There are times at which the supporting character makes the
entire performance. Without the
complimentary affectation of the little guy, the main attraction oft goes
unappreciated and underutilized. Take
Shakespeare’s cons, for example.
Would Hamlet have been
anything without the awkward comedic and seemingly despondent relief of
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Who
were they, anyway?
Would Buzz Lightyear have been as effective a hero if it
weren’t for the efforts of Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog and Hamm? I challenge you to say otherwise.
The theater is home to a great many challenges, one of which
is to compel the viewer, the guest in the audience, to see things as they might
not otherwise be seen. Simply
watching the egoist-lead read through their lines can bore one to complete and
utter ennui; enter the Prince’s soliloquy as evidence, your honor.
Yet having the same actor or actress give the performance of
a lifetime while backed by a curtain of dolts incapable of delivering a
resolute and convincing argument is as limp as watching the ball drop in New
York; no offense intended to the very few talented individuals who actually
perform on New Year’s eve.
Something so seemingly in the background as a curtain can
end up being so much more than a bit part. And no, I am not just writing about this because I was one
of the three Tin Men in “The Wiz” in
fifth grade. I am quite glad to this day that I was not the lead in that
It’s just that so much attention is paid to the lead role
that the supporting roles are seen as less important when in fact nothing could
be further from the truth.
The same goes for plating a delicious meal. All too often, and I am quite guilty of
this at home, we prepare the main dish and then as an afterthought we ask what
our guests might like for their sides.
True, the meat and potatoes of a plate are the, well, meat and potatoes
of the plate, but there are many places to which we can take these
aforementioned proteins and starches, transforming them into masterpieces.
On our plate of food we have the piece de resistance but we
would do no greater honor than to offer up simple accoutrements to accentuate
its flavor, texture and overall place in our meal. This doesn’t make the supporting piece any less
important. In fact, without this
encouragement, this all-important dish may very well flop on its face; and we
can’t have that.
Staring at our foam package of ‘prime beef’, I realize that
I want to do more than to simply throw a pan of macaroni and cheese in the microwave. Have I been guilty of that in the
past? Sure, I have. But not today.
I recall a recipe that I saw easily 15 years ago from Daniel
Boulud, and I know that nothing would sit better with a New York Strip than a
root vegetable cobblestone; a pavé as the French would call it, and since I’m
A simply gratin of potato, carrots (if you like), rutabaga
and other root vegetables end up making the sweetest, richest and most simply
complex accompaniment to steak that you could ever imagine. And that’s what cooking can be about;
simplicity in its most complex form.
As our public awaits, I must attend to the matters at hand;
the peeling and slicing of the vegetables, the buying of the good Parmesan, and
the effective deployment of idiom in writing about a stack of potatoes.
As I wait for the curtain call I am assured that, at the
very least, the audience at hand should enjoy the cast. For it isn’t the main character, nor
should it ever be. It’s a package
And as long as it’s not a tragedy, I think I can take the
2 Russet potatoes
1 sweet potato
2 oz. butter
1 c. heavy cream,
infused with 3 cloves garlic
1/2 c. grated
1 whole large egg
2 sprigs fresh thyme,
1 c. chicken stock
salt and pepper to
Peel and slice the root vegetables, keeping the
potatoes in water if it is going to be a while before you compose the gratin
If you soaked any vegetables in water, drain
well and pat dry
Toss in remaining ingredients
Liberally spray a 9×9 baking pan or oil it
Start layering the vegetables, organizing by
color if you so choose to
When all of the ingredients are in the baking
dish, press it down with a plate or something that will keep it compacted
during the baking process
Bake at 375F until it is knife tender
Remove from the oven and let it cool for at
least 30 minutes before removing the top plate
Portion the cobblestone and serve with grilled
or roasted meats