Welcoming Stefan The Chef (Or Culinary Tales and Theories My Mother Taught Me)

Stefan Will
Stefan Will

“You better learn how to cook or your life will be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” was what my mother’s advice sounded like four years ago before I left home for college. Despite being a big fan of Thomas Hobbes, my mother prepares the most delicious food known to man. Her food is not extravagant and she doesn’t add any herbs or spices to her dishes. The only additive that my mother uses to transform the everyday ingredients into pure finger-licking deliciousness is love.

However, I dismissed my mother’s wisdom primarily because I was developing my “sandwiches are sufficient” theory, in which I claimed that a variety of sliced cheese (e.g. some of the Amish classics, such as Brick or Provolone) along with sliced Fegatelli or Milanese salami placed in between two pieces of toasted rye bread that was previously smeared with cultured butter, would be an adequate diet for any college student.

Unfortunately, my theory was discredited then.  And again a few weeks ago, when I decided to re-test my old theory while waiting for Mr. Stefan Will, ECLA’s new chef, to arrive and take my food worries away. For three weeks I lived on sandwiches and yogurt, and with each Skype conversation that I had with my mother I was reminded of both the soul-crushing and repeated failure of my sandwich theory as well as my protruding collarbones and my thin wrists.

And then came the morning of the 9th of May, a morning that I will remember by hot coffee, five or six different kinds of bread, and by a stabilization of my bowel movements. As I was about to bite into my fresh and crispy croissant, Mr. Will came over and cracked a joke or two which made coffee come out of my nose. We laughed about the coffee incident, patted each other on our shoulders, and I thought to myself: “It’s been a long time since I felt this warm and fuzzy on the inside.” My joy was further expanded when for three days in a row there was at least one potato option for lunch.

In the small, Christian Orthodox town in Bosnia that I spent my childhood in, potatoes were praised and celebrated with same fervor as God himself.

“Life is meaningless without potatoes,” my grandfather would often say as he cut the local “Torotan” cheese to eat with his boiled potatoes.

In fact, boiled potatoes and “Torotan” cheese were exactly the ingredients of the sturdy foundation that kept my grandparent’s marriage intact despite their poverty, countless doubts, and constant bickering. As far as I can remember my grandparents spent nearly all of their days squabbling over the pettiest issues. For example, whenever my grandfather left his dirty clothes on the bathroom floor instead of putting them in the basket, my grandmother felt that her husband was walking all over her and disrespecting her in the most despicable way.

The act of walking was also a frequent topic of their quarrels. My grandmother always whined about how my grandfather walks too fast for her and she believed that the purpose of his speedy steps was to get her to walk faster as well. It is true that whenever my grandparents walked somewhere together my grandfather would walk about two to three meters in front of my grandmother and she hated this because she needed to yell every time she needed to tell him something.

“My Hercules can’t even hear me when he is right in front of me,” my grandmother would complain to her friends, “but he just speeds in front of me as if he has somewhere important to get to.”

The only time of the day that my grandparents spent in peace was during dinner while they peeled and ate their boiled potatoes. Every night, for fifty-two years, my grandparents have eaten boiled potatoes with cheese, and every night at seven o’clock while their mouths are filled with mushy potato deliciousness, my grandparents gaze into each other’s eyes and flash their smiles of satisfaction which convey to each other that it was worth sticking together for five decades.

Who would have known that the secret to creating a strong and enduring relationship is found in boiled potatoes? Trust and understanding can keeps the couple’s union firm only up to a point but the power of properly baked potatoes takes hold of the lovers’ souls and enmeshes them together for the eternity. With the last reminder about the importance and deliciousness of potatoes, I would like to welcome our new cook Mr. Stefan Will and his employees to the ECLA community and ask them to keep up the good potato work.

by Milan Djurasovic (AY’11, USA)

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