‘For Her’, Behind the Dinner

34401346_498053520610643_4785480620224544768_n

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.

29790336_472535733162422_8001926059912069120_n

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.

29790099_472535879829074_7210930922374299648_n (1)

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.

29314023_10211982730555602_4550490731688493056_n (1)29342858_10211982721475375_3327874431992201216_n

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.”

34414304_498054160610579_458833220247486464_n34459616_498053807277281_7459724436367736832_n34524884_498053927277269_7106711376273342464_n

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,

-Colleen.

FOR HER – A Plan

Fourth Wall

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

The pop up dinners take weeks of work, and said work usually begins as soon as the previous dinner concludes. It’s a labor of love and passion, but ultimately takes up a significant portion of my life. It all begins with a concept; not necessarily a theme, though that has happened 50% of the time now. A concept has more to do with what the final goal of the meal is – is it to teach? To share an experience? To expand my abilities? Whatever it is, that informs the main arc of the meal as a whole.

20180321_155652

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

The first dinner for example, was more about the experience of a pop up dinner, rather than anything particularly ambitious food wise. I stuck primarily with things I knew would work, and wouldn’t need much testing. There wouldn’t be time for that, since I had to figure out how to put everything else together.

Processed with VSCO with q2 preset

Processed with VSCO with q2 preset

Processed with VSCO with q2 preset

For Terrains of Autumn however, the concept was nostalgia, through and through. I wanted to create a menu that was deeply personal, and sentimental. It was an exploration of both sensory and story based flavor combinations. What could I use flavor and process wise, to evoke a certain mood? The eggplant course, with the deeply charred flavors, the smoke, the moody sweetness of the figs paired with the pepper, it was all meant to create this foggy scene of forests and autumnal twilight.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

7PLATES was meant to be more giving towards the guest. There are few times when people pay a price like the dinner tickets to go out, it shouldn’t be like something available any other night of the week. This meant that each dish had to have some little twinkle about it, something that made it stand out either in taste, or presentation. Engagement was something at the forefront of my mind, how I create it and utilize it. The smoke course was, I believe, a favorite of mine and the guests. It was a plate that had flavors that easily wove in and out of each other, as well as a presentation that created a real sense of “play”. Which is what small plate, tasting menus should really have at the heart of it, in my opinion. This style of food is more about the creative, thought-provoking angle, than a sustenance one. There is nothing wrong with that, but it should be embraced for what it is.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

So, we have concept. After that comes…usually a lot of scribbled out notes, ripped up papers, and sticky notes over every surface of my apartment (so I don’t forget what an amazing idea dry ice – frozen – candied rose petals would be, DUH). A list of seasonal goods and flavors is the usual starting ground. Some of the list is hard and fast options that are without a doubt, Spring (think peas). Some of it is more about evocation, things that make me think, feel, smell, and taste it (floral elements). I’ll then go down through the list, and see if I can find seven stand outs. Items that would be anchors to a plate, that I can build around. Each of those stand out elements is used as a jumping off point to find depth, layers, and intensity (or subtlety).

20180321_155729

20180321_155831.jpg

20180321_155805.jpg

This is where the individual dishes come from. Each plate is usually developed over the course of two weeks, ish, and goes through numerous iterations. Sometimes the final product is no where near the original thought. Still, this dish is at it’s barely dressed form. Garnishes are more than just pretty little bits, they should add to it. If it doesn’t, what is the point of having it? Once the skeleton of the dish is made, and the garnishes idealized, the plate sketch comes into view, along with “touch points”. A touch point is anything that will need to be physically touched to be put on the plate; they add up quickly, as does the overall time they take to place. This is how I transition into the next step of the dinner planning: Schedules.

20180321_155812

20180321_155914(1)

Schedules are more than my best friend for the dinners, they are my literal lifeline. I am a teeny, tiny, packet of explosive anxiety when it comes to these (only after a big, bumbling, pack of excitement!!) for so many reasons:

-What if I can’t pull it off?

-What if no one buys tickets?

-What if people buy tickets but don’t come??

-What if people buy tickets, and DO come???

-WHAT IF I FAIL MISERABLY??????

You get the idea.

