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In My Father’s Kitchen

November 15, 2011 | by

I used to joke that I have daddy issues with Jacques Pépin, because it was he who really raised me. My parents divorced when I was a year old and, until I was thirteen, they split custody in every conceivable way. It was my father’s habit to write in the mornings and watch his favorite cooking shows in the afternoon, with a drink, while preparing dinner. On the days I was with him, I watched too. Usually it was Julia Child, or the Frugal Gourmet; later it was Jacques, and then Jacques and Julia. Recipes and technique were like my nursery rhymes and I grew up—“spoiled rotten,” my dad would say—only ever eating perfect pie crust. By the time I was eleven, my knife skills were impeccable, my Caesar salad the best ever (in my family, hyperbole is hereditary). When my mother invited my high school girlfriend and her parents for dinner I served a traditional osso buco and risotto Milanese. It was a success—my culinary coming out party—and one in which my father, who felt he deserved the credit, took particular pride.

As a Depression baby, my father was raised by a generation of people who wouldn’t utter a sound if their hair were on fire. He spent most of his childhood in the kitchen, with the family cook, because he was afraid to go anywhere else in the house. The Wallaces do their suffering in silence. My father’s father, David Frederick Wallace Sr.—Fred, he was called—went off on drinking benders, leaving the family for days at a time. He died of liver failure at just fifty-seven. Fred’s father committed suicide and the family never spoke of it. The thought of my own father having a personal conversation with his mother, or with his grandmother, whom everyone called the Dragonlady, seems impossible—with his Aunt Bess or his uncle, President Harry Truman, outrageous. Read More »

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