I'm just kidding, of course, but anyone who's watched enough food and travel television shows has heard that line plenty of times – probably too many times – from cooks, chefs and restaurant owners.
Get back, Mr. flapjack. Come on, Ms. Wonton. Your pancake and dumpling recipes are classified? You know, only so many types of super spices and killer ingredients exist in our culinary world. How many combinations of them can there be?
And you're going to tell me that your crypto recipe, with all those top-secret spices, is so secret and valuable that you lock it in a safe? You keep it in your safety-deposit box at your bank? It's in a vault? You would need to eliminate me if I discovered those secret, super-sensitive spices? Get over your spicy self, you master of clandestine cookery.
A lot of us who spend a little time in the kitchen use spices and other ingredients to concoct some pretty decent spare ribs or fried chicken or Cajun fish or sausage Creole or other signature dishes. And we appreciate it when the guests at our dining table or backyard picnic table say: "This is great! How'd you make it?"
No problem. No secret. Want to know my chili recipe? I'll spill the beans – and the spices, too. How about my sweet and sour sauce that looks and tastes like that stuff you get at your favorite Chinese restaurant? I'll gladly tell you how to make it, and you'll be surprised at its simplicity. I'll even disclose the ingredients of my famous baked beans, which became my so-called Daddy Beans, because that's what my kids used to call them.
My favorite secret-spice concoction, which is not secret, is Zatarain's Creole Seasoning. You don't need a top-secret-crypto security clearance to get it. Simply go to your supermarket's spice section, and you'll find it somewhere around the black pepper or the Lawry's Garlic Salt. Oh, yes, that's one of my favorite ingredients, too. Lawry's make a garlic salt that's not too salty, because it's coarsely ground garlic and salt, with parsley; yep, you can really douse your chow with all that great Lawry's flavor and not gag from too much saltiness.
Hey, that's a secret recipe for you, right there – Zatarain's and Lawry's rubbed in or sprinkled on your chow before or during its cooking process. I'm talking about fish, pork, eggs, mac 'n' cheese, you name it. And don't forget the salad. I always zest up the salad with plenty of Zatarain's and a little Lawry's before the salad dressing goes on. Salads need some fireworks. I do not want a tame, mild, boring salad.
No one ever has threatened me over their secret recipe. Who needs somebody else's guarded recipe, anyway? Any kitchen commando can come up with her or his own killer recipe. It might take a little trial and error, but eventually you can create an award-winning dish to serve to family and friends. You can create several. You can become the master of your kitchen, throwing together some downright fine cuisine. There's no secret to it.
I have been fortunate enough to have received personal, simple instructions from several good cooks, who showed me that a few plain ingredients can taste delicious together. For example, I learned how to make sweet and sour sauce from a Chinese cook in Vietnam. I was expecting him to whip together such ingredients as secret Asian sauce, pineapple juice, Kiwi extract, whatever. And where was the honey and rice vinegar?
"Keep it simple, stupid," he said.
"Keep it simple, stupid? That's an American saying," I said.
"For you, today, it is a Chinese cooking proverb," he explained.
He then went on to show me his sweet and sour sauce, measuring one part water, one part sugar, one part white vinegar and one part ketchup. He combined them in a sauce pan over heat until dissolved and thicken into a translucent red sauce.
"That's it? Can't be!"
"Ahh, it be, Ông Griggs. It be simple and good."
In the city of Paris, I learned how to prepare a French chef's country roast chicken. There were no secrets, and it was simply delicious, rivaling the goodness of the roasted chicken at Le Poulet, a little restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe. In New Orleans, I learned the classic shrimp Creole and tweaked the recipe to come up with my own sausage Creole, which is so damn good that one of our New Orleans guests asked if he could take home the leftovers. And it's no secret that my mom's chicken Tetrazzini recipe is so simple that even I can make it, serve it to ravenous guests, and then devour any leftovers the next day.
So, all of you culinary experts out there with your classified lists of ingredients and locked-away secret spice documents, we don't care. We don't need to know how you make your killer dishes. We can make our own and be fat and happy about it.
Now, it's time to head for the kitchen and rattle some pans and shake some seasonings. My stomach is growling.