I read Everything Is Under Control, Phyllis Grant’s new memoir, in one sitting.
You might recognize her name from this Genius tomato sauce or, years before that, when she shared creamy, garlicky, anchovy-y recipes during the early days of our site. Though the articles that went with weren’t just about cream or garlic or anchovies. Because to Grant, writing about citrus salad is writing about insomnia. Pasta with corn is her son going to camp. Hazelnut brittle is her daughter’s birthday.
And isn’t this what food is, really? Not just the taste, the smell, the way something melts in your mouth, but also whatever—or whoever—is happening around the dinner table, the kitchen counter, the bedroom.
In Everything Is Under Control, Grant’s writing is more candid than a close friend—as much recipe as poem as flash fiction as a letter to you, someone she’s probably never met, but would like, very much, to sit down and talk with.
So it’s easy to see how you too might pick up this memoir and not put it down until the last page. It is a book and it isn’t a book. It’s a conversation. Which feels especially intimate when every conversation we have is already so far apart.
Below is an excerpt from Everything Is Under Control, out now.
I bang out the remaining prep: chopped chives, parsley, and shallots. Once the dupes roll in, I can do nothing but plate.
I lug buckets of oysters up from the basement and stack enough plates for the first twenty orders. I plug in my mini-burner, retie my plastic wrap belt, and ignore the electric ache that has been flashing in my heart every day this week before service.
Without hesitation or self-doubt, the extern next to me brunoises the carrots for the soup and then juliennes the fennel for my salad. He’s only here for a few months. So helpful. So careful. So skilled. So ready to fly out the door the moment he can. He freaks when I borrow his knife. Careful. Phyllis. Wait. You never slide the knife edge across the cutting board. It will fuck up the edge. He lends me a copy of Marco Pierre White’s White Heat. He wants to be a rock-and-roll chef. I just want to make it through the next dinner service.
Chef sneaks up behind me and tickles my lower back. He gently pulls my ponytail.
You look like a cheerleader today, Felicia.
He pulls yellowtail out of my low-boy refrigerator and asks me to smell it.
No smell, Chef.
He picks up one of my knives and slices off a piece of the fish to prepare a dish for a VIP. Without looking up, he says, Felicia, your knives are never sharp enough.
He shifts his weight from side to side, mumbling to himself, furrowing his brow, components moving together as if he’s gathering ideas from the air. He does this every service. I only know how to follow a recipe. But he is making shit up as he goes along. And I love watching.
He whisks together crème fraîche, fromage blanc, sherry wine vinegar, chopped chives, almond oil, salt, pepper. Never stop tasting, Felicia.
He scoops some up with his finger to taste. I do the same. And then I wait for the next step. Sweat drips down the backs of my legs and into my boots.
Do you have some blanched beans?
Oui, Chef. Fava, lima, Romano, yellow wax, haricot verts.
All of them, please.
I follow his every move so that I can repeat the dish over and over again throughout the evening. The way he examines the beans, gently cradling them in his fingers before dropping each one down into the bowl. How he coats everything with the creamy nutty mixture by quickly shifting the bowl away from his body and yanking back, away and back, away and back, as if he’s flipping a crepe. I watch his hands. The path of his eyes. Tossing, tasting, adjusting. This is when I breathe. This is when I learn.
The first order comes in. My chest gets all warm and prickly. Sweat pools in my bra. I yank my ponytail up into a tight bun and fall off a cliff for seven hours.