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Politicians can be great patchkers, but it’s best left to making coffee

May, 2011

Patchke: (patsh-keh) Yiddish for fooling around or making a mess of things, often used in the negative, as in: Don’t patchke with this recipe.

Well, I am a patchker. If there were a Patchkes Anonymous, I’d be their poster boy. “It’s been three weeks since my last patchke ...”

For example, this is how I make coffee:

1. I spend a half hour at a specialty store deciding which beans to buy: Columbian, Sumatran, dark roast, mild. The more elaborate the description, the better: “Harvested at dawn by Micronesian women using only the index and ring fingers of the right hand. A succulent, morbidly dark roast with hints of chocolate, hazelnut, 25-year-old cognac and berri-berri.” Since I am a patchker, I buy two kinds of beans and do the blending myself.

2. I grind them at home, always shifting the grinding wheel minimally above or below the previous setting, searching for that perfect abrasion: “See, the grinder recommends I set it at 3.2, but I find that 3.14159 works best. Coffee is best with pi.”

3. To brew the coffee, I use a Neapolitan coffee maker. I boil the water, making sure to remove it from the heat at 200F, more than that and the coffee is bitter. I pour the water into one compartment and ground coffee goes in another above that. I invert the coffee maker and the coffee drips through. It can take a while before I get to drink it.

Here is how my wife makes coffee:

1. Buy a large container of Maxwell House all-purpose grind.

2. Boil water.

3. Make coffee.

Anyone can do that!

What she does not realize is that the patchker aspires not merely to make something better, but to personalize it. Great taste is a by-product of profound inspiration. Anyone can follow a recipe, but the patchker understands that a recipe only indicates the right direction and requires constant adaptation, as in “The recipe calls for onions but I use shallots and just a dash of truffle oil.”

Think of a patchker as the kitchen GPS, constantly recalculating.

I grind at home and use a Neapolitan coffee maker

Patchke also implies that there are too many things to do, as in this Wikipedian example: I wanted to make candied orange peel, but to be totally honest, this recipe is sort of a “patchke” already, what with all the zesting and juicing and orange-sugar glazing, so I scrapped that ambition.

Clearly, this person is not a patchker. A true patchker would consider more zesting, maybe grapefruit and orange; and, if one citrus is good, why not three?

Patchking guarantees the uniqueness of a dish. I might start with the Joy of Cooking or Second Helpings, even as Picasso, an obvious a master of patchke, studied Rembrandt and Reubens but, once inspired, adapted freely.

Politicians can also be excellent patchkers. Jack Layton strikes me as a patchke guy. Stephen Harper, not so much. Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay seems to be continually making a patchke.

Back in the kitchen, patchke rules. Each dish I make can be improved. And who knows precisely what is in it? Certainly not me. So, if you come to my house for dinner, don’t ask for the recipe. Unless you, of course, plan to patchke.

A simple, great steak

Ask your butcher for a well-trimmed bavette or flank steak. Get a larger portion than you will want to eat. This makes great steak sandwiches the next day. Rub the meat with salt and pepper and whatever herbs and spices you like—this is The Patchke Factor—I like finely chopped garlic; others add thyme oregano chili flakes, etc. Rub both sides with olive oil. Cover the plate and leave it on the counter for an hour or overnight in the refrigerator. Make sure it is at room temperature before you cook it.

Cook on a very hot grill for about three minutes a side. Leave it on a warm platter for five minutes before serving.

Advanced patchking: Heat a pita over the grill while the steak is resting. Slather the warm pita with garlic mayo (add crushed garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil to a half cup of mayonnaise and maybe some finely chopped parsley or a little cayenne or Dijon mustard or .... you get the idea) and mix well.

Spread some on the pita and put the steak on top.

Barry Lazar is the flavourguy. You can reach him at



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