Words that inspire are so very important to me. When I am lucky enough to come across someone who has that gift of communicating their story, it opens me up. When that person happens to be a chef as well then that is where I get weak in the knees. To be clear, I could care less about meeting important people. Celebrities of all genres generally bum me out.
The whole idea behind celebrity chefs is really a touchy point with me. As soon as I started school people said the most ridiculous things to me such as, “when are we gonna see you on top chef?” My flat answer is, never. How about you ask me what my favorite food is? What my vision is? Who inspired me to take this path? Or better yet, how do you feel about celebrity chefs? This is not to disregard the chefs who are celebrities. These are talented, hard working, career focused people who are helping to bring attention to an industry that is brutally hard. But the fact remains, if you tell people you’re a cook they could care less. Tell them your a chef and the table rises 6 inches. That’s why when I want to know about a chef I read their book, if they are fortunate enough to have published one.
I love a good journey. And life is anything if not but a journey. Some of our journeys are just far more fascinating than others, no offense. I have always struggled with finding the courage to follow my dreams and not being afraid to fail. So in my years of hemming and hawing to get my ass in gear I read about people who were cooking and loving what they were doing and it nourished me, it kept that tiny little seed just moist enough to sprout. Then I read Gabrielle Hamilton’s story, “blood, bones and butter.”
The title alone was enough to make me smile, ahhh, a woman who loves the things I love. I read it in under 48 hours. Wait, the word read makes it sound like such a passive activity, I devoured that book with my mind mouth! I masticated every word and swallowed it down while I was taking the next bite. That book cracked the doors off my fear and kicked my ass into high gear. Her voice was the one I was looking for. Her punk rock eloquentness and soul bearing analogies filled me with determination. The fact that she is in the top of her field and running a restaurant that is recognized by some of the best chefs in the world as an institution, and most people don’t even know her name because she refuses to be a celebrity, is exactly the icing on the cake I want her to make for me. Honestly, I had no idea who she was till I saw her book sitting there on the shelf.
When I finished that book, I started looking for a school to get into right away. The time was now. I was letting my life pass me by. I told myself as soon as I graduated I was heading to her restaurant Prune in Manhattan and eating, and maybe try to beg for a job. And you know what? I did just that. I exchanged many emails with my dear friend of more years than we would like to count, Sara. I told her my plan to come to NYC before I headed off to Thailand and that she should come meet me from her home in Maryland. She immediately said, “fuck yea dude!” I think those might have been her exact words.
Sara is one of those people who is always on board for a good adventure. She’s gutsy and loud and wicked smart. She can talk to anyone and has the gift and curse of always speaking her mind. Women friends don’t really have a term for the kind of friendship we have. She is my bro, my homie and I love her so very much. We have been through some rough times and seen each others darkest nature. We have taken breaks from our friendship and now here we are, loving each other more than ever. Encouraging each other to be who we are and do what makes us happiest.
One of the best things about Sara is she loves to eat. Which is really a number one requirement if I’m going to be friends with someone. She also never whines about the cost of food, which is a huge bonus, cause that shit drives me bonkers. So, we met in New York and proceeded to eat our way around town. And lets be honest here, we drank a lot of booze and got really rowdy and it was absolutely perfect. The one thing that I said had to be done was we had to eat at Prune. It was the reason for the trip and I couldn’t get side tracked by my boozy longings for kebab at 3am.
We were lucky to get a table. Early September in New York is gorgeous and everyones out wandering around and eating and Prune is well known. Casually elegant and a place of complete comfort to me. It looks like it belongs in France. We squeezed into our table between two couples, which made me nervous because Sara and I have foul mouths and we often get stares of disgust (read jealous that your life is so up tight). We ordered a bottle of Rose, and it was just right to help us settle into what was one of the best dining experiences of my life.
We started chatting with a very chic couple next to us about the food and wine and life and travels and on and on. They had just recently been to California so we talked about what they thought of this or that. Then over hearing our conversation this lovely middle aged couple next to us chimed in. Turns out they are from California as well and from there it just became this magical moment, in this place that has such a feeling of love and comfort to it that I never wanted it to end. It was better than I pictured it.
Chef Hamilton’s restaurant Prune is exactly what I want for myself someday. She’s not revolutionizing cooking. Her dishes are old classics that she has cleaned up and perfected. The food tastes like memories and nurturing and happy conversation between strangers. The respect for the product has clearly been the focus and that to me is most important. It tastes like home. Not the one I was raised with, but the one I’ve been looking for my whole life.
When the meal came to an end, Sara paid the check, her graduation gift to me. We stepped outside and I promptly burst into tears. I’m a big crier and this experience deserved the full emotional intensity I had let build up inside me to make a public water works display. It was the best gift I could have been given.
I’m about to circle the globe again, so I’m making Prune a priority stop. Sara and I are doing a repeat trip, with considerably less booze this time since she is baking a new little human, and we really want her to come out smart and hungry with all the right parts.