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Tramonto schools the author
He silently glides into the kitchen while I’m assembling ingredients for the scallop dish. “I’ve done this a few times,” he says, flashing a grin. “Let’s fire it up.” The truth is, I am hoping to glean some cooking tips from the Top Chef Masters contestant. But I hadn’t expected him to get so excited swirling a pan of sizzling mushrooms that he wouldn’t leave the stove. As we stand shoulder to shoulder at my range, I’m emboldened to ask him how to sear the scallops, which is like asking Eric Clapton to show you how to play “Layla” on your own guitar.
“If you flip them too soon, they start poaching themselves and get rubbery,” he says. “Wait for it . . . wait for it.” We finally flip the plump, pinkish mollusks, and they have a beautiful brown crust. Tramonto points to the second batch and tells me it’s time for my solo. I nail them. “It takes a line cook six months to learn how to do this,” he says enthusiastically, and I desperately want to believe him.
Next up are the steaks. It’s 30 degrees and windy, and I’m nervous my undersized Weber gas grill won’t get hot enough to sear them. Tramonto follows me out to the balcony and holds his hands over the grates. He nods: Everything is going to be fine. We toss the long hunks of beef onto the fire, and the flames lick the edges of the meat. They cook for 15 minutes, and we flip them only once. After letting the steaks rest, I slice them and the knife goes in like butter. I’m so proud of this that I fail to notice Tramonto walking around the dinner table, serving my wife’s impressively executed twice-baked potatoes. The guy just can’t help himself. “Let me take that, Rick,” I say, gently wresting the platter from his hands. He sits down and digs into the steak.
The wine flows, conversation continues past midnight, and just before Tramonto leaves, we get the courage to ask for our report card. The steak was right on, he says, but the potatoes could have used more salt. (Later, Jen confesses she forgot to add any salt at all.) “And the beets were a little under for me,” he admits. “They had a little too much tooth.” But they couldn’t have been too bad, because after we say our goodbyes, I notice Tramonto has taken a Tupperware full of leftover beets prepared—without help—by yours truly.
Photograph: Chris Lake
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