I Just Opened a Fake Restaurant (and No, I'm Not Crazy)

We have all been forced to go without a lot over the last however many weeks it’s been now. Like most of you, I am not immune to the extended isolation (video chat happy hours are simultaneously pretty cool and wildly depressing). What I have been finding as of late, though, is that while I miss the freedom to go, well, anywhere at this point, I really miss going to restaurants. Not just the high end stuff either, although I do love me some fine dining. My favorite pizza spot, taqueria, café, and deli are all pretty much a no go at the moment, and while takeout is fine and well enough once in a while, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit sore over the whole thing.

Generally my rule, or rather my motivation when going out to eat, is to get something I have never had before or something that I realistically couldn’t duplicate at my own house. As I have been consuming an irresponsible amount of food-related media over the last six weeks and there doesn’t seem to be any immediate end to this “staycation,” I guess it was inevitable that something was going to have to give.

At this point in time, I am just happy to have access to fresh groceries of any kind, so needless to say, we at the Przybylski residence have not been overly picky when assembling our shopping list. So that basically takes the “try something I’ve never had before” off the table, but if I could expand my thinking as to what I can “realistically” make at home, I might just get through this. After all, what’s the point in hoarding all of those niche cookbooks I’ve been stashing away over the years if I never crack them open and channel my inner Jacque Pepin? So that’s exactly what I did.

I went through the entire house, pantry, freezer, fridge, and did a full-on inventory of what I had on hand from fresh produce to condiments and spices. After that, it was time to hit the “stacks”: as I mentioned earlier, I have a pretty extensive collection of cookbooks, but there are enough online resources to make you head spin, so there is no reason to give up on the dream if you don’t have the ability to thumb through physical pages. Appetizers, salad, entrée, desert (I don’t go for the sweets but I happened to have some good cheese on hand, so I went there): check, check, check, check. The menu was set with some slight tweaks to the recipes to make things work with what I had at my disposal. Feeling ambitious, or is that anxious? Either way, I decided to go for something that would land right in my comfort zone.

A simple but killer tomato-rubbed bread with flaky sea salt, greens with a quick cream dressing, and, straight from Jacques Pepin’s classic book Fast Food My Way (I have a signed copy, NBD), a slightly modified but no less awesome thirty-minute cassoulet. Time to get cooking.

Well, almost. The idea, after all, is that for at least the night this was not just the Przybylskis’ kitchen, this was “Chez Pryz” and I was going for it. Table setting, you ask? Uhh, you know it, buddy: nothing but the best at this establishment. Linen tablecloth, proper silverware( I’m talking “What are all these extra forks for?” type of silverware), and that wedding china we had to dig out of the basement.

Now for the menu.  Not just what I was making, but the physical menu. Call me old fashioned, but I’m the type of guy who likes to hold a menu in his hand when sitting at the table. Also, thanks for the effort, garcon, but I can read, I’ll take it from here. I toyed with the idea of hand writing out my menus, but I quickly deferred to my word processor. It was at this time, however, that I realized that this would be a great place to get creative and engage the kids on a fun art project that ends in a nice family meal if you were so inclined to go down that road.

Now it’s time to get cooking! Get yourself organized by assembling your “mise en place” (French for “everything in its place”): that way you don’t find yourself running around the kitchen looking for a spatula as the timer on the oven counts down to zero, check the link for tips. After all this is supposed to be fun, not stressful. The general idea is that you get all of the tools, spices, seasonings, and general kitchen gadgetry within an arm’s reach so you can focus on creating culinary magic and not looking for a crucial tool at zero hour. Where is that spatula!?!?

If it isn’t obvious by now I got kind of into this little project. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love cooking, probably as much as I like eating, actually, but I kind of let this one get out towards  the fringe of what you might consider a good use of time. But, hey, what’s wrong with that? These are mad times we are living in. Mad, I tell ya! The point is that you can take this in any number of different directions. Have school age kids at the house? Skew the menu towards the snacky side of things. Regardless of what anybody says, there is nothing wrong with ants on a log, and besides, this is your establishment and the reservations are hard to get and the clientele is predictable. Fancy yourself a real gourmet? Well, go ahead and make a meal worthy of the Michelin Guide. I checked for you and there are ways to get foies gras overnight-ed to your front door. Middle of the road kinda gal? Just wish this whole thing was in the past? Well, there is nothing wrong with burgers and dogs, spaghetti and red, or whatever dish makes you feel like everything is the way it should be.

Whatever “restaurant” you decide to open, make sure to invest as much into the people across the table as you do into the meal in between you, and I’m sure you will end up with a new favorite local spot.

Cheers, to you and yours, from me and mine.

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