story by Stu Dawrs
You may not have seen the movie, but you probably know the scene: Jack Nicholson walks into a roadside café and tries to order an omelet with wheat toast, only to be told that omelets are served with cottage fries and rolls. No substitutions, no side orders. So he orders an omelet and a chicken-salad sandwich on toasted wheat—hold the mayo, hold the lettuce, hold the chicken salad.
photos by Dana Edmunds
Five Easy Pieces. It’s vintage Nicholson, and many critics and scholars see the 1970 film—and this scene in particular—as an unflinching commentary on the peaks and valleys of the previous decade’s widespread rebellion against conformity. I’ve always looked at it as a call for easier recipes.
Granted, I was an English major, not a film scholar. Translated, that means I’ve spent a healthy portion of my adult life laboring in the food service industry. I’ve worked in kitchens and dining rooms; mixed cocktails and herded belligerent barflies out the door. Oh, and the shellfish I have known: Until recently, the pinnacle of my earning potential came in the late 1980s, when I was Oyster Boy to the Stars, shucking my way through college (and roughly 200 oysters and clams per night) in a toney Los Angeles raw bar. Just so you know, I’ve served Lisa Bonet.
I tell you this not to inflame your jealousy, but only as prelude to the admission that, after all those years, I’m still a lousy cook. Wheat toast, no substitutions—take it or leave it. Earlier this year, with the weather warming from a wintry 78 degrees and another summer potluck season looming on the horizon, it seemed high time to expand my beer-and-crackers party repertoire. Friends were called. A quest was afoot: All I really wanted was Five Easy Pupu.