“We nourish, inspire and entice the adventurous palate, but chefs rarely savor the dining experience in its entirety” Jomo Morris
I was having a rough time of it; a real tough turkey day. Reflecting on those few hours behind the line, ashamed for what I did and what I failed to do. Some memories are best forgotten, but that night has been etched as permanently as the char marks on a New York strip. In deep winter’s night, no matter how I fought to extricate myself from its embrace, I was cooking in a daze. Small things add up, I forgot to remove the hard fibrous tips from a serving of snap peas; a rookie mistake. Misery, it became an unsettling premonition, the work of a malicious elf? The first dish sent out, came back. “Shrimp & Grits,” such an easy pick-up, sent back because the deep fried grit cake was still cold in the middle. “Would she care for anything else” the chef asked, “no chef” the server replied. I could only stand embarrassed and silent as the offensive plate was pushed towards me through the pass. This wasn’t my first rodeo, but it was as if natural instinct, sense of judgment and experience had fled in terror to hide, deep in the dark crevices of the dish pits’ drain pipe. At the end of my shift, grateful for the anonymity of the ride home; I pictured myself mimicking the trains’ mindless automation as the doors whispered open and shut at each station.
My friend Jodi called; she wanted to go out for dinner and asked if I was interested. Small things add up, I should have turned my phone off. I should have told her the truth, but decided to go anyway.The name of the restaurant was 4th& Swift. We agreed to meet there at 6 pm, “fine” I said, and hung up. It was still bright and hot outside but inside, the mood was cool and subdued. We were their first reservation for the evening and the hostess greeted us with a warm smile, then steered us towards a cozy nook for two. I liked the look and feel of this space. It had the comfortable feeling of a favorite pair of worn jeans, given a contemporary facelift. The walls were exposed brick, thinly veiled by a layer of white paint. Exposed pipes running the length of the ceiling, along with a few visible steel girders left as is, helped accentuate the feel of the room. Despite the rustic look of the building, the tables, chairs, wine glasses and flatware added an air of restrained elegance that hinted at better things to come.
Our server, Sarah was extremely pleasant and proceeded to take our orders for drinks before moving onto the menu. She explained that we were looking at two menus, a market menu and a seasonal menu. The market menu changed daily or as often as possible according to the availability of produce and the whim of the chef. The seasonal menu as the name suggests follows spring, summer, fall, winter and changes as they change. Both Jodi and I were intrigued and we decided to try several courses from both menus. I asked the server to decide on the coursing and to bring whatever was ready first. With a glass of “Naia Verdejo” in hand, I was ready to taste and enjoy what I hoped would be a meal prepared with skill and care. I was in good cheer – and Jodi’s warmth and charm, helped to assuage my own uneasy thoughts of the night before.
Our first two courses, a cold soup of tomato and melon along with a shared plate of shrimp ceviche.
As the evening slipped into its’ twilight, what was once our private space, began to take on the life and breath of a busy restaurant. We had eaten until sated and after, for a few moments sat at the table, unwilling to spoil the others’ reverie. As a cook I was inspired and as a person, content. A day had gone and my mistakes were now past. I felt as if my mind and soul had been washed clean and replenished with a new found sense of purpose. As we walked through the doors giddy from the experience of our meal, we parted ways with hugs and kisses, already assured that tomorrow would be a better and brighter day for both of us.