A Sweet Distraction

When January 1st arrives, and sweeps cooling winds throughout the way, there’s a shift that is uniquely shared outside of any other time. The air smells crisp like stark citrus, cleansing and refreshing. There’s a special pocket of time where invigoration condenses like clouds across the sky, new with each sunrise. This is the time of year where anything is possible, and doubt has been chased away by swirling flakes.

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lavender skies

The start of the year is dear to my heart, but only because fresh starts in general are. Finding peace in clean slates creates a similar feeling as opening a new journal. Primed for endless creativity, and ready to humbly accept the best version of these rampant thoughts and ideas.

This past year was overflowing with delightfully hard work; between the day job, personal endeavors, In Whites, and quiet, hopeful planning for the future, there was little time to r e s t. As the book began to close, this protagonist was incredibly proud, as well as exhausted. Among all of that bright, sparking, explosive creativity, there was also an omnipresent cloud of self-critiquing. Fraught with a constant voice yelling to do more, try harder, take on more, say yes more, there was another one saying to be harder, toughen up, grow a callous, deal with shit. Next to that voice, was the mental checklist waving in the winds of those demanding breaths, with unmarked boxes of previously determined goals.

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Bitterly elegant endive

I’m not one for resolutions – they give the impression that there was a problem requiring a harsh fixing. A total tear down and rebuilding. After 24 years, I would rather accept the foundation and tools that I have, and make better. In that vein, intentions feel a bit..more comfortable. A little softer around the edges, like me.

I would not describe myself as “tough”. The complete opposite, I’m like an over-ripe peach. Fuzzy, soft, and prone to going bad if not caught at *just* the right moment. For the longest time, I longed to grow into something harder. Refined and polished into a razor sharp point, I wanted to be someone that could handle the harshest of criticism, could let any small issue bounce off…a coconut? I wanted to be a coconut. Rough, hard, pretty indestructible from the outside.

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Veins.

Alas, I am still just a small peach. Sounds cute, probably smells good, but soft and mushy.

While there are still aspects of this personality that I would like to gently mold into something stronger and more durable, I’ve reached a point of embrace. Instead of ignoring the obvious, willing something into existence that just will not be, I want to fully learn and enjoy those soft, squishy, over-sentimental parts of myself.

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Since food has never been just a source of income for me, any fluctuation in life and mental/emotional fortitude has an effect on the product I create. Dulcet Daydreams is meant to be a much more open and honest reflection of that. (Yes, I choose the most obnoxious names I can – they’re my dinners, I can do what I want.)

dul·cet
/ˈdəlsət/
adjective
  1. (especially of sound) sweet and soothing
    synonyms : sweet, soothing, mellow, honeyed.

Honeyed…doesn’t that sound nice? Floral and delicate, perfumed, unctuously slow and in the moment.  That is a tone worth striving for.

day·dream
/ˈdāˌdrēm/
noun
  1. a series of pleasant thoughts that distract one’s attention from the present.

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While it doesn’t pay off to dwell in such fantasies, part of me truly believes that it is healthy to indulge a slight drifting towards a plane of wishful, higher thinking. It helps broaden the mind towards what could be. When those daydreams are wandering their way towards a brighter, healthier, more balanced existence, I stand by it even more.

I suppose a large part of this dinners theme finds itself settled among the self-care/self-love trend that has taken over. If 2018 was filled with goal-setting, and “hustling” towards a more evolved career space, 2019 is meant to be about balance. Having the desires of an accomplished career meet in the middle with that of a slow, fully enjoyed life outside of work.

Softer, slower, nurturing to body and heart. That’s the theme.

In less vague terms, I want every course of this meal to leave one part sense of wonder, and one part sense of fulfillment. A balance of the practical and whimsical, self-care through the basics of more caring food, and delight of the senses.

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By February we will be heading towards the end of winter. It will be time to gently wake up from a deep slumber, encased in blankets of snow and chill. Thawing, awakening, stirring, all helped by the aid of seasonal, local foods doing the same.

Regardless of whether you decide to join us for dinner come February, I truly hope everyone finds what they are searching for this New Year. Remember that even when January ends, and there is no longer that crisp, fresh smell of newness, you can make any day, any moment, your fresh start. If, however, you would like to know more about the dinner, and how to attend, please subscribe to my newsletter here:

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In the next week you will get a menu release, along with information on how to purchase a ticket, and what else to expect with this pop-up.

Until next time,

Colleen // In Whites

The “Process”

[All photography is by the talented Nicholas Occhino]

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

Resurgence

[All photos courtesy of Nick Occhino]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.