I’ll never forget what my mother said when she saw my kitchen in my first apartment as a newlywed, “Only a Torriente would have a fully-stocked kitchen before anything else.” That is to say that I had all pots, pans, utensils, appliances and kitchen gadgets anyone would want to embark on culinary creative spree. My mother was not the cook in the family—that distinction belonged to my father. While she was and remains a good, functional cook, she never shared the passion that my father and I had for food or for cooking. And clearly, she didn’t appreciate the need for so much cooking and baking equipment.
Fast forward almost 26 years later and I find myself helping set up another novice kitchen, that of my soon-to-be, 19-year-old son, Keller, as he moves into his first apartment—off-campus—with his freshman year roommate and his best friend’s girl. It might be too soon to declare him the foodie of the next generation of the Torriente grandchildren—primarily because he is 11 years older than the next grandchild and 14 years older than his younger sister—but I would say that he has a good lead on that title.
As the first and only child for so many years, Keller had the advantage of being exposed to a wide palette of food and restaurants elevating his taste buds beyond his years. As a five-year-old, he was excited to have the promise of Mexican food only to be disappointed when his father pulled up to the Taco Bell drive through. Keller’s standard for Mexican was the Tex-Mex restaurant South Austin Grill. His first taste of foie gras, from my plate at Les Halles, at age six was declared delicious. And in terms of cooking, he was always a willing pupil of both my parents who tutored him in making empanadas and plantain chips.
As a freshman last year, living in a traditional college dorm (albeit the nicest dorm on campus), I was surprised that he asked for pots and pans within his first month of being on campus. Even though his dorm had a community kitchen, I could not imagine that he would have the time or inclination to cook. But I learned in bits and pieces (as a lot of teens tend to communicate with their parents) that he indeed did cook. What he cooked? I do not know—not a detail he shared with me. What I did learn was that he enjoyed cooking, his friends enjoyed his cooking and he since he did not like leftovers, he shared his creations with the residents of his dorm.
Settling into his new place this week, I expected to receive a few texts related to textbook purchases and his meal plan. I was surprised when he sent a text requesting a large pot and a mid-size pot. He had unpacked his pots and pans from the year before but realized he needed something more for his new life. As the week went on, the list grew to include Tupperware, liquid measuring cups, knives, pot holders, vegetable peeler, and a corkscrew (for the cooking wine, I am sure). This was in addition to the wok and recipes he wanted for his birthday, specifically requesting the recipe for Ropa Vieja, a traditional Cuban dish that does not call for a wok in its preparation. What he swore that he did not need were plates and cups. Paper plates and red solo cups would grace their table.
The day I was to drive up, I went shopping with my mother, first in her storage unit where I secured a Cuisinart® coffee maker, Pyrex casserole dishes and drinking glasses. We moved onto TJ Maxx and scored an 8-quart T-Fal® pot and a 5-quart pot from an unfamiliar manufacturer. It was tempting to buy him the Calphalon® pots—the prices are that good. But seeing that this is a starter kitchen for a college student, he needs, well, starter kitchen items, to cut his teeth on, so to speak.
I waited to complete the rest of the shopping trip until I reached Harrisonburg, Va., and had Keller with me so he could help make choices for himself. After dinner we hit Ross where we scored a complete Pfaltzgraff® cutlery set featuring a chef knife, a Santoku knife, a paring knife, two pairs of kitchen shears, steak knives and sharpening steel. While Pfaltzgraff is not known for their cutlery, it was exciting just the same for Keller to have this starter kit. As a college student, he seems to have embraced the beauty of the struggle; to take thrill in being resourceful. The items for his first kitchen are akin to training wheels on a bike, or learning penmanship with a starter pencil. Once he masters skills with those simple, rudimentary tools, he can move onto tools that we last him a lifetime.
I was only three years older than Keller is now when I registered for kitchen supplies as part of my bridal registry. The only Pfaltzgraff I had on my registry where my dinner plates along with my Calphalon cookware and Henkel® knives, items that I still have with me to this day. The funny thing is that I was probably no farther along in my culinary skills than Keller is today. And it wasn’t the quality of my tools that made me enjoy cooking. It was curiosity and passion for it; the same character traits that I have seen in Keller when working in the kitchen.
Later that night, once we completed our marathon shopping day, I see Keller grab one of the glasses that my mother had sent down with me and show his roommate Paige. “Look, real glasses—cool huh.” In that moment I see how excited he is to set up his own place and to have something to drink from other than red solo cups. I imagine the meals he’ll make—basics like spaghetti and meatballs and the occasional Ropa Vieja and plantain chips. And how much fun it will be for him to share his passion with friends.