Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fear Itself

“The only thing that will make a souffle fall is if it knows you’re afraid of it.” –James Beard

Wringing my hands over my laptop for the last hour trying to decide the right words to start my first post as a CIA grad, I decided to put Mr. Beard’s words up instead of mine because he knows more than me. He also makes a handsome scapegoat.

Being a CIA graduate has brought recognition, appreciation, and significance to my first year out of college. I’m speaking as a graduate on this forum where I’ve formerly only spoken as a student, and I feel pressure to present a polished and meaningful portrait of “graduate” life. The truth is not polished and sometimes it was hard to view failures as meaningful.

But at this moment, the floor length windows in my apartment are open and my curtains ripple with each car that passes. I am at my kitchen table in my own apartment, living in a town that I love. I'm off today, but tomorrow I go back to the restaurant where I dreamed of working. This scene would’ve saved me tears, anxiety, frantic phone calls home, and lost sleep worrying that I would find an answer during my final days as a student at CIA.

Its been a year now since I’ve graduated and scribbles on old receipts are my records of the lessons, trials, and successes that I’ve created and encountered over the past year. I still don’t have the answers, and don’t really trust those who think that they do. But I do have stories. We’ll start at the beginning…

January 2014, my roommate and I left Poughkeepsie two days after graduation to drive cross country to Seattle. We stopped at friend’s, family’s, and fellow CIA grad’s houses along the way. Drinking, eating, and laughing our way across this country was the unexpectedly wonderful piece to closing the “college” chapter of my life.

I headed to San Diego and southern California was kind to me in its sunny, sparkling ocean, and warm breezy way. I connected with fellow CIA grads, tapped my professional networks, wrote more cover letters than I did for my externship, and then left town at the beginning of March. It wasn’t the right fit. That experience will be one in an ongoing tale of knowing when to hold em’ and when to fold em’.

I returned to my parent’s home (something I swore I wouldn’t do) in northern Virginia where I took a temporary job as a cook under a generous Chef who took a chance on me and made me a member of his team for seven weeks because we knew that….

At the end of April, I would jam my Mazda Protégé to the brim and drive up the east coast to my very own apartment in Rockland, ME.
My drive included one overnight pit stop where I slept on the couch at my CIA classmate and late-night-sushi-eating-friend’s home outside of Boston where we talked about CIA, the “real” world, and the uncertainty of life. She related to many of my struggles as we shared embarrassing stories about our co-workers, ate soft serve ice cream, worried about our futures, and drank beer. I hope Rachel stays around forever because life is more fun with her by my side.

From May to January 2014, I cooked under CIA graduate Melissa Kelly at her restaurant Primo. I ate