Sometimes, in order to move forward and find progress within ourselves, we have to resist jumping into the deep end. Instead, there needs to be some wading back towards home, towards stability and equilibrium. For Her was my humble attempt to do so.
My dinner before hand, VERT-IGO, was not what I would personally deem a success. I pray that every diner had an enjoyable time, and found happiness in their food, but compared to what I had hoped to pull off, it fell short. Riding the cresting wave of a dinner that went off without a hitch before VERT-IGO, I found myself becoming a little too high above the sea, and ultimately crashing. That night revealed that there was a bit of an omen behind the title of the dinner, as somewhere among the courses I could feel the pulsing, deafening rhythm of too much. Too many expectations, too many variables, and too much unfocused energy.
Slowly waking up the week after, mouth full of bitter, briney aftertaste, I reconciled with myself. There was clearly a need to refocus, and zero in on what the point of doing these exhausting, debilitating, sometimes financially irresponsible, nights were for. Sure, part of it is a selfish endeavor; I feed off the energy of a working kitchen. A cavern of hectic, chaotic, delectable adrenaline, ready to boil over at any point and put out the fire, it’s pure fuel. More so though, it’s the bigger, overly romanticized picture of “community”. It’s cringey and overly used, but the idea of building a community aware of the valuables surrounding them, in tune with the seasons, and fields above and beneath their feet, is undeniably enticing.
If that’s what I am really after though, how do I share it? The same way it was given to me: simply, and out of necessity and care. Growing up in a valley between the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, where going to elementary school meant meeting the sons and daughters of farmers, tradesmen, foragers, and hunters, I wasn’t taught about seasonality, locavore lifestyles, or sustainability, it was just life. You ate what was outside because it was there, it was cheap, and it was good in all the ways that food is meant to be.
The women of my life are salt of the earth people; caretakers and homemakers, the perpetuaters of common sense and warmth. My mother, mommom, aunts, and great aunts, didn’t look for thanks or recognition, but in my exercise of looking back to move forward, I saw that they were owed a debt of gratitudem more than anyone else in my life.
This is how For Her began, I just wanted to say thank you.
The menu was the easiest thing I’ve ever had the privilege of curating. The dishes were things that I grew up eating, in one form or another. I just made them tinier, and perhaps a bit fancier. The point wasn’t to create a multi-dimensional tasting menu, full of whimsy and flash. The point was to teach myself about skillful simplicity; the type of skills often overlooked nowadays, when it is easy to get caught up in molecular this, and concentrated that (all of which I fully embrace and love).
Instead, there were mother sauces, 18-hour brodos made of marrow bones, crespelle made of slowly sieved ricotta, and paves made from 4 pounds of paper thin potato shavings. I’ve never felt so personally satisfied.
Amid the weeks, of testing and tasting, there seemed to be this soft, amber lit bubble forming around the menu. A telling that something special was happening, whether it would be recognized by the guests or not, it was there, and it was mine. A tiny little light going off, saying “This is it. This is what you’re supposed to be doing. Keep going.”
So I did, I kept going. I found home in those plates of food, and every single one that went out to the table was overflowing with nostalgia, sentiment, and heart from me. It was probably the most open and honest I’ve ever been with my food.
There have been plenty of times where I’ve wanted to just all out ball after a dinner, release the pent up adrenaline, emotional load of weeks on end, but somehow didn’t need to, once all was said and done. I had to at the end of this one.
The ugliest, snottiest, chest-heaving of sobs was had and it was glorious. I doubt there will be another like it for a very long time.
I don’t particularly know what path I’m on, or what it has in store. Every time I try to figure it out, find peace with it, or change it, it’s quickly shown to me that I have zero control over it all. What I do know, is that moving forward for me means an endless pursuit of familial warmth through food. Chasing that amber light, and catching just enough glimmers of it to share with others. I hope you’ll all continue to join me.
P.S. – Every pop-up dinner I create a packet of info and backstory for my amazing troupe of friends; For Her definitely had the most intense one yet. If you’re curious about what some of the story is behind the plates, take a look at a few of the pages from said packet, below. See you at the table next time,