Keith was a musician in a punk rock band. He eventually became mildly famous, and eventually he joined the Army. But once upon a time he worked in the kitchen at Orbit’s. He was one of our chain-wallet boy – there were many. Chain wallet chains had a way of getting caught on the handles of refrigerator doors and doorknobs, which led to hilarity of the belt-loop ripping, falling over variety. In addition to his propensity for wallet-related physical comedy, Keith was also in possession of a very dry wit. I once saw him introduce a song on stage—quite drunk —by weaving toward the mic, leaning over his bass and informing the crowd, “This song is about drunkenness.” (Here he paused and gave us a meaningful look.) “How apropos,” he concluded. Indeed. Keith liked to work just enough to get the work done; I suppose he was preserving his energy for his art. Anyway, he was a badass when he needed to be, and a slug when he didn’t, which usually suited me just fine.
One of the tasks assigned to the morning crew was to set up the steamtable. For those of you who somehow didn’t do your compulsory restaurant service at some point, the steamtable is that piece of equipment often accessorizing a cafeteria lady, who scoops creamed corn out of a pan—which is in the steamtable—and plops it unappetizingly on your plate. Imagine steam, and pans, only in our case, they were filled with food you actually want to eat.
Setting this up required lighting the burners, filling the table with water and putting the soups, marinara, Tofu BBQ and black beans into the pans. Of course, if one of these items was missing, that would require that you prepare the missing item and then put it in the steamtable in time for it to be hot for lunch. Capisce?
Soups were the wild card. Eventually, we had vegetarian chili on the menu permanently, but even then, the other soups were your choice; make what you like to make! Be creative! Jen and I weren’t fussy about it, and as long as it was good, and ready on time, we were happy. We ended up with some great soup recipes this way. Our staff was awesome like that.
One day, I came into work during lunch. This was unusual – I normally came in well before we opened. A friend stopped me on my way to the kitchen and enthused, “The soup is really good today!” Well, that’s never a bad thing to hear, but of course, I had no idea what the soup was, so I asked this friend what fabulous soup my talented staff had come up with. The reply? “Tomato Basil Parmesan. It’s awesome!”
I went to the kitchen to investigate – and the soup was sold out. Completely. Really intrigued now, I asked Keith to tell me about this fabulous soup.
Let me just tell you how awesome this soup was. Keith made it by dumping a huge can of tomato sauce into a steamtable pan, and then adding Parmesan cheese, dried basil, garlic salt and pepper. That’s is. I was appalled! I mean, this was basically cheesy tomato sauce, and it didn’t even require actual cooking. It was, as Jen eventually—and lovingly, I may add—referred to it, “steamtable soup”. Thereafter, Keith was credited with inventing the very concept of steamtable soup, and this accomplishment was often discussed in the same tone one might use to credit Al Gore with inventing the internet.
However, I shunned it. I asked him not to make it again. I mocked him. Such culinary drivel would never be served at Orbit’s again, I stated, importantly. Creativity doesn’t include sloppy “cooking” like this; as a matter of fact, this wasn’t even cooking, it was heating.
Well, that lasted about a day. Then the requests started. People LOVED it. I was stunned. I mean, please! It was tomato sauce, with cheese in it. But it was a hit! I didn’t, and still don’t, understand it. Keith was a genius, all because he was lazy.
So – here’s where I would offer up a recipe. But guess what? There isn’t one. Buy however many cans of tomato sauce you want to eat, put it in a pot, add about 1/8 cup of Parmesan cheese per 2 16 oz. cans of sauce (adjust to taste and cholesterol absorbing ability), then add the basil, garlic salt and pepper – in whatever amounts make you happy. Oh! And if you’re feeling extra creative – add half and half to make the legendary “Creamy Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup”. Heat it. That’s it. It will make you a star.
I am still horrified. Really.