My passion for cooking all started with the love of bacon. Nothing smelled or tasted better. Elizabeth would sometimes dredge it in flour before she fried it giving it a tasty crust. Besides her fried chicken, and to this day she makes the hands down best, the euphoria I felt from eating bacon was a refuge from living in a household I didn’t understand. No matter what else was going on, bacon was always my friend. Unless my mother cooked it and delivered it to me “crispy brown”, read burnt. She had that way about her with almost everything she touched.
In sixth grade my class went on a field trip to Hough Bakery. The main plant located in Cleveland, Ohio where I was raised. I marveled at the size of mixers as I watched them make chocolate chip cookies. If I accidentally fell into one of them, I could have drowned in dough! Talk about a sweet death.
Seeing how the bakery operated was really something, but it was when we got to the strudel maker that my mind was blown. This man had a ball of dough in his hand one minute, and in the next it was spread out paper thin, with no holes, across a wooden chopping block. He proceeded to roll it into perfect form, filled to the brim with a tantalizing cherry mixture. I was amazed. Never-mind he had been doing this for 20 years, I was going home to exactly recreate the experience. It didn’t go as smoothly. Let’s just say the tears of frustration dripping into the holey dough as I tried to stretch it across the top of our portable avocado green dishwasher, added a bit of saltiness to the flavor of the finished product, which, surprisingly, turned out pretty good.
Years later, the love of food propelled me into cooking for work. I was always hesitant to use my skills as a chef to make money, I didn’t want to begin to despise the thing I loved the most. After all, a bookkeeper’s books are never done, right? I was worried having to cook everyday would give me a bad taste in my mouth when it came to pampering myself. And, my food is good! It felt like a double-edged sword to me, do I do what I love and risk not loving it anymore? Or do I do something I don’t love and risk general malaise? I decided to take the risk of love, after all, I could always change my mind.
So I hung up my chef shingle. Within weeks I was interviewing to work in the homes of very successful, often well-known folks. The job that interested me the most was working with a personal chef service. We cooked and delivered meals on a daily basis to all sorts of celebrities and people who could afford to pay for meals cooked to their personal preferences. Working there inspired me to start my own personal chef service, and I got clients and continued from there.
Like any freelance business, it’s always a juggling act to have enough clients to pay the bills, customers come and go based on their busy lives. So, I decided to look for more permanent work and boy did I succeed. Perusing craigslist one day I saw an ad that tweaked my interest. Jesuit Novitiate looking for cook. It was perfect; 5 minutes from my house, part-time, good pay, nice people. I interviewed and got the job.
I have been cooking there for the last four years. Sometimes a meal for 30 people, sometimes two. And I’ve noticed something about cooking. It’s akin to making a Tibetan sand painting. All this love, attention and effort go into preparation and then the meal is presented. Within moments, the plates are empty. The next day I begin again.
It turns out cooking for a living didn’t turn me against my passion, although oftentimes the future priests of the world eat more extravagantly than I do. When I come home after cooking dinner for 20, I just want to sit down and eat something plain and simple. Crack open an avocado and toast a piece of bread. While satisfying and delicious, it isn’t the leg of lamb, artichoke, orzo feast I used to cook for myself. But that’s okay. The satisfaction of being fully appreciated by the young men I cook for, is satiating in its own right. And when I desire a delicious feast, all I have to do is begin, remember and tap into the passion which stems from as early as I can remember.