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Bring the Cyanide Kool-Aid to a Roiling Boil!

Years ago, back in my bachelor days, the idea of a diet consisting of microwavable burritos, defrosted chicken potpies and the occasional McDonald's value meal became really old really fast. So I set out to teach myself how to cook. I started out with the easy stuff first -- open can, empty contents into saucepan, simmer -- and eventually worked my way up to recipes on the back of Rice-a-Roni boxes. That led to clipping recipes out of the local newspaper and scouring the aisles of the local Albertson's for things like shallots and fennel and whole black peppercorns. And the next thing you know, I'm not only watching cooking shows on the TV, I'm recording them at all hours of the day.

I like to tell myself it's all part of my rigorous and unending quest for self-improvement. But really, it's just because one day when someone says to me, "This swill tastes like it came off the back of a Rice-a-Roni box," I want to be able to retort, "Well, actually, I saw it on Emeril Live, and besides, Rice-a-Roni is the staple of any healthy diet."

We all have our demons. Mine just happen to be rice-related.

The point is, I tape a lot of cooking shows. And the other day, I recorded one that I thought could give the venerable Good Eats a run for its money as the king of all food-related programming: Cooking Secrets of the CIA.

I'm not ashamed to admit it -- I had really high hopes for this show. I mean, who wouldn't be interested in learning all about the heretofore covert cooking techniques they're teaching government spooks down at Langley? Stuff like how to make canapés for a mid-size dinner party without making a mess or blowing your cover. Or preparing a roast pork using nothing but a handful of seasoning you managed to pilfer from the black market and a piano wire you used to garrote your Soviet shadow. Or the secret behind William Casey's jerk chicken legs (Here's a hint -- the secret is in the nutmeg).

"So after I assassinated President Mobotou using my trusty Glock," I envisioned one of the guests saying, "I added another coat of glaze to the ham and went to work preparing the garlic broccoli. Then I made sure to burn my identity papers."

I mean, the KGB would kill for this kind of stuff.

Sadly, it turns out the CIA with the cooking secrets is not the Central Intelligence Agency at all, but rather the Culinary Institute of America. It also turns out that I'm apparently a moron. And while the Culinary Institute show taught me a lot about marinating shrimp and whipping up a nice mango chutney, it had precious little to say about poaching salmon while trying to undermine the government of a rogue nation or making cheese fondue as you debrief a double-agent at a Prague safehouse.

And that's the sort of information we aspiring chefs need.


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