Classic food pairings are like best friends. Meat and potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, red beans and rice, chocolate and raspberries, tomatoes and basil …I could go on forever. These classic combos enhance and play off each other on your palate, often teasing you into wanting more. Ah, tongue titillating bliss.

As a chef, I often wonder how these food unions are born. Who thought of the bistro menu BFFs of steak and frites or the Italian combo of sausage and peppers? Was there some culinary deity who deemed that for all of gastronomic eternity we shall eat and love peaches and cream?

Sometimes I like to push the envelope and come up with my own blends. But I am always careful. It’s like wearing jewelry. There is a fine line and one piece of bling too many between chic and trashy.

I have seen a lot of menu train-wrecks from chefs and many of them from TV food personalities trying to be oh so au courant.  Before you dip your toe into the menu writing waters, you need to look at the highlight of the menu and then pick items that are seasonal, regional and complimentary, not items that are fighting for attention and blowing each other away in your mouth. Maybe there was a culinary deity and the classic parings are truly heavenly.

Recently, there was a bit of a scuffle regarding our President and a corned beef sandwich with, dare I say it- mayo! The classic Jewish amalgamation of corned beef and mustard on Rye was violated in a most sacrilegious way, oy vey! Don’t you know, Mr. President, that when someone orders a corned beef sandwich with mayonnaise, somewhere a Jew dies?

It turns out the shanda sandwich was actually for a congressman and not for the President. Seems that Mayo-gate is not so bad after all. Or is it? Jew or not-President or not- I am a chef and am really, really upset.

I personally have “freaked out” at customers when asked for a side of white rice to go with a steak. Come on- a steak crackling and sizzling right off the grill is screaming for a potato of some kind. And some crispy, salty onions too!

There was the time a local and regular customer asked for ketchup to go with his Boeuf Bourguignon. After I beheaded the poor innocent waiter for asking for the offending item, I tongue lashed the customer and then cried in the cooler. The Humanity! 

If I were behind the counter at the corporate deli- President or not- I would have advised him of the sandwich snafu. You cannot just go around doing things like that. It is as weird as clashing colors or atonal music. It’s not natural. It’s not right.

The point here is that some things are meant to go together. It’s natural. We should celebrate and enjoy classic combinations. And if you cannot, at least get the mayo on the side.

Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here.
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