that came a very uncomforting I’m not sure, from your gentle, loving girlfriend.
  1. Okay, the beef’s seared, the onions caramelized, the garlic minced. What next? You were very antsy, cooking for your significant other’s parents can be unsettling. A blessed thing that you were cooking with wine, a needed reminder that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross for you to mess up this dish.
  1. Bœuf Bourguignon.
  1. The prized dish of French cuisine. Quite possibly the most delicious dish known to exist.
  1. The beautiful scarlet-red Dutch oven-pot laid on the stovetop with perfectly-seared bricks of beef. The beef was drowned with two whole bottles of soft cherry-sweet red wine with a label that read Camille Giroud Bourgogne Rouge, 2009. You planted a garden on top of the stew with bundles of flowery thyme, sharp rosemary, and roughed up-sage. All the ingredients were nestled in.
  1. The perfect simmer requires the greatest amount of skill, precision, and intention. What differentiates a cook from a chef is intention. What distinguishes liking someone from loving someone is simmering.
  1. Allowing time to do its magic. Allowing relationships to bubble and simmer.
  1. The perfect homeostasis.
  1. The Bœuf Bourguignon required almost four hours to simmer. A simple mistake of a cook would be rushing into it and boiling it with a raging fire until completion. A chef allows the dish to develop, to grow, to learn, and to become itself.
  1. Today, your parents are proud of you. They let the idea that their son loves cooking simmer. They let your relationship with them simmer, allowing you to grow and become unapologetically yourself, Brian Le.
  1. They let their childhood ideals and gender roles simmer away.
  1. Last year, your mother even taught you how to make a perfect caramel.
  1. All the ingredients in the Dutch-oven pot simmered together perfectly as Emma’s parents were almost home. Your first time meeting them was nearing and you couldn’t have been more nervous. You wanted to make a good first impression and you knew that the dish was perfect. You put all your time, effort, and intention into this night. Your life was changed by this person and tonight you met her makers, you knew it was time.
  1. You plated the Bœuf Bourguignon on cream-white plates to complement the vibrant, rich colored dish. You set the table, poured the wine, and served the dinner. You poured the perfect caramel on your crème brûlée and set them in the fridge to cool in time for dessert.
  1. You then heard the slow creak of the garage door. Her parents walked into your home and sat down for dinner for the first time.
  1. That night started the perfect simmer.

Brian Le is a professional monkey tamer and seasons his steaks with chia seeds. Travels interdimensionally every other weekend with his monkeys. Not fact checked.

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