But schedules help curb the vast majority of that anxiety, so I create a plethora of them. There is a schedule for me personally, about deadlines and due dates. Menu done by this date, dinner date published online by this one, team gathered by this one, etc. Then there is the prep schedule, for myself and the two lovely women who help me cook (Hi Angie, and Kendra), to follow for the week of the dinner. This includes all the pre-prep that will happen Sunday through Wednesday evening. There are two schedules for the night of the actual dinner; a general rundown of events for everyone to follow (show up here, do this, go home here), and a very detailed one discussing every little bit of the evening. It has a plan of attach for essentially every fifteen minutes, from 4PM until about 11PM, when we all go home.

20180321_155957

20180321_160015

20180321_160021.jpg

That “we” part is also an essential part of the planning; while I openly admit to a lot of naive confidence in my abilities, there is no way these dinners would have EVER come to fruition without the help of the amazing friends who volunteer. From Nick who takes beautiful photographs, to Andrew who graciously washes dishes (….and whines about it), gathering everyone together towards this goal is a genuinely fulfilling aspect. It’s the part I love most actually. The dinners wouldn’t be what they are for me, if they weren’t done with a group of loved ones.

 

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

There are other little parts that have to occur too, planning out the set up of the dining room, ordering flowers, creating promotional graphics for social media, building a playlist, ordering menu cards, etc. Everything is done with the intention of setting a specific mood, vibe, whatever you wish to call it.

After all of that…comes the doing. Around Tuesday, maybe at 7PM, it comes. That intense buzzing at the back of my head, the swirling knot in my stomach, the too warm feeling of nerves falling over me. None of it is particularly bad, in fact I kind of look forward to it now. There’s a sense of relief, of realness, that comes with it. “I’m doing this”, for lack of a better phrase. That’s when the real fun begins, that’s when I clock out of work on Thursday at two, and come back at three, to blast some terrible prep music (I’m thinking Good Charlotte for this round), and humbly flip a dining room around.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

Processed with VSCO with p5 presetProcessed with VSCO with b5 preset

 

Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

Will you join me?

Tickets are still available for VERT –  IGO, a 7 course tasting menu of Spring. Go here to grab a seat!

Buy Tickets!

The “Process”

[All photography is by the talented Nicholas Occhino]

Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

If you have ever wondered how I create my menus, let me explain.

It starts out with anxiety. A steady leak of comparison drips through my mental barriers, and slithers down to smolder inside my chest. Fueled by the scrolling of Instagram posts and Facebook feeds lead by my peers, it thickens like a tar. Smoke fills the cavity of each rib, making it feel as though I can’t catch my breath. The anxiety grows in the form of sweating palms, sleepless nights, and snapping at those around me. I fall behind at work, I make stupid mistakes, I get trapped inside my brain. It feels as if I need to purge some sort of toxin from my blood.

Am I good enough? Is what I’m doing valid? Is it right to stay here? Am I failing? Am I valid? Is this “purpose” I’ve found really true at all?

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Then a pen is grasped, and paper is found, a napkin, back of the grocery list, anything, and sketching begins. It may not even start as a real idea, just a few lines and some shading, from there I can discern what it is. Flavors, textures, nuances begin to take form, all melding into a cohesive dish. It isn’t necessarily done in the correct order, in the proper form, but I find it eventually – the message behind the chaotic lines.

The pulsing and pounding that lives behind my eyes so often starts to soften, the rushing inside the ears dims, and the hazy smoke seeps out from my fingertips. There is clarity in the chaos for a few precious moments, and it doesn’t matter if it is good enough in the grand scheme of things, because it is salvation, and peace, and purpose internally.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Another sketch, another moment. Another sketch, another message. Originality isn’t the focus, nor are any of the rules of what constitutes “correct” cooking. I am not a chef, nor have I ever claimed to be (unless you count the required line on my business card), because I know I never will be. I will never give particular care to whether or not my knife cuts are precise enough, if my soubise is done in the classical form. I have never been in this industry because I love it, or revere it, I am in it because I use it. I use it as a way to selfishly find my way back to me, through food. I do not claim that to be right, or worthy of respect, simply true.

From each sketch comes a certain focus, there is something that I can successfully work on, edit, and polish. Not perfect. Perfection is unattainable, but emotion is. Connection is, storytelling is, creating an atmosphere, an extension of myself, sharing the goddamn narrative is. Those things I can reach for, and grab.

