Nobody appreciates the magic of a good omelet

One thing I’ve been trying to perfect for a while now is a really good omelet. A couple of years ago I was reading the New Yorker, and there was this cartoon. It was a magician on stage and he had this portable little stove, on top of which he was operating a frying pan and a spatula. The caption read something like, “Nobody appreciates the magic of a good omelet.”

And that kind of stuck with me, because I can never make a good omelet. I’m a pretty decent cook. When I was living in Ecuador with the Peace Corps I prepared almost every single meal. I learned how to make everything from scratch: bread, pizza, bagels, pasta, ice cream. But omelets. It’s like I have a block in my brain that makes it impossible for me to make a good omelet.

It’s not like it’s a hard thing to do. You can go to any diner in the country and order an omelet, because every single short order cook in the country knows how to make an omelet. Eggs. A little milk. Some butter. Frying pan. Bam. Omelet.

Mine usually come out too well done on one side. And then I’ll try to flip the whole thing over and it falls apart. Recently I did some omelet reading, one cookbook said that you really don’t have to flip the omelet. Or maybe that’s just a personal preference? I don’t know. Flipping or not flipping, it all comes out the same, like shit.

And then I have to sit there and eat my disgusting omelet, the whole time thinking about the diner down the block from my house, and how probably at that exact moment, there are people sitting there at their tables, drinking their cups of coffee and their large glasses of orange juice, and they see the waiter come out of the kitchen holding like four plates, and they get excited, like maybe this is it, maybe this is my omelet, and so they pick up their utensils, getting ready to just dive in as soon as the plate hits the table. But the waiter passes right by. Not their omelets, it’s the other table’s omelets. And those people are so happy, because they did the same thing, they got faked out like three or four times, watching omelets go to every other table but theirs, theirs and that first table I was describing, still waiting. But everything’s coming out sooner or later. Everybody’s going to have a professional omelet eventually.

Everybody except for me. And I deserve it more. I actually sauté the mushrooms separately, making sure they’re perfectly seasoned. And the same thing with the peppers and the onions. I’ve grated out just the right amount of cheese. And then I blow it. The eggs won’t hold their form as I try to transfer everything to the plate, and so now I’ve got a poor-man’s version of an egg-scramble, but unlike good scrambled eggs, there’s nothing creamy about mine, nothing soft and velvety. Just these kind-of chunks of hard egg pieces, the filling just spilling out from the inside, wanting nothing to do with the egg massacre I’ve unleashed upon my kitchen.

And I look back at the stove and the pan is going to be impossible to clean, egg flaps dripping off the side, blackened, fused the metal. And the stovetop isn’t any better. It’s a mess. But it’s too hot for me to do anything about now. I’m going to have to choke down my breakfast first, try to imagine each bite to be something that it’s not, something palatable, something edible, I’m holding back the gag reflex as I try to swallow the unswallowable.

It takes forever. A good omelet always disappears off the plate, like you don’t know where the time went, where breakfast went. But trying to eat a bad omelet is what I imagine being stuck in purgatory must feel like. From a distance everything looks like breakfast. And just as you move in, hoping to get something to eat, you notice that burnt egg smell, you see the disaster in the kitchen, and you realize all too late that it’s not somebody’s else’s breakfast, but it’s all yours, and you have to sit there and eat every last bite.

The other day I was at a pretty nice restaurant and they had a spinach and goat cheese omelet on the menu. Of course I ordered it, and of course it was the nicest omelet I’ve ever seen in my life. I read an article in the newspaper one time about omelets like this, really professional omelets, “prepared in the French style.” To look at it almost makes you doubt that your eyes are working at all. First of all, the texture is absolutely flawless, smooth, like a yokey piece of glass. Every single spot is cooked uniformly, without any browning whatsoever. And as I cut into the middle, the goat cheese was barely starting to melt, blending perfectly with the still runny eggy interior. I wanted to cry. I wanted to get angry. I wanted to destroy that omelet. I wanted to be that omelet.

After I read that article I tried to replicate the chef’s instructions. Something about the perfect amount of butter, the perfect wrist action to keep the omelet from sticking to the bottom of the pan. I did everything I was told. And the results? Worse than you can imagine. Infinitely worse than all of what I’ve already told you, combined. It was my worst omelet yet.

I’m at this fancy restaurant staring at omelet nirvana on my plate. It was delicious, smooth, fluffy, moist. I started to cry. My tears fell into the omelet and added the perfect brine of salt. I looked around and everybody was doing the same. This was all part of the show, part of the omelet. Part of me is still crying inside. I’ll never be able to make an omelet like that. Never.