The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Pablo Torre is a journalist for ESPN, where he hosts High Noon every weekday with Bomani Jones. After “surveying the YouTube universe,” Pablo’s now confident making breakfast… as long as he doesn’t have to use the metric system.
I’m 33, and I’ve always thought of myself as someone who cannot cook. And I still, to be honest, can't really cook. But I can fend for myself. And that, I think, is enough.
When I was growing up in New York, my mom cooked Filipino food. My most vivid memory is having so much white rice that I began to take it for granted. And then, in college, I began lusting biologically for white rice. How did I ever not enjoy white rice? She made it with chicken adobo and fried fish. In Filipino dining, you don't need a knife. It's just a fork and a spoon, and the spoon is what you use to cut. I love having suckling pig at family gatherings. Part of me is like, It would be the ultimate proof of my Filipino-ness to figure out how to participate in a pig roast. Just give me a second-lieutenant job doing something menial.
My parents are both doctors. I did my college thesis on child homicides in America because I was going to go to law school. The LSAT was my obsession for years and years. But if you do badly enough on the LSAT, you are forced to take it again, and in the intervening time, you have to go get a job. I got an internship at Sports Illustrated. I was writing for the school newspaper, but I had always seen that as more of an extracurricular thing. When I finally got to try it out professionally, as a fact-checker, I never ended up leaving, and my LSAT score expired. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Then ESPN recruited me, and I figured out I could do television. Now I have a show — a crazy thing that I never even dreamt about.
I am somewhat in charge of making a thing every single day. It demands that you be present because there's no editing. There's no "Let me do that one more time.” It’s very liberating, but the metabolism of covering ten sports stories every day — it's a lot. When I get home, I will obviously watch the games, but I also need time to just unplug, relax, and not think about sports for a while. It can get unhealthy if you're just doing one thing 100 percent of the time. I don’t want to burn out. I want to make sure that my energy level and interest are genuine.
My wife, Liz, and I have been together almost ten years now, and part of our courtship was her teaching me how to cook. I'm still an amateur, but that was fundamental to us hanging out — making breakfast for dinner, and then graduating to breaded chicken cutlets. The next step for me is to cook for her, because that's just such an easy victory that will bring to fruition our relationship.
At the end of a long day in Manhattan, it's like, "Oh, wow, we can order delivery from everywhere." And we have, but we don't want to lose one of the core activities of our relationship: cooking and sitting down together. One of the concerns that I have about the future is everything will just be reduced to pushing a button. The process of cooking is deliberately slower.
One of the concerns that I have about the future is everything will just be reduced to pushing a button.
It would be very sad if we were both too busy to cook. Breakfast is still the extent of what I'm confident doing, but I hope to expand that repertoire. Our first date was at this place in the East Village that no longer exists called Permanent Brunch. We went there and had breakfast for dinner. And since then, that’s what I do: I make eggs, fry bacon, and flip pancakes.To learn how to poach eggs, I surveyed the YouTube universe. The first thing I do is fill the World's Greatest Saucier with water — up past the first notch, roughly 1.25 liters. Then I put the stove on medium, enough to see some bubbles going. I crack my egg into a cup. I then transfer that egg into a little mesh strainer and swirl it around, eliminating excess white stuff. Now I downgrade the stove to a simmer. I take a slotted spoon and repeatedly draw a big circle in the water, around the outer rim of the World's Greatest Saucier, creating a liquid vortex. Some recipes suggest putting vinegar in the water; I reject those recipes. Instead, I just take the mesh strainer and gently lower the egg into the eye of the vortex, invariably marveling as the motion of the hot water takes over, wrapping the loose yolk in its own white. After a little over two minutes — I like a soft poach — it's time to evacuate the transformed egg using the slotted spoon. Drop it onto some toast with some ham and some torn-up parsley, and let that glorious yolk run.
Ultimately, poaching is very simple. It’s right in my wheelhouse; it comes out looking like it’s involved, but it’s really a couple of steps that I am proud to have come close to figuring out by self-teaching over the internet. This is my technique, and it turns out to be all right. I don’t need to be looking at a recipe on my phone. In my amateur, non-cook's opinion, if you have a feel for it and you develop confidence and your own process, you'll get there.
If you have a feel for it and you develop confidence and your own process, you'll get there.
And, honestly, I would say that one of the things that I love about cooking and eating at home is that you put your phone away. You can let it be a meditative thing. Like my plants! I tend to them. Invite different postures into your life. I find that to be an underrated part of adulthood.
I like that the Great Jones handle doesn't get too hot. And that the inscriptions for measurements are on the inside. I don't know any measurements — in general and certainly not in cooking. If you ask me what a quart is, I don't fucking know. The metric system — what? Take away steps from the process — that's all I can ask of a pot.
Saying “I can’t cook” comes from a self-consciousness of, like, "Man, there must be so many people who are better at this than me." But if you’re making stuff yourself, you're absolutely cooking. If you'd asked me last year, “What is poaching?” I wouldn’t have known, beyond that I’ve ordered eggs Benedict.
The act of poaching something is not complicated at all; it's just about demystifying the process. Oh, this thing that I order at a restaurant, I can actually replicate on my own when I'm in my underwear watching I Am Legend on TV? Yes, great.