"When I was a little kid," Peter Hands said, "we lived in Chicago, in an Italian neighborhood. My mom started cooking Italian food, and I loved the way the kitchen smelled, the spices. I liked to hang out in the kitchen. I ended up learning how to cook."
Hanging out in Hands' Laguna Beach kitchen one recent afternoon, while the host poured wine and answered endless phone calls (sample greeting: "Go away!"), a guest commented at how unusual it must have been for a young boy, a child of the '50s, to spend hours learning to cook.
"That's a matter of the inherent sexism of our society," Hands responded briskly. Then, as if starting a closing argument, Hands, 43, a divorce lawyer, explained: "Women complain about sexual stereotypes, because they limit women more. But a lot of sexual stereotyping really limits men, too. Things like, 'You can't cook.' Or, 'You can't take care of your children.' I've seen so many of these guys after they get divorced--they are totally helpless. It's stupid. I hate to see a man who's so locked in by the stereotyping he can't even cook himself some dinner."
Not a problem for Hands, who lives in a four-story house perched at the scenic edge of Bluebird Canyon with his third wife, who is also a lawyer, their two young children and a German au pair girl. Though he calls their family life "truly disjointed"--with work schedules changing daily and many other commitments tossed into the stew--Hands and his wife usually find time twice a week to eat dinner at home. Together. Without the children ("the au pair cooks for the kids; they don't eat anything interesting yet anyway," he said).
And on those nights, Joslyn Aitken's non-stereotyped husband is busy in the kitchen.
"I'm basically the cook," Hands said, putting the finishing touches on a raw-fish salad he concocts sans recipe.
"Back in the '60s, when I was in law school in San Francisco, all the students used to go to this little place in Chinatown that was cheap, cheap, cheap," he said. "Sam-woh--it's still there, and it still looks the same, but the prices are 5,000% higher now.
"The place is maybe 12 feet wide and three stories tall. You walk in through the kitchen and go up these narrow stairs to get to the tables. Tiny marble tables. Back in the '60s, you could get dinner for 50 cents.
"And the best part was the guy who ran the place: Edsel Ford Fung. A crazy Chinese guy. He'd mumble unintelligible things. He'd bark at you. If you were confused, he'd tell you what to order. You didn't always get what you ordered, but you always got what he wanted you to have."
"This," Hands said, "is kind of a pirated version of their raw-fish salad."
RAW FISH SALAD A LA EDSEL FORD FUNG
6 to 8 ounces fresh fish (red snapper or salmon suggested)
4 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 ounces crystallized ginger
1 bunch cilantro
1 handful fresh pea pods
6 green onions
6 ounces blanched, salted peanuts
12 ounces chow mein noodles or deep-fried mung bean noodles
1/4 red bell pepper
5 tablespoons sesame seeds
One hour before serving, slice fish in 1 1/2-inch thin strips, wash in water and marinate in sesame oil and soy sauce. Wash ginger to remove the sugar, cut into slivers. Chop cilantro. Wash and sliver pea pods. Cut onions to about 6 inches and slice thinly lengthwise. Chop peanuts.
To serve, mound noodles in shallow bowl or large platter. Artfully arrange ginger, cilantro, pea pods and onions on noodles. Halve lemons and place around edge of serving dish. Sliver bell pepper; sprinkle bell pepper and peanuts on noodles. Just before serving, arrange fish slices on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Squeeze lemons over salad and add additional sesame and soy sauce to taste. Serves 4 to 6.
Each week, Orange County Life will feature a man who enjoys cooking and a favorite recipe. Tell us about your candidate. Write to: Guys & Galleys, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626.