Kings Of The Kitchen

For Father's Day, readers share stories of men who love to whip up a meal

June 14, 2006|By JOE BURRIS | JOE BURRIS,SUN REPORTER

Any man who prepares meals for his family can boast that father cooks best. To distinguish a man who truly knows his way around the kitchen from one who merely heats stuff, talk to the wife and children. They'll tell you everything you want to know.

"David was never the type whose bachelor days were spent ordering pizza or boiling water for mac and cheese," said Courtney Tramontana of Havre de Grace about her husband. "When I say [he] cooks, I mean turkey dinner, rockfish that he caught himself, and [he] made the best homemade meatloaf I have ever eaten. I think it was the meatloaf that made me marry him."

Tramontana was among several people who responded to our Father's Day request for stories about men who cook. As dad's special day approaches this Sunday, many area families are paying homage to fathers and husbands who not only read bedtime stories but make a braised lamb shank to die for.

Sharon Rubin of Pikesville said that among her husband Eric's weekend breakfast delicacies are popovers, fried egg in toast and apple-spice pancakes. "Everything is from scratch, no mixes," she said. "He even spells the kids' names out in pancake batter."

Janice Bonadio of Hampstead brags about her father Charlie's deep- fried meatballs. Chris Bricker of Catonsville said her father, Harry, didn't start cooking until he retired from truck driving, but now makes the "best homemade chicken noodle soup, steamed shrimp, and Maryland Crab Soup in all of Baltimore."

Then there's 9-year-old Cecile Walton, who on a recent morning watched with delight as her England-born father, Simon, flipped his crepelike "English pancakes" in their Roland Park kitchen.

An avid cook, Simon, 64, said that on Valentine's Day he prepared breakfast for his wife, Nicole, but straightaway forgot what he served. Cecile did remember: "Heart-shaped pancakes!"

It may come as a surprise to some that so many men have a penchant for the kitchen. They come from all walks of life, from stay-at-home dads to retirees to businessmen. Many are like Andrew Kreinik, 53, a former business owner from Owings Mills and the primary cook of his family.

Kreinik and his brothers grew up assisting their mother at every step of food preparation. By age 11, Kreinik was cooking the family meal two nights a week. "I've been peeling garlic since I was 6," said Kreinik. His mother "would show us how to use knives and how to do things, but once you learned it was expected of you."

Charlie Bonadio, 74, said all of his buddies are excellent cooks -- so much so that they recently engaged in a pointed discussion over who had the best meatball recipe.

One of his friends insisted that the best meatballs were made with veal, beef and pork. Bonadio, meanwhile, stood firm by his recipe, made strictly with ground chuck. "The women in the room sat there and stared at us," said Bonadio, laughing. "We exchange recipes more than women do."

Family bonding

In fact, as Baltimore-area men tell it, the man who comes home expecting a home-cooked meal doesn't know what he's missing. What for some began as a chore has become a pastime, a way to express creativity and bond with family.

Greg Bathon, 72, of Federal Hill cooks each night for himself and his wife, Heidi. Their loft has a rooftop garden where he grows his own lettuces, tomatoes and herbs. Bathon's grown daughter, a culinary school graduate, has even asked him to cook on Father's Day. "I don't know what I'm going to serve," he said, "but it has to be something that will knock their socks off."

Most men who cook regularly began outdoors, on the grill during holidays. Once in the kitchen, most start with pancakes, ultimately spicing up the traditional recipe with other foods.

Kim Burns' husband, Joe, adds cornflakes to his pancakes for extra crunch. Gloria Marino, 12, said her father, Dan, makes pancakes with vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg and banana.

Simon Walton cooks both English and American pancakes for his daughter and says, "She prefers the English."

Walton enjoys cuisine from all over the world; his Indian seasonings fill an entire kitchen drawer. He has a coffee grinder used solely for grinding spices. He and his wife, Nicole, share 600 cookbooks. His joy for cooking is so great that he has continued it through chemotherapy for colon cancer.

Walton, who celebrates his sixth anniversary as an American citizen this month, has always been interested in cooking. When he was a child he would watch from his mother's knee how all types of dishes were made.

He said one day she turned on the oven, left the room, and then moments later smelled burning paint coming from the kitchen; she opened the oven door and saw neatly arranged building blocks that Simon had placed on a cookie sheet.

Today, it is Cecile who watches him. The two recently prepared an entire Eastern European feast, including sour cherry soup, baked cod, latkes and lepeski (raised almond cakes).

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