The Best Story of the Best Spaghetti Sauce Ever Made

Yesterday I wrote about going to the grocery story to buy spaghetti sauce in a jar.

Oh, the outrage!

Several people wrote to me, dismayed that I would dare to purchase such spaghetti sauce. The thing is, I make a pretty good spaghetti (red) sauce from scratch. What I was actually buying that day was an Alfredo sauce, which I hardly ever eat, but I needed it for Trader Joe’s lobster ravioli.

But back to the spaghetti sauce. I learned to make my spaghetti sauce by one of the best chefs I’ve ever known, a high school classmate named Max.

[insert Scooby-Doo flashback noise: woooOO woooOO]

The year was 1999, and the sea was angry. My friends and I were holed up in a beach house on the shores of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We had all just graduated, and it was beach week. It was guy’s night to cook.

We had several chefs among us. Max (his real name, to protect his anonymity), was the most natural of the bunch. Legend has it that Max was born with a ladle in one hand and a recipe for goulash in the other. Max’s parents–his father in particular–taught him to love the creation of food from day one. By the time Max turned 5, he was making pasta from scratch. At 9, he made a reduction so reduced that it disappeared into thin air and was later discovered on a llama farm in Peru. At 12, he caught a Chilean sea bass with his bare hands and broiled it on the spot using only a baseball cap and piece of aluminum foil. At 14, he opened a 4,000-sq ft restaurant to serve a single perfect bowl of soup to the President and then burned the place to the ground immediately afterwards. He was a genius in the kitchen.

So Max took the lead for guy’s night. We decided that because we were men (albeit skinny, sunburned men), we were going to make a meat salad. A cornucopia of meats. The main part of the meal would be spaghetti with fresh red sauce, and the meat would be mixed into the pasta as each of the guests (the women) saw fit.

There were a few secrets to Max’s recipe for the sauce, only a few of which I can divulge here. One of them involved using whole canned tomatoes. Others included fresh garlic that was minced and sauteed, as well as diced basil and oregano.

Then came the labor. The sauce had to be stirred constantly for hours– “the longer, the better,” Max said. We took shifts, with Max walking into the room on occasion to taste the sauce and declare, “More basil!” He once caught me not stirring and he slapped me hard across the face. I slapped him back, and we stood there, respecting each other.

After 5 hours, Max declared the sauce edible, and we served it to the women. Several of them orgasmed immediately and had to be excused. Others barely made it through the meal, trembling with pleasure from every morsel. The sauce could not have been better.

I must admit that I cannot recreate the piece of art that Max did that day. I can only try to duplicate it, to paint by the numbers that he etched across my soul. Max, wherever you are–whether you’re training chefs in France or opening 6-star restaurants on Montego Bay (Max invented the 6th star)–thank you for the gifts you have imparted to me. (Oh, and it was good seeing you at the class reunion last fall.)

Do you have a recipe that could best Max’s? One that could catch the eye of Cleopatra or capture the smile of the Mona Lisa? Post it below.

11 thoughts on “The Best Story of the Best Spaghetti Sauce Ever Made”

  1. Hilarious! I particularly enjoyed your account of Max’s development as a chef.

    I’m not a very good cook and I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, so I don’t have a recipe to share. What I will say, as advice for my fellow not-so-good cooks who consider adding extra pepperoni to a frozen pizza before putting it into the oven to be too much work in the kitchen, is that knowing how to make 2 or 3 things well that you can pull out and use when necessary can take you pretty far in the cooking world. For instance, I know that I’m good with salmon. For me, it’s easy to tell when salmon is done cooking. I learned 1 salmon recipe a few years ago and I’ve stuck with it. I recently discovered that I could use the exact same cooking instructions for salmon and top it, marinate it, etc with any number of different things (a revelation for me that probably seems like common sense to someone who actually cooks regularly). The results have been amazing and tasty.

    Sorry for the tangent. Just thought it might be helpful for the “macaroni and cheese is too much work” crowd.

  2. Thanks, Trev. You make a great point about being able to cook a few things really well (especially things that you enjoy eating or serving to dates/dinner parties). You’ve been a part of the Top Chef competitions–as I recall, you were in the grill-off, correct?

  3. Josh–Yes, yes! Do more! Trev, I know you have one in you too. (Josh actually knows Max [and Josh is the second-best cook I know from that fateful beach week].)

  4. Max once made a Hollandaise sauce so spectacular he was elected President of France by a stunning unanimous vote. Unfortunately, he was forced to step down just hours later following an erroneous sexual harassment claim.

  5. Oh lord you guys are hilarious, I got tears and a huge smile all at the same time! Yay for humor that makes your sides hurt 🙂

  6. Thank you so much, I’ll have to subscribe your site and read the rest I think. The first date my wife and I had nearly 20 years ago now was a lovely seafood restaurant in Napoli, so I’ve been spending so long trying to find a decent grilled lobster recipes like we had that night – our anniversary is next month so I’m hoping to surprise her!

  7. Just read this…..I want you to know that, yes, I can best his sauce. My family calls it gravy (as do the Italians) even though we’re German. All I can say is that my sauce will make you swoon and ask for more.


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