A bad smell was coming from the kitchen garbage can. Organic waste usually smells putrid, but this was especially horrifying.
I opened the lid, peering fearfully into the depths.
Lobster shells. Bright red, thinly coated with smears of clarified butter. Pale antennae had jimmied the clasp so the lid didn't close properly. I slammed it shut in a hurry.
But that wasn't where the smell was coming from. A quick peek into the fridge revealed the real culprit - a half-kilogram bag of chicken feet, as grey and incomprehensible as alien parts. They had been destined for a Jamaican stew, but more exotic dishes had likely taken precedence in the passing weeks.
Choking back a gag reflex, I yelled for my husband to clean out the fridge.
My husband is not a complicated man when it comes to food. The fare he loves, though exotic and fascinating, is really just street food being made mainstream by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. Jamaican oxtail stew, curried goat roti, salt venison, pho with rare beef and tripe. Simple, hearty food, he says.
The one thing he can't handle is liver. But organ meats of any other kind are fair game.
My husband's favourites are not my own. Give me a juicy cheeseburger or a tangy pasta salad and I'm happy. But I'll be forced to venture down unusual culinary paths in the near future.
My husband is a chef-in-training. After picking a most opportune time to take a severance package from the auto industry, where he's worked for the past 12 years, he just spent a good three months trying to decide what to do.
No one could see him sitting at a desk all day. He's clever and gregarious, but probably not the best person to work in a call centre. Construction may have been an option, but installing roofs in Ontario's muggy summers? He'll pass. He thought briefly, joyfully, of going to chef school, but wasn't convinced that he should turn his passion into a day job.
He learned to cook at his grandmother's elbow. She was a Finnish immigrant who had run a catering business in Toronto. In their small Kingston kitchen, she taught him the grandeur of freshly baked coffee bread, the perils of under-seasoning, the drama of a soufflé. Despite a brief hiatus in his teens when golf became his obsession (one that still takes him away from me when the cicadas hum in still summer evenings), cooking was his first love.
I seduced him one evening after several helpings of spanakopita, a dish I haven't made since. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing lacking in that department - it's just that he does all the cooking now.
My mother, keen to put my husband to work after his freedom from auto-industry limbo, asked him to cater a reception for my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. It was, for him, a veritable piece of cake.
Despite a dish of potatoes that simply would not reheat in the church-basement kitchen, the odd tea towel lit aflame, and vast amounts of leftovers, he suffered no mishaps. His creations were applauded by the partygoers. Three people asked for his business card.
It was a completely different experience from working on the assembly line. In the kitchen, he awed and delighted his guests. He held authority over his ingredients and governed his pantry with a strict eye. From the seafood terrine to the Caesar salad, he prepared, inspected and approved each dish before it was paraded out the door.
I was his dishwasher, scrubbing acres of pots and pans, happily sedated into sudsy acquiescence by the enchanting flavours of the feast.
The answer to his dilemma was made clear after his catering experience: Chef's school it was. His first step was to gain admission to George Brown College. This he managed with remarkable ease, and he starts the program next month.
Right now, we're waiting anxiously to find out about Second Career funding, a program offered by the Ontario government to help laid-off workers retrain to get back into the work force.
My husband knows there will still be monotony, irate bosses, greasy grit under his fingernails and irremovable stains on his work clothes. But his place in the kitchen will mean so much more to him than the assembly line, and he'll be able to toast his efforts with fellow plongeurs in the aftermath of the final restaurant seating. He'll know a happiness and pride in his work, something he never experienced with torque wrench in hand.
I'm looking forward to the new adventure he is embarking upon. Together, we'll sample exotic dishes and succulent concoctions. I'll be his test kitchen. I'll be a happy taster, although wary around fish and game. My pants may get snug, but my husband will be - finally - blissfully in pursuit of his dream.
For him I will gladly dispose of any left-to-languish chicken feet. Just don't ask me to eat them.
Maria H. McDonald lives
in Burlington, Ont.