Four years ago Michelle told me she’d be the best assistant I ever had. She might be right. She’s grown into a killer baker, shopper, and problem solver who’s more than earned her pay. I wish I could afford to keep such talent. It might very well afford me the best assistant there ever was if only she hadn’t tripped over tomatoes.
In the beginning, she mostly brought me tomatoes from big grocers. They’d look great on the outside, but were pretty much always pale and tasteless on the inside. They were total shit. You might think taste doesn’t matter to a food stylist but you can see a flavourless tomato, and taste one that looks like it should. She started visiting more precious grocers in expensive neighbourhoods and still she brought me pretend tomatoes. For every cottony one I sliced open I’d have to endure a plea asking me to believe what I was seeing wasn’t white but instead as red as red could be, abracadabra, and we’d play this game and have this dance and I’d tell her, you don’t know tomatoes.
Then something magical did happen. One day, the tomatoes were red. Then the next, they weren’t. And so, on and on this goes.
She’s taken to making her own burger buns for me. She turns her nose up at over-proofed brioche from the best bakeries in town, the sort of buns that collapse onto themselves within a few hours of purchasing, their domed tops now wrinkled and unacceptable. She visits Italian shops for canned tuna, and knows Middle Eastern grocers always stock bottarga. Sometimes our clients ask if she would mind being in a shot, she’s that photogenic. And patient too.
She gave me a talking to yesterday imploring me to be calmer on set, that everything was under control, that I could be a better human if I would just chill a bit. Then I looked down at her hothouse imposter beefsteaks and I said, “You damn young people don’t know your tomatoes! Back in the day, when I was young, we had real tomatoes. The tomatoes back then, those were fucking red tomatoes!”
“No, no!” she said, as she spun white tomato slices like frisbees into the corners of the kitchen leaving a few modestly blushed slices on the cutting board. “They’re red!”
“Goddamnit,” I said, “it’s fucking tomato season!”
And so it is. Michelle and I have made it through another summer. Our third one! Yet after all this time, she refuses to be perfect despite her perfection. Maybe she thinks I’ll find her insufferable if she shows up early, ready to model, with homemade burger buns and the reddest tomatoes all on the same day. I probably will. In any case, I sent her a picture of the most gorgeous field tomatoes along with her list for next week. The suspense is killing me already.
Photo Rob Fiocca
Needless to say, we shot this salad on one of Michelle’s better tomato days. Likely because she wanted to eat it.
- 2 tomatillos, husks removed
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
- ¾ cup (175 mL) sour cream
- ½ cup (125 mL) buttermilk
- Zest of 1 lime
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) lime juice
- 1 green onion
- ¼ cup (60 mL) cilantro
- Coarsely ground black pepper taste
- Grill the tomatillos, turning occasionally, over high heat until tender and mostly blackened, about 8 minutes total. Let cool and add to blender along with garlic, salt, sour cream, and butter milk; process until smooth. Add lime zest and juice, the green onion, and cilantro; pulse until all is finely chopped, but with visible flecks of herb. Season to taste with pepper.
- drizzle over just-picked still warm-from-the-sun tomatoes
- use it to dress coleslaw
- drizzle over fish tacos or tostadas
- make a bean, edamame, chive and heirloom tomato salad
- use as a dip for roasted or grilled sweet potato wedges