Sunday, April 11, 2010

Of Cowboys and Cooks

The ghost of John Wayne appeared in my kitchen.  I was alone at the time cooking, the wife upstairs on her computer.  I was thinking about Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef, and his TV crusade on obesity and healthy eating in a West Virginia town.

“I wanna talk about this food stuff, hombre,” John Wayne said, stabbing the air over my kitchen island with a beefy finger.  “Want a beer?”

“Sure, Duke,” I replied with his nickname.  As a kid, I remember adults using that nickname because everyone felt they actually knew him.

He shuffled over to the fridge and got both of us a Shiner Bock.  When I picture John Wayne, I think of the John Wayne from the late 1950s and 60s.  He stood tall next to the fridge in a rumpled off-white hat, gray shirt, beat-up leather vest and perpetually-askew bandana around his neck.  Reaching out a strong lanky arm, he handed me a Shiner.  It wasn’t the first time John Wayne had appeared while my mind wandered, though it was the first time in the kitchen.

“You wearing a dress?” he drawled.

“It’s an apron and I’m wearing shorts because it’s getting warm again in Texas,” I said, focusing on the greens I was chopping.  “Didn’t you ever sweat making movies in Texas?”

“We made ‘em in California,” he said, washing the words down with a swig of beer.  “But, what about this girly man of a limey, this Oliver fella?”

“Girly man?”

“He was crying on television.”

“It’s television, Duke.  He was telling a whole town of people they were killing themselves and their children.  Tough stuff.  The star has to be a sympathetic character, so he cried on camera.  What’s really eating ya?”

“That’s quite a pig sticker ya got there,” he said, eyeing my Chinese cleaver as I diced an onion.  “You knick yourself with that and it’ll take your whole arm off.”

“Already did that posting a while ago.  What about Jamie Oliver?”

Apparently, the timeless icon of masculinity had just come from the hallucinations of some poor father living in that West Virginia town.

“What business does he got telling people how to eat?”

“Well, you need to separate some issues, Duke.  Jamie’s the hero.  With his cockney accent, raucous energy and pub-cook background, he’s the everyman who stands up for what’s right.”

“So, he’s kinda the lone gunslinger against the town?”

“Yeah, but this is reality TV, so they have to work hard to create drama and conflict.  That’s weird in this case because most of the usual forms of reality TV don’t work.  They need a villain but they can’t really trot out the whole food industry and a few generations of society who were encouraged to eat junk.  Also, the network probably wants to keep friendly relations with all its food industry advertisers.”

“But, he’s telling school cafeteria ladies and parents they’re killing their kids.”

“If you don’t like it, you have only yourself to blame.”

“Now, you’re bein’ rude to a figment of your own imagination.”

“They borrowed the plot of your movies: The War Wagon, Rio Bravo, Rio Lobo and lots of others.  The bad guy is a wealthy rancher living outside the town that for the most part is not seen.  But, his influence is everywhere.  Everyone in town is under the control of the villain and can’t imagine changing things.  The hero’s job is to swagger into town and make enough trouble to show the people things will change if they work together and stand up to the rancher.  Substitute the food industry for the rancher and you have Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.”

“So, this is my fault?”

“No, actually you helped solve a problem.  The last thing to consider is the message that a couple generations of people need to relearn how to cook and eat.  It’s a good story and you supplied the way to tell it.”

“I never cried.”

“You never wore an apron either, but a lot of people thought you walked funny.”

“Hey, hey.  I told you it’s a football injury.”

I went on dicing up some Spanish chorizo (actually a dry salami, not a sausage) and already-cooked chicken breast.

“What are you making?”

“Just some greens from the garden, about half a large onion, some garlic, a couple diced tomatoes along with the greens.  I’ll saute all that and then add the chorizo and chicken at the end and toss it with some pasta.”

“Your tomatoes could be riper.”

“Best I could find.  So, I’ll add some tomato paste and a splash of balsamic vinegar to the onions before I put the greens and tomatoes into the pan to boost the flavor.”

“Will the kids eat it?”

“You bet your six gun, pardner.”

We clinked our bottles in a manly toast.

“What’s going on down there?”  It was my wife.

“Nothing dear.”

And the Duke was gone.


  1. Didn't the Duke finally shed a tear in one of his last movies?

  2. Can't find anything indicating that on IMDB. Went through all the trivia on "The Shootist" his last movie and nothing is mentioned about that (been a while since I've seen it but I think I'd remember). I'll ask him when he stops by for another beer.

  3. Excellent interpretation. I may have laughed when Jamie Oliver cried and also commented that he should probably hire a communication specialist (namely me) to avoid telling mother's that they are killing their children.