 

This is not a flowery metaphor about menu making, it’s honest. The three dinners I have put together thus far have been fueled by equal parts anxiety, worry about whether I can fool people into believing I know what I’m doing, and an insatiable need to create. An indescribable, unending desire to imagine, build, and share something of myself to others, to show them something new in the process. There is so much more to food and eating, than just food and eating.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

There is a story behind every farm that contributes to a plate, every cook that prepares the meal, every hand that serves, every voice that weaves the night together. There is an entire troupe of human hearts trying to find their way, their passion, and their bigger purpose in life, putting these nights together. When I design a menu, all of that is pushing and pulling it’s weight inside me. There is a certain responsibility I put on myself to create something worthy of the time, and effort, everyone so humbly puts into these things; these things that are a very part of me, that they all show up for, support, and give themselves to. They may not even love food, cooking, or hospitality, but they show up. So it has to be right, it has to.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

There is also a need to be different, not for the mere sake of it, but to showcase to the audience that I have, what is possible. There isn’t a bone in this body that believes what I do is unique, or special, but it is different for where I am. That is important. That is needed. Pushing the boundaries of an area in the one way I can is something I feel a call to do.

There’s a rivulet of one hundred emotions coursing through myself, from pen and paper, test plate to completed course; There are countless edits, and revisions, all encompassing an inner monologue. I wish I could accurately explain. I struggle daily to find the right ways to turn what happens internally, outward. There is shouting and screaming, anger and excitement, hope and frustration, all running rampant in my brain and heart. There is no moment of real rest, except for the times I’m planning and performing these dinners.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

When I create a menu, I am desperately trying to curate a small piece of my journey, in order to give it to someone who may be going through similar moments. A small reflection turned into connection, that is the goal. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the diner simply enjoyed a lovely meal, because they’ve also shown up. Something about the menu pulled them into the dining room, made them decide to partake in the night at hand. They decided to join the troupe, to become apart of the menagerie for one evening.

That means something to me.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

Translation.

I wish someone had told me earlier that if what you want isn’t out in the world, you can make it. If the job you’re working makes you miserable, quit it. If the expectations you aren’t living up to make create anxiety and unease,  throw them away and find new ones. I wish I had listened sooner when people did start telling me this. Not wasted so much time convincing myself that I was fine where I was at. Telling myself that I had to “grind” and that meant dealing with a passionless scenario, that left me feeling bankrupt of energy, luster, and excitement.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Once your eyes are opened to the fact that you can do what you want, where you want, when you want, it’s impossible to turn around. There is no more looking back, finding your way to the place of false contentment that once felt so true. The moment you recognize, and more importantly own, that what you want isn’t necessarily in line with the majority, there is no lying anymore; to yourself, friends, etc. No longer does it satisfy the soul to clock in, clock out, come home, repeat. There’s too much to do, to create, envision, bring to life, and share with everyone around you. The feeling is intoxicating, perfumery and smoke entangling itself around you. Without much choice, you have to delve deep into the process of creation and sharing.

There was a distinct moment during the first dinner I held, when amidst the steam, smoke, and sizzling that surrounded my senses, I looked through the pass window, and saw people engrossed in their meal. Fully engaged with the food, smelling, tasting, touching and questioning. They were experiencing the flavors, sharing thoughts with each other.  It filled me with a kind of warmth that went beyond a sense of validation, towards purpose. I saw a chance to do something more than fulfill my own desire of making a career out of what I love; I could share what drives me, what I know and believe in, in a way that influenced people. There was an opening, and the tingling, prickling of hairs on my neck told me that it was meant to be taken by me.

 

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

At the second dinner, it happened again, when speaking with guests post-meal. Hearing the discussions concerning the menu concept, individuals connecting with what I was trying (and very clearly struggling to convey verbally) to share, lit an internal fuse. match, strike, fire. That menu was so thoroughly saturated with nostalgic ties, and sewn together with emotional vulnerability, that to have people “get it” was indescribable. It also made me inexplicably aware of …the gap.

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

The gap that exists between my mind/heart and the plate. The gap that encompasses the connection I want to attain with diners, farmers, fellow creators, mentors, teachers, etc. I can create dishes, sketch plate designs, make detailed production schedules, I can do it. The paperwork is easy. The creating is fun. Finding that cord that swings back and forth between me, the gap, and the landing strip of everyone else, that’s the hard part. That’s what I’m grasping for now.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

I want these dinners to be more than an opportunity for me to learn how to build a personal brand, maybe even a legitimate business in the future.  I want them to be my chance to add to the culture of the area I grew up in, and love. I want them to be my way of utilizing what has always felt like such a selfish endeavor. There is still learning, growing, and developing into my skin as a someday chef, to do. There’s passion though, I will own that and boast it proudly. It is painful and wrong to try and imagine my life without food, without experimentation, creation, sharing, eating…all of it. I am selfish enough to grip that with my very life source and not let go, except for the rare opportunities I receive to place it another’s hands, to literally serve it on a platter.

