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Thomas Wictor

Broken arms and exploding piglets

Broken arms and exploding piglets

I broke my right arm in 1971. Mom and my siblings were watching an oil well being drilled at night in the vacant lot two houses down in Campo Verde, Tia Juana, Venezuela. The Club is in the foreground; right above the words “photo courtesy,” you can see the giant swimming pool where a nineteen-year-old US Marine gave us rides on his back during the Vietnam War.

Lots of vehicles and equipment hid the drill’s actual penetration into the earth, so I climbed a tree in the neighbor’s yard to see better. The branch I stepped on near the top turned out to be nothing but a cylinder of bark, termites having consumed all the wood. I fell for what seemed like minutes, the wind rushing past my ears, and then I hit the ground. When I stood up, it felt like my right arm had a pillow under it. I looked at it and discovered that it was now one-third shorter than it’d been before, and my wrist was S-shaped.

I began doing a jig and making a lot of noise. Suddenly Mom was beside me.

“Tommy, you’ve broken your arm,” she said and grabbed it with both hands to stop me from flapping it. The rest of the story of my broken arm is long and bizarre, but that’s for another time. What I’d like to discuss is my discovery of one of the oddest, most entertaining TV shows ever made, as well as the unreliability of memory.

Broken arms and exploding piglets

After having a temporary cast put on at a Venezuelan hospital, we went to Miami, Florida, to have my arm repaired. The orthopedic surgeon was Herbert W. Virgin, MD, team doctor of the Miami Dolphins and inventor of a high-impact football helmet. We needed him because I’d broken so many bones.


The humerus (1) had snapped in two, telescoping my arm; the elbow joint was shattered (2); and the radius and ulna were now in several short sections, the reason my wrist had that amazing S-shape. Dr. Virgin set the bones, gave me a giant cast, and sent me back to Venezuela.


This first attempt at repair wasn’t successful, requiring a second trip to Miami and months of physical therapy. I was left with a permanently bent right arm, but again, a story for another time.

On the initial trip to Miami, Mom took me to a friend’s house after I was released from the hospital. The two women had some pressing business, so I was parked in front of the TV, where I was treated to The Galloping Gourmet, starring Graham Kerr. I’d never seen anything like it. The show had a cool-jazz theme, and this strange British guy who was actually Australian came running out from behind closed doors, grabbed a glass of wine, raced in and out of the audience, and then jumped over a chair.

When he caught his breath, he said he was going to cook a “hand-raised pork pie,” which scared me because I thought it meant he was going to slaughter a piglet he’d pampered since birth. What he meant was that he’d make a pastry with a lard-and-flour crust raised—molded—by hand into a mug shape. At some point a pot on the stove exploded a spray of boiling water and melted lard all over him. The audience screamed, and Kerr gripped the edge of the sink, holding his face and muttering, “Blast. Blast.”

After a second of black screen, he reappeared wearing different clothes, laughing, his hair dripping wet.

“There’s one for the science books,” he said. “What happened was the lard formed a sort of covering for the water, which exploded up through it. I always tell you what to do about burns, don’t I? Well, I’ve just had a bath in red wine!”

He was my new hero. When he got burned, he just said blawst and laughed.

I didn’t see his show again for thirty years. Then they started showing it on the Food Network, and I watched it every night. After producers realized they could provide programming for nothing by making everything into a contest, they stopped showing The Galloping Gourmet, and I stopped watching the Food Network and all other TV.

Before they took the show off the air, I saw the exploding piglet episode. Everything was exactly as I remembered it: the blorp of the flying lard, the double blawst, the red wine bath. My recollection was letter perfect—except that he was wearing orange from head to toe. To this day I still see him in a white outfit. Memories can decay, apparently.

I bought his cookbook a couple of years ago.


I’ve never actually prepared any of the dishes in it. Dad ate the way Kerr did, necessitating a quintuple bypass. The back cover of the book shows a typical Kerr-Dad meal.


Even after his bypass, Dad insisted on eating that sort of meat. Tim and I would cut off all the fat, leaving piles the size of teacups on our plates, but Dad always gobbled it down.

My favorite episode of The Galloping Gourmet was the one in which he prepared something called “Beef Tenderloin Hollandaise Hawaii,” I think. It started with a slab of raw, purplish-brown meat that looked like a moray eel. Kerr cut it into five can-shaped steaks, which he stood on end and squashed with his palm. I’d noticed that he never washed his hands; he just wiped them on paper towels. This was back in the days when men fearlessly smoked, ate fatty meat, and pinched women’s bottoms.

Kerr grilled the steaks in a pan lubricated with clarified butter. He said “grilled,” but it looked to me like he fried them. His mouth watered visibly as he described the joy of “flesh coming into contact with hot metal.” His own steak—the one he’d eat at the end of the show—would be very rare, he said.

“Can you smell this?” he kept asking the audience.

Yes! Yes!” it moaned in one voice.

The Hollandaise sauce was eight ounces of butter melted in a double boiler and mixed with four egg yolks. Kerr then poached four whole eggs in a pan of clarified butter and boiling water. While the eggs cooked, he took a large slice of ham and cored out four disks with a cookie cutter.

When the steaks had “a nice crust,” Kerr lay the four disks of ham on a heated metal platter. The steaks were placed on top of the ham, the poached eggs covered the steaks, and a plateful of boiled shrimp was dumped into the Hollandaise before it was poured over the sizzling meat. There was a radical closeup of sauce rolling down the sides of the steaks in thick streams that separated into white clots and yellowish fluid.

Kerr sat at his dining-room table and cut a forkful of beef, ham, egg, shrimp, and Hollandaise.

“I subscribe to the drinking man’s diet,” he said, “which is how I keep my sylphlike figure. Believe me, this won’t add even an inch to your waistline.”

He shoved in the food and chewed slowly, his eyes closed, the camera focusing on his buttery mouth, enlarging it to completely fill the screen. The show always ended with Kerr sprinting into the audience, yanking someone out of their chair, and hauling them over to try the food. This time the selectee was a lanky, weather-beaten farmer who literally ran to the table ahead of Kerr. When the loaded fork hit his tongue, he shuddered as though he were about to pass out.

I went to bed that night, and the next morning I still wasn’t hungry.