I love food. I do, I’m sorry. Judge me all you want, but out of all of my vices (and believe me, I have a number of them) food would be the one I could never give up. And I’m not just talking about outlandish meals from 4 star restaurants. I’m also talking about rye bread & butter, scrambled eggs, pb&j, noodles with parm cheese, roasted chicken. I can’t remember a time in my life where I DIDN’T love food (I mean, just check out the size of my derriere).
Food isn’t just about how it tastes. It’s about a feeling it gives you. With one bite, one look, one sniff, food can fill you with a flood of emotion. Food can bring back memories you sometimes forget are there. To this day, every time I walk passed Scoop du Jour (nee Dreeson’s Donuts) in East Hampton and get a whiff of the fresh donuts being made I am instantly sent back to being 6 years old, sitting on a bench, eating a fresh cinnamon sugar donut with my Poppa during the early hours of a summer Saturday. I can feel the warm sun on my face, the bench wood slightly pinching my chubby thighs, and the light film of grease and sugar on my fingers.
The love extends past just eating, I’m a lifelong food tv junkie. Before there was the Food Network, I would watch “The Frugal Gourmet” with Jeff Smith (on which my cousin Paul made an appearance) on PBS. I was entranced by the chef’s soothing Pacific Northwest accent and the magic of his cookery. I remember watching once with my Poppa (who I credit with teaching me to love food) and we later replicated the recipes we saw on tv. I remember how exciting it was to watch this meal come to life.
And then came the Food Network. Oh, the mighty Food Network. It isn’t confirmed, but I think I can pretty much guarantee I was one of the first viewers the network ever had. I would watch every show that channel had to offer–except for Emeril. I just can’t get myself behind the “Bam!”. Rachael Ray’s “30 Minute Meals” was like a gift from heaven (before she became an annoying sell-out). I was hooked on that show like it was crack. I would stay up late at night watching “Good Eats” and learning the science of food with Alton Brown. And the original Iron Chef!! Oh, who cared if it was in Japanese and had weird translator voices, it was GLORIOUS!!!
The irony in all of this is that as much as I loved food, I never cooked. EVER. My mom never needed a sous chef when we were growing up. Yes, we would occasionally bake cookies and banana bread but it was few and far between. I was an expert in making cheese-eggs and turkey sandwiches, but that was the extent of my cooking experience. If you don’t believe me, ask my college roommates. Senior year, I would make the BEST reservations and take out orders Syracuse had ever seen. I don’t think I ever used anything in our kitchen. I was more familiar with the woman who picked up the phone at #1 Kitchen (the greasiest Chinese take-out that ever existed) than I was with our toaster oven. I always wanted to learn to cook though. There was a part of me that was yearning to know how to do it.
And as fate would have it, I DID in fact learn how to cook. During my “freshman year of life” I had my first real boyfriend. He knew of my desire to cook and I even tried to make one (not so successful) meal for him. Even though, like the meal, the relationship wasn’t successful he left me with two of the greatest gifts I had ever received…a George Foreman Grill and a gift certificate for an “Intro to Cooking Techniques” class. After a year of putting it off (mainly because I was nervous about not knowing anyone in the class), I finally signed up for this 5 week cooking course. HOLY BAJESUS!! I was hooked. Addicted. Obsessed. I could not get over the fact that I could actually cook. And I was pretty good. It was NOT as hard as it looked. Even after a mandolin sliced the tip of my finger off, I could not wait to get bandaged up and back into the kitchen. Cooking gave me a rush I had never felt before.
After that class I couldn’t stop cooking. I would test out new my new skills and recipes on my friends. I would bring treats into the office for my co-workers to sample. I’m more than happy to offer to bring a dish to a friend’s party or a holiday meal. I voraciously read cook books and mark off recipes that I dream about making. I reserve Sunday afternoons for cooking. I’ll not only cook for the day, but I’ll be in the kitchen for hours prepping meals for the week ahead. Cooking’s calming and exciting all at the same time. And I guess I was pretty good at cooking, because every time I would debut a new dish I would get compliments and rave reviews. At first I thought it was just because people were just being nice, but then again, we are in New York…people aren’t that nice! The more I would cook, the prouder I was at what I had accomplished, yet I never thought that I could turn this into anything except a hobby.
Then, July 7th happened and I was let go from my job. I spent MONTHS trying to figure out my next move. I loved event planning, but I would hesitate when applying for any opening I would find. Maybe I wanted to go into non-profit?! But no, I wasn’t qualified for even the most elementary of positions. Teaching?? I toyed with that idea for a bit, but then realized I would probably want to drop kick a kid out the window the minute they bothered me. Back in January, in a fit of vulnerability and despair, I went to my Dad’s office for help. I sat in a little conference room with him hysterically crying (I mean, I ALWAYS cry). What was I supposed to do with my life?! Where did I fit in?! Did I have the skills to do anything?! After he let me “woe-is-me” for a few minutes, he said “What do you honestly want to do?” Honestly, I just wanted to cook. “So let’s do it”, he said. I left that meeting with my dad, motivated, invigorated, and ready to take on the culinary world. I set up a meeting with an admissions counselor, and within a week I was enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education’s Culinary Arts program. And as of tomorrow at 8am, I will officially be a student in culinary school!!! HOLY SHITBALLS!!!!
My goal is not to open a restaurant. My goal is not to become a celebri-chef (though, I would totally kick Rachael Ray’s ass in ratings). My goal is to make people love food the way I do. To be able to create the feelings, emotions, and memories for others that I cherish so much. And I’ve actually started this venture, even before school started. The fates aligned (I’m telling you, I believe strongly in karma) and I have been cooking part time for a family here on the Upper East Side. I prepare 6 nights of meals for a couple who once solely relied on a cookbook full of take-out menus. I love cooking their meals as much as they love eating them. What an incredible feeling to know that I am doing what I love and people are enjoying it!
When I lost my job, I constantly heard “everything happens for a reason” and “this is a blessing in disguise”. And as hard as it was to hear then, those words could NOT be truer than they are today. I am about to embark on something that I could only dream of before. There aren’t many people that are truly doing what they love. And not to rub it in, but after tomorrow, I can say that I am one of them 🙂