I wish I could properly articulate what it feels like to be fully immersed in the process of making up a menu, testing it, and seeing it come to fruition. It is being in the middle of a concert crowd, surrounded by bass, undulating voices, drum beats mingling with heart beats. It is the adrenaline of surpassing the hard part of a run, and hitting the primal part that’s just feet pounding pavement. It feels like having too much inside your soul and wanting to scream to the world that you are more than just skin and bones. Is that too much though? The brain butts in. Will it be seen as obnoxious, over-bearing?

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Where is the line (ha), between fully embracing what makes you feel alive and sharing it with everyone around you, and becoming an archetype of silliness? Slowly, there comes the realization it shouldn’t matter.  Curation will come with time, the pruning and buffing of an overly excited young cook into a sophisticated and articulate chef. It isn’t the main concern right now, nor should it be for you.

You, who has a specific passion, something of your own, deep inside and bubbling with an effervescent excitement. Do you take ownership of it? Do you ride off into the sunset with it? Not that it’s easy. It means working your regular job until you clock out, then going home and working on your “personal” job. The one that may not pay in real money yet. Working on it for hours, falling asleep at your desk, struggling to remain convinced that you should even try (how long has it been since a blog post?). It becomes worth it though, in the small moments. The moments that suddenly pull you out of the tunnel vision; seeing the people you care about most in life sacrificing time to support you. Meeting the people who participate in what you’re trying to do. So if you haven’t grabbed a hold yet, do it. And hold on tight.

blog & private dinners

A Food Blog

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

This was never meant to be a food blog. There was never an intention of filling this space with recipes, or answering queries about why your french onion doesn’t look like the one in the picture. This was meant to be a space of growth, with food used as the medium of interpretation. Food, and feeding, is how I manage to get through this life. It is more than an avenue for me to make a name, or a paycheck, it’s spiritual, tactile, and language to me all at once.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

This space was meant to share that. In Whites, is much more than a clever play on words about working in the food industry. Wearing whites (or not, as it more often is in kitchens anymore) means that about ninety percent of life is spent in a hot, tiny, clustered space, preparing food, feeding people, and feeding myself in grander ways through that. Growing and evolving alongside the flames, steel, and occasional pain. Those kitchens are my version of therapy, anger management, higher education, and recess. They are a tangled web of vines, growth itself.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Growth is beyond a simple definition of “complex”.

I am not.

Growth is deeply rooted in the concept of forward (and upward) motion, the conscious disregard of comfort, and manic embrace of aches and wounds rubbed raw, smelling of copper mixed with salt.

I have never been rooted in those things.

Comfort is the creature I feel closest to. There is an undertone of languidness to everything I do, a metaphorical supine body, allowing the worlds tides around it to push, pull, and navigate. Swimming was never an interest.

Growth is necessary, but the active pursuit of it has proved a difficult venture to leap into. Ambition has remained a distant acquaintance, fortitude a rarely met friend.  To clarify, desire has never been the issue. Coveting what a future holds comes easy to this soul, who revels in what – ifs, maybes, and perhaps. How does one learn to fight? How is ambition reaped like wheat from the fields, to feed that passion called hunger?

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
4:00 am coffee.

“Because there was a hunger in me to see everything, and do everything. I wanted to be everyone I saw. I wasn’t enough for me. Can you understand that?” -Sidney Sheldon. 

When hunger has been present for so long, after a certain point comes a numbness. A trickery of false satiation, the heart, spirit, and mind are fooled into the belief that they’re doing just fine, thank-you very much. Preservation settles in, curled against ignorance, they lie in mind under a blanket of brittle resilience.

Hunger isn’t truly experienced until the chance of not being hungry arises. Indulgent and earthy aromas of pure hearts, sincere souls, and honest characters curling and furling around. That is how an appetite is whet, how the feeling of needing sustenance is awakened; and just like teeth cutting through a tender ripeness, when that starvation is fed, you become enlivened.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

This is what sustenance feels like. Energy, that crackling bolt that surges through restless veins, finding dominion within a needy mind. No more is that lackadaisical float through life enough. Through the foamy waves, an arm is raised in fight, lowered in a stroke. Briny breath sucked deep into the lungs, stinging, and grating, and real. The slightest bit of fare has kindled enough warmth to motivate those sleepy limbs, imagine the effect of a feast. One stroke doesn’t win against the currents, and one meal does not feed for long. Just as knives and fire are tools of old I’ve come to learn from, so are the integrity and kinship of shared passions.

