Using your hands is essential to making food. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Using your hands is, um, essential to making food.
Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

I remember cooking for my dear Uncle Jon at my dad’s house, and after sticking my finger into a simmering pot of sauce to taste it, he looked at me as if I’d just spit into the food. When I confirmed that he was indeed concerned about germs, I was astonished.

He seemed to have no idea that any bacteria on my finger would be killed by the heat (billions on the food and in the pot probably had been) and that my hands were the cleanest in the kitchen because, as I was cooking, I was continually washing them. (Please no comments from ID docs telling me about heat-resistant toxins; I’m not picking my nose and sticking it in food.) Yes, the cleanest hands in the kitchen.

I was alerted to the new California law requiring more use of gloves by cooks (for any “ready-to-eat” food) no matter the venue. Now, I suppose if you eat in a seriously skanky-ass food joint—smells bad, there’s no toilet paper in the john—you might want the guy putting together your BLT to have gloves on. But at any busy restaurant, my experience has been that the cooks’ hands are the cleanest in the place. You’re more likely to pick up germs from the waiter’s hand that sets your plate before you—but you don’t hear the legislators clamoring for this.

Yes, this California law is more of America’s ridiculous germ paranoia, and it makes me nuts. Especially as the people making the laws are likely the most ignorant of any people actually qualified to be judging the situation. Who would you trust on this issue—a tableful of bureaucrats in suits or a gathering of talented chefs who have been in the business for twenty years?

The chefs think, for the most part, that the law is not only silly, but it makes their work harder and is arguably less sanitary, as a cook is less likely to wash gloved hands, especially during a busy service.

So this law is in fact encouraging the very problem it strives to prevent. God, I’m glad I’m not governed by California—what a bunch of knuckleheads when it comes to food! Why don’t you people actually try to know what the fuck you’re talking about before legislating? Jesus.

Happily, I don’t live there and so can use this law to talk about something important: the pleasures of touching food. Thomas Keller loves to make pasta, in large part because the dough is so soft and supple on the fingers, such a pleasure to touch. The late Jean-Louis Palladin loved food so much he would get very close to it, to a piece of tuna belly, say, and stroke it lovingly. Our friend Susie Heller told me, “I wish I had a boyfriend who touched me the way Jean-Louis touches food!”

Yes, touching food is one of the great pleasures of cooking. Separating eggs, making meatballs, pasta, bread, swooping out a finger-load of sweet whipped cream and delivering it straight to the tongue (and then washing the hand!). Take the time to appreciate the texture and tone of the food you’re cooking and eating. It’s part of the fun of cooking.

Yes, Donna still gets annoyed when I reach across the table and jab my finger into her steak to make sure I’ve cooked it right (“Michael, get your hands out of my food!”), so I’ve stopped.

But if there’s one good thing about the debate over this California law, it’s a chance to call attention to the great pleasures of touching the food that you’re cooking with bare hands.

Hands are essential in making all of our foods, especially the most delicate ones. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Part of the pleasure of making pasta at home is the feel of the dough.
Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Pasta Dough

  • 9 ounces/255 grams all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
  • 3 eggs
  1. Combine the flour and eggs in a bowl and mix them with your fingers to combine.
  2. When the dough comes together, knead it on a floured board or countertop, pressing it with the heel of your hand, folding it over, kneading, folding until it is velvety smooth. This will take 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Form the dough into a disk. Put a towel or plastic wrap over the dough and let it rest on the counter for 20 to 60 minutes. The dough can also be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
  4. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces, roll them into the desired thinness and cut as you wish. You can cut your noodles using a pasta machine or with a knife.

 

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© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.