Gas Station Sandwiches
“It must be nice to eat this kind of food every day.”
“I would never be able to cook for you – you have fancy taste.”
“I would gain 300 pounds if I worked here!”
“Do you cook like this at home?”
As a professional chef, I’ve heard many people’s comments and opinions on how I eat, and more comically, what I eat. The generally perceived notion is that chefs only eat the type of food that they cook. Or, that their palates are so refined that only high-end, upscale cuisine will satisfy them. Or, that we eat in our own kitchens day in and day out, enjoying on a regular basis what most only savor once in a while.
Of course, that is not always true. We do enjoy our own cuisine (of course…!). But we get tired of the same menu day after day. We, too, crave something different. I love high-end, cutting edge cuisine. It is fun and exciting to try the new/hip/out-of-the-box creation of a talented chef. But that is way too fussy for at home. We also cherish good comfort food and the dishes of our childhood.
Now, I’m not going to bore you with another “I’m a chef but I grew up in the country barefoot eating peas off the vine” kind of story. While it is true that the food I grew up on is now featured in some of the most famous and relevant restaurants in the Southeast, I have a different story to tell. A story most chefs would never divulge. A story that will hit home with some (whether they admit it or not…) and make me an outcast with others.
I’m going to tell you all about one chef’s guilty culinary pleasures.
This will not be about the burger I enjoy at Hubcap Grill. Or the 3-piece with a biscuit and red beans from Popeye’s. Or even about late night peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
This is gonna get ugly.
So, one treat that I enjoy (albeit rarely…) is a good can of Vienna sausages. Not just any can, mind you. My label is Libby’s. You may think of Armour as the leading producer of canned meats, but for my 69 cents, Libby’s is the only brand. How do I enjoy them, you ask? Straight out of the can, mostly. If I’m feeling creative, I’ll split them in half and make a sandwich with a light smear of mayo (Miracle Whip is for girls…) and Zapp’s Cajun Crawtators on the side. Heaven. Make that face all you want. It’s good.
Now everyone has heard of SPAM. Maybe not a guilty pleasure, but most won’t admit to enjoying it. I limit my intake to twice a year due to salt content, but sometimes I just gotta have it. I’ve even toyed with the notion of creating an entire menu around SPAM. I will eat it cold right out of the can, but I prefer to fry it in a pan until it gets crispy and brown around the edges. It makes a great sandwich, but also serves as an excellent breakfast meat. My mother used to make SPAM pancakes – brown one side, flip it over and top it with pancake batter. Flip the pancake and BABOOM! You have your SPAM cooked right into the pancake. Drizzle with Steen’s Cane Syrup and it becomes a work of art. Genius.
Which brings us to potted meat. I used to love potted meat as a kid, simply smeared across a Saltine cracker, Ritz if it was a good week. It was also a staple on any fishing trip with my dad. They have changed the recipe over the years. I don’t care for it anymore. Enough said.
So, the Grande Dame of my culinary guilty pleasures is something that my daughters will still give me much grief about. And I will admit that it is a questionable choice. When I’m on the road and need a quick bite, gas station sandwiches are my go-to food. The ones in plastic orange triangles that have catchy, wholesome sounding names like Mrs. Weatherford’s, or Lake-O-Pines or some such. I prefer chicken salad, with the occasional foray into tuna salad, if it looks fresh. Throw in a bag of crunchy Funyuns (the only REAL choice…) and a cold bottle of water and I’m ready to hit the road.
Of course, these are not every day foods for me. I mostly enjoy fresh, simple and well-prepared food (dinner last night was seared boneless pork chops, stewed okra and tomatoes and steamed white rice. It reminded me of Sunday at my grandmother’s, so delicious and familiar). But every now and again, my “dirty” culinary side rears its ugly head and I reach deep into the unknown. So, the answer is yes, Vriginia, chefs all too often eat just like the common folk. Sometimes even worse. Did I mention Totino’s Party Pizza?