The legendary chef answers the question…What did you eat today, Jeremiah Tower?
“The jungle around me has gone quiet since my scream.”
Sipping 25-year-old Cruzan rum sitting high above Magen Bay on St Thomas listening to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I wonder if my taste buds will ever return to normal. I need to wait an hour so I can tell whether the avocado and bitter orange sauce I want to serve with the filet of dorado I bought at the local fish market is a good idea, or not? While shopping for lunch I had a run-in with Scotch Bonnets without even knowing it. As any judge will tell you, ignorance of the law is no defense–in this case the law of knowing that around any roadside stand in the islands when you ask the stupid question “Is it hot,” the greater the silence, the hotter the chilies. And the greater the hooting, howling and laughter among the islanders after you leave, the more trouble you are in. But of course once you have bought the old Snapple bottles full of Mexican-tile-red sauce, or the one with red, yellow, green, orange and a few other-colored chilies in white vinegar, you just have to try it. You may circle them for hours, every bit of common sense and experience publishing warnings in your head. Sooner or later, however, you are going to put a finger in one of those two bottles. In my case it was getting late enough so that the aquamarine waters of the bay below me had turned to dark robin’s egg blue as I finished 20 laps in the horizon pool between my two-pavilion villa. The pleasure high from the swim had shut off the warnings and I sucked on a teaspoon of the red puree.
The jungle around me has gone quiet since my scream. Had there been howler monkeys in the trees, they wouldn’t bother howling again. They have been forever outdone. The bottle fell to the counter and made a puddle for which I will need those thick gloves emergency workers wear when cleaning up an outbreak of Ebola. But first there was the question of the emergency in my mouth. I wanted to squeeze a whole tube of aloe vera sunburn cream in my mouth, but made do with cold half and half instead, since it was closest at hand in the refrigerator. That worked only to put me off cream forever as it warmed up and curdled. Nothing for it but to jump back in the pool and stick my mouth over the nozzle pumping re-chlorinated water back in it. That seemed to work. Now, two hours later, the growth around the house seems still very quiet. I think all the animals have gone down the road to howl and laugh with the very jolly ladies at the stand whose only reply to the heat question when I bought the sauce, was a long, slow and effective rolling of the eyes. “Don lak hot, hot, hot?” was all they said. I still don’t know whether she meant me or her, but I know they heard the scream. // Jeremiah Tower