Processed with VSCO with  preset

Processed with VSCO with  preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

The aim of feeding that hunger, to feel the warmth, to be able to fight, is not to win the war of change; change is inevitable. Nor is it even for growth. The universe and those residing in it provide those in spades for you, you just get to determine what you grow into. The fight is to be aware, awake. To not allow the lull of complacency, or the glimmer of comfort, to rock you gently into your late years without having learned the seas in your own way.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

If my desires to share what food is to me, and can be, with those who don’t know their need of it yet, wasn’t met with minds of genuine encouragement and support, I wouldn’t be writing these words. If my dormant hunger for an opportunity to thrive, but more importantly fail, wasn’t met with a certain stalwart spirit, I wouldn’t be planning bigger and better adventures in this field, the way I currently am. More importantly, as this year begins to wind down, it’s become apparent that the only way to truly nourish oneself beyond the short term, is to give it all away. The opportunities that arrive like saving bread, are only rewarding when torn and shared among others. The hunt for more is only plentiful when experienced with fellow hearts.

This is not a food blog, but it is a blog about food.

Resurgence

[All photos courtesy of Nick Occhino]

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

July 20th, 2017, is going to forever remain a pivotal moment in my life. It wasn’t perfect, in retrospect it was quite amateur, but it was a shift. An internal inertia turned physical reality, right in front of my face, proving something true.

I can do some really cool shit, with some really amazing people.

The one thing that I have always craved, since day one of finding this passion, was a means to translate the chaotic, incessant, overwhelming amount of fascination and love I feel for food. Beyond immature goals of becoming a “chef”, climbing the social status ladder of the industry, or finding someplace “real” to work, that has remained constant. There’s a reason for that – it’s the real, humble, and honest goal at the root of my place in this field.

Attaining a certain job title no longer has the same appeal, grande reputations of established restaurants or cities aren’t the carrot anymore; connection is. Connecting everyday people to the ingredients before them, and individuals with opportunities for expression, is what seems like a truly exciting endeavor. The night of my dinner was so incredibly invigorating and adrenaline filled not because it was mine, my food, my ideas, my night, but because of who I was performing it with. People that I’ve grown to love and care about showed up to help and support me with something that up until now was a carefully avoided dream, because it never seemed possible. It lit me up in ways I didn’t know life could.

Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

There were moments that needed more preparation, aspects that could have been enhanced, and parts where I should have gone out to the diners to interact more, but I don’t want it to have been perfect. I want to look back, a year from now, and see growth. To be a better line-cook at my job, a better chef who plans dinners that create an atmosphere, and a better student who learns faster.

When I first started this blog, I was searching for a chance and avenue to express myself. I was past the point of “recently graduated college student”, well into my new job, and felt a nagging pull. I hadn’t created something purely of my own volition in too long, and felt myself drifting in too many directions. In some karmic cash in of good deeds, I had a mentor who trusted and believed in me enough to present me with a huge risk. A chance to jump far and beyond my comfort zone (or his, I’m sure) in order to grow, to do something big not just for myself, but for the cafe, and the food scene of where we reside as a whole.

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

Processed with VSCO with q2 preset

Seeing a certain part of your story come full circle, a particular chapter ending, and a page turn, is gratifying and exhilarating. The menu for the dinner was comprised of dishes that I had already created, when I was working at my college’s restaurant, but with the additions of what I had learned in a years time. A little more finesse, a little more attention to quality, and a lot more humbleness, added up to what I like to believe was a satisfying meal. Not a spectacular one, but hopefully that will come sooner than later. Just a meal that showed one persons growth, as both a cook and an individual.

If asked to, I could flip through the pages of my worn out cooks notebook, and find versions of each course from one to two years prior. I could point out what was lacking in the first editions, which would usually be a mental or experience based flaw. The two courses that were personal favorites however, the main and the dessert, were total examples of what environment and influence can do to a person. The main, essentially coffee, bacon, and toast, was meant to thank the second Darrow I’ve been lucky enough to have as a teacher. The dessert, a combination of summertime fresh fruit, herbal gin, and everything sweet, was intended to recognize the influence of a fantastic baker boss, and ultimate grown woman goals.

