…I want to be a (
doctor, firefighter, librarian, princess, the President, scientist) CHEF!
When we are kids we go through a myriad of options before we settle on what we really want to be. It took me longer than most to really figure it out: I got a bachelor of science degree in Molecular Biology before realizing that what fascinated me wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do every day. I was 24 when I went back to school for Culinary and started working in kitchens.
While I was writing yesterday about what I want to be (or not be) as a chef, I got to thinking about how I became who I am as an adult. I started looking back and trying to figure out how I had developed into this person. How my ideals were shaped and how I came to value certain things over others. I began to wonder how I avoided the pitfalls many of my friends and acquaintances in the restaurant business have fallen into: drugs, violence, alcoholism, burnout, temper tantrums, nervous breakdowns, breakups, toxic relationships, etc. etc. This is what I came down to. Forgive me if it’s a bit long winded, but, so goes the expression about once you open the gates…
When you think about your childhood, what are the first things that you think of?
My Dad, my Marine.
My Mom, how strong she is.
Friday Night. Adirondack Chairs. Wine. Love.
My first microscope.
My Auntie Joanne chasing my brother with a broom for teasing me.
Making gravy and meatballs and Itallian cookies with my aunts before Christmas.
My easy bake oven and the way my Dad would eat anything that lightbulb cooked (or didn’t).
Softball. Softball. Softball.
The way my brother used to tease me, and the day I learned to fight back and love him at the same time.
Learning to drive in the cemetery, so that “if I killed us, we wouldn’t have far to go.”
High expectations, discipline, help, success.
Oh, and the Three R’s: Respect for yourself, Respect for others, and Responsibility for everything you say or do.
Every minute of every day we are walking reflections of our experiences past. As it relates to these particular memories… Every day I am a bit of my Father. Stubborn. Respectful, determined, humble, educated, ever a student. A leader. Every day I am a bit of my Mother: Strong, creative, caring. Between the two of them they taught me humility, dedication, and sacrifice. They encouraged me at every turn and helped me back onto my feet when I fell. Not literally though – I had to pick my own ass up off of the ground and brush off. But they were always there with a bandaid and some encouragement to keep going.
Really most of those memories come back to them. They gave me both my first microscope and my first easy bake oven (though now that I think about it, the oven may have come from my aunt?). My mom hunted for bugs with me and helped me build my first terrarium – fostering my creativity, curiosity and love for discovery. She taught me to cook, as she made dinner for my family every single night (and forced us to sit down as a family to eat it). My dad ate everything I made in that oven… even when the packaged ingredients ran out and I started just mixing whatever was in the kitchen and baking it. Mostly flour water and eggs. That can’t have tasted good.
Every Friday night my parents sat in our back yard in the adirondack chairs from happy hour until dark. My dad drinks beer and my mom wine. While their tastes have improved from Sutter Home and Budweiser to Louis Jadot and Magic Hat, not much has changed in the 30 years I’ve been alive. It was and will always be family time. Sometimes my closest cousins (who might as well be siblings) would stop by, my Aunt Joanne was a near weekly presence. We would laugh. Oh, would we laugh. Sometimes we would cry. Decompress. Relax. Solve the world’s problems. I learned to drink in those chairs, learned my limits. I learned to rely on the people around me, talk it out, and let go of the day.
My family – my big, loud, crazy, Italian family… They shaped my love of food. My Aunt Joanne made the best meatballs I’ve ever had. And the best popcorn. My Uncle Tony let me stand at his knees on Christmas Eve and help him with the gravy (to you civilians: gravy = tomato meat sauce. not bolognese … red sauce with meatballs and sausage). NO METAL SPOONS! My Aunt Helen taught me just the right way to knot anisette cookies, and that pizzelles are only as good as the waffle press (cast iron or die). Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner (Feast of the 7 Fishes) with the whole family (at one point, almost 40 of us) was always hand made and always delicious, if not loud, smoky, and drama filled. While as a kid I hated the smoke, I loved the meal and everything that lead up to it. I learned to love people for who they were, not who I wanted them to be.
Softball was a study in discipline, dedication, work ethic, and team work. I could probably write a whole book just dedicated to the way softball shaped me as an adult. I played through college. It made me the physically and mentally strong person I am today. It made me able to focus in the face of extreme pressure. I am able to control pain and fatigue. To push through. The art of leadership, set like an edge by my father and honed by years of hard work on the field. The fact that a leader doesn’t always sit on the throne. These are all things that were learned through softball.
My brother taught me to take my bumps, but also to give it right back. He made fun of me relentlessly until I was about 10 years old, and then I finally figured out how to use my words to fight back. I can debate with the best of them. I learned to both win and lose with grace. I also learned to speak up for myself when I feel like something isn’t right.
The Three R’s I think are self explanatory. These were the last words from my mother every time I left the house. She made me recite them. No matter how I hated her for yelling “remember the three R’s” after me as I walked into my first school dance, I love her a thousand times more now for it. I look forward very much now to teaching them to my own children.
So how does all of this relate to the kitchen?
Except, maybe, the learning to drive thing, everything else contributed greatly to the person I have become, to the Chef I will become. These experiences molded how I see the world and myself. I gained confidence, work ethic, and humility. I learned that a sacrifice today may mean success tomorrow. I learned to lead by example and to trust my teammates. I learned to taste with my eyes closed and listen with my heart open. It is my sincerest belief that these things, these memories and experiences will push me in the direction I am aiming: towards CHEF, and help me along the way.
I am a reflection of my experiences and everyone that participated in them along the way.