There is an absence in my being these days. I miss my time in Thailand far more than I ever thought I would. I live and breathe each day happily, and as peacefully as I can. I open my eyes and go about life with a different respect than I ever had before my time in the land of smiles. Many things have transpired in my life since my last day in Bangkok and this post is jumping way ahead of that, but, tonight took me home to Thailand in a way nothing else has. I will rewind and tell those stories, but tonight is fresh and pungent in my palate and there is no time to waste.
I have, as you know by now, amazing people in my life. People who understand my hunger to taste and experience. For the last month I have been lying low on my dearest friend Sara’s farm in Maryland. I have been cooking and loving her family in a way that is new and completely soul fulfilling to me on a level I have never experienced. One of her closest friends, Erin, who has become one of my favorite touchstones in the world of food has been a constant and loving presence through this. She has been in the food industry for more than a decade and shares my exuberance for eating and connecting with our fellow industry people during this time. Upon my arrival to Maryland she started talking to me about Little Serow, a north eastern Thai restaurant in Dupont circle DC. Small and intimate, dishes roll out without the hassle of choosing as the menu is prefixed and set before your arrival. Small, dimly lit and subterranean with no sign to let you know of it’s existence. All things that resonant deeply with me. It must be done before I leave to start my life in NYC.
I’m on my final days here on the farm, so we arranged for Sara’s husband to stay with her toddler and we set off to meet Erin for dinner. Erin arrived at 4:30 to secure a place in line for us, doors open at 5:30, first come first serve. Down a small flight of stairs, into a cool concrete room with a white corrugated metal ceiling lies an oasis of gastronomic love. From the minute we stepped in I felt at home. The grace and beauty of our hostess in her floral print dress to the white ceramic pitchers lining the wall behind the bar I knew this was a special place. Erin, who has a natural gift for pulling in people, was a minor celebrity amongst the staff and they all greeted her with the joy of an old friend who had come over for dinner rather than a guest at a business establishment.
Our server Alex, gorgeous in her jet red lipstick and matching jumpsuit, was absolutely perfect in everything she did. She laughed and joked with us, poured us perfect bubbles on the house to cool our aching palates and chatted with me in depth about NYC restaurants, her stint in the kitchen and life in general for her. I may have fallen slightly in love with her for our two hour stint in her stomping grounds. The convivial spirit amongst the staff was palpable and as they refreshed our drinks and cleaned our plates away they all dropped their own style of wisdom, love and tidbits by our table to enhance the atmosphere of our experience. I sat facing the kitchen, as I generally try to do, small by all standards, it is pumping out the good stuff with a grace and consistency that should be envied by all. I felt the fire build inside myself that occasionally goes dormant. This dinner shared with love and grace reminded me why i do what I do, why I love who I love, and why no matter where I am in the world I can find family, friends and nourishment. These people I eat with, love with and befriend, even just for a few hours, give me a calling to live each day to the fullest.
At the end of the meal I made my way to the kitchen to meet and greet the trio behind the magic. Mike, John and H greeted me with a joy that only a cook who is truly proud of their craft can. We high fived, joked and felt the warmth of camaraderie as I clicked a quick pick and praised them for a job well done. Just those few minutes with them made me want to drop anchor, roll up my sleeves and help keep the fire burning with them. I felt a true and deep love, the kind that only our people would understand in so brief an interaction. The line out the door says it all, the humble grace makes it real, but the food; the food speaks for itself. Holding true to the magically complex in flavor and simple in technique balance of Thai cuisine. Each dish completely it’s own world in taste and texture, rippling across your tongue and lodging a place in your heart. Each bite evoking deep fond memories of a life I lived, though briefly, that changed who I am forever.
As Sara and I rolled home, our bellies bulging with love (and a baby), the heady aroma of honey suckle cloying at the twilight air, I felt at peace and instilled with the idea that truly life is a grand and infinite playground. That we define ourselves not by our mass of possessions but by the depth of our experience and our ability to let them wash all our preconceived notions of who we think we are and who we think we should become away. It made me know that all that I have sacrificed is only at the benefit of gaining my soul. This is what eating, food and cooking is all about for me…