Processed with VSCO with q2 preset

Processed with VSCO with q2 preset

Despite the kinks, mishaps, or unavoidable amateur nature of the night, I hope that everyone who attended as a diner enjoyed themselves, and want to experience another in the future. I hope that everyone who was apart of the production felt the same sort of passion and adrenaline that I did. Things need work, I need work, but I can only pray that everyone will want to grow and go further together. This shouldn’t be merely a beginning of a new chapter in my story, it should be a part of something much bigger. For the people around me, the people I have the gift of feeding, and a certain, small, city that deserves a chance at something more.

Take risks, run further, work hard for yourself – but bring others with you. The next phase isn’t as fun without them.

 

Reach.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Looking for the Line.

I thought it was fairly clever, when I first thought of it (especially compared to “a checkered past”…cause, pants). It rings true in ways I didn’t realize until recent weeks.

Though I can’t fully remember the turning point, there was one, back in college, where I looked at a plate of food I had made and thought “I can do this.”  There was no timidness in the dish, no meekness in presentation, no over compensation masquerading as cockiness. It was just a damn good plate of food, that looked beautiful, of it’s own accord, that I had helped craft together. It was one of the first times I wasn’t focused on the idea of the plate representing me, but of me properly presenting the ingredients. It was an evening free of outside or internal pressure, a relaxed, meditative flow of food.

That dinner shift, with that flow, and that plate of food, is the Line.

The one that meanders back and forth between passionate, frenzied excitement, and a peaceful tide. The one that creates a sense of rhythm inside me that I can understand, and accept to the point I don’t think about it anymore. It isn’t forced, it isn’t diligently acted out, it just happens. My rhythm. My reason for being here. The Line that lets me be the version of myself that I don’t feel I’ve reached yet, but am nearing.

Processed with VSCO with  preset

This version, some girl that isn’t a girl but a woman, some cook that isn’t a cook but a chef, knows herself. Knows her food and footwork, in equal parts, are what make up the song and dance of #kitchenlife. Knows that a white coat doesn’t define the chef, but the reaction to being asked for food by a loved one at 1 am, after a shift, at home, is. Knows that it’s OK if she is the only one that knows her.

Close, but still reaching. Up, up, up, we must all go.

Processed with VSCO with  preset

20170714_190652(1)

Processed with VSCO with  preset

Up, at first, started as staring. A lot of it; at the wall beside my couch, the ground as I walked past that same bookstore, in that same town, that I’ve walked by since I was five. Finally, progressing to the ceiling above my bed. Staring, mulling. Whining. We didn’t get this job, or that opportunity, or their praise, or our wishy-washy wish of the week.

Then it turned into rolling. Rolling over to the other side, because that side of the bed always resulted in dreams of places we hadn’t been to yet. Rolling a pen between the fingers instead of against paper. Rolling bitterness from one chapter over into the other, then wondering why it stained new pages.

Finally, Up became marking. Pages full of scribbled marks, remnants of flexing a creative muscle gone lax. Marks in an abandoned notebook, curling swiftly into pushes on a plate. Word documents littered with the marks of a wannabe blogger, inner forearms with that long-forgotten bouquet garni tattoo idea, scraps of paper with dreams involving pop-ups stuffed into the dryers lint catch.

Then there was a calendar mark.

7.20.17

Then a menu.

Another menu…..then one more.

Timelines, production schedules, PO’s. Ticket sales.

All a bunch of marks, reaching up, a steady incline on my life graph chart.

20170714_190852

20170714_190852(0)

20170714_190812(1)

It feels like a moment of resurgence, and a hurdling, forward vortex of creative ammunition. It’s the most humbling of the heart experience.

A troop of misfits, with their own lives, problems, events, and opportunities, want to help. I’ve never experienced such sincere goodness like this before, with a combined hope for success. It makes it better. Makes it what it is, which is the most exciting, liberating, and exhilarating exertion of effort. A spring being tapped, a season changing, whatever other metaphor or simile there is.

It’s late, and per my now routine method of writing, I’ve lost the original point that started this journey of written word. Final notes though –

Experience isn’t what it is because of location, accolade, or reputation. It’s due to the hands involved, minds met, and hearts befriended.

 

Sometimes luck steps in, and makes that known early.

Processed with VSCO with  preset