I am someone who values my word, there have been times in my life when my word was all I had to give, so I am somewhat hellbent on following through when it is at all possible. Many months ago I was kindly asked to take on the task of feeding the creative team for a new project that involved some pretty impressive folks in the theater/opera world so of course I jumped on the chance to flex my culinary muscle a bit. At the time I agreed to the project I had no idea that my other muscles and many other body parts would pretty much give out like a car whose bumper to bumper warranty had just run out.
For five consecutive days I would provide dinner for 25 people each night. I would do this in a space where the kitchen had no stove or oven, I would prep, plan, and execute much of the menu at home in an organized dance that had me searing short ribs at 1:00am, getting up very early to prepare infused butters, saute vegetables and make a perfect roux for the glorious bechamel sauce to be used in a caramelized leek, wild mushroom and spinach lasagne. I would hobble, limp and find ways to make it work throughout the week. I convinced my dear friend Sue Ellen it would be an adventure for her to help me out on the evenings where the transport of food was just too much for me to handle on my own. She did the task with endless enthusiasm and a great spirit even when I was in a frenzy if something did not turn out just the way I had planned it. It was imperative to me that this food be delicious, memorable and leave a lasting impression.
I love to cook, I love to create, but more than that I love to prepare food for others. Nothing is more rewarding to me than hearing someone tell me that one bite immediately took them back to a treasured memory shared with a loved one, or the flavors drummed up music inviting them to waltz down memory lane fueled by taste sensations of their past with someone who was no longer here with them any longer. In many ways for me cooking is art, and much like music or theater food is an expression of the senses to be shared and devoured by the soul nourishing your entire being. Often my expression of love for others is shown through the food I make them.
The group of folks I cooked for were all an amazing and special group, but there was one person that stood out for me personally.
When I was fresh out of college, having just graduated with a degree in Drama accompanied with feverish passion for directing my friend John and I would plan a week long trip to New York to do nothing but saturate ourselves in theater. I had no idea the impact that trip would make on my life, we squeezed in seven shows in 8 days, including Elaine Stritch, in Edward Albee’s, A Delicate Balance, Nathan Lane and Whoppi Goldberg in, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, and a show that had just opened few knew about called “Rent”. Those were all surreal experiences, but none of those would be the performance that I would measure all others against as I would walk through my life loving theater.
I entered the John Golden Theater on West 45th street, grasping tightly to my ticket watching the people swirl about as I found my way to the tiny seat located in the rear mezzanine, the only area I could afford, and walked into the world Terrence McNally had created for me. I would be fixated on the great Zoe Cauldwell the moment she stepped on stage and said the line, “No applause, we are here to work.” I felt my body tense up, and brace for what would happen next. She would indeed grab me my the sleeve and pull me through a journey as Maria Callas that I have not, nor will I ever forget. It is the performance and the production that I go back to time and time again and again when I think of what theater is supposed to be, how it is supposed to affect our hearts and souls, leaving us a broken mosaic of hopeful brilliance when the final curtain drops. I remember audibly weeping at different points as I sat there cracked wide open, for the price of my ticket did not seem nearly enough of a price to share in the moments with the vulnerable humanity that surrounded me, for others wept too. It all made sense to me after that, Art and it’s power became clear and a welcomed unquenchable thirst in my life was born.
How do you thank someone for new found understanding and wisdom on that level? How do you express that kind of intimate life changing voyage with a stranger? I did it with pork tenderloin, and risotto, caramelized leeks and bechamel sauce, fig infused butter and a enormous amount of love and respect. Last week I had the tremendous honor of cooking several meals for Terrence McNally among others who were part of the creative team in town working on a new project. I am always amazed at the connection of people, places and experiences as we all walk through the world along very different paths, but it’s quite a gift when paths cross again along the way even for a split second.
As I go forward I must keep reminding myself that each push forward even when it’s hard, even when my body hurts and it seems like the RA is winning will often come with amazing rewards in unbelievable experiences and memories, and that is really what we are left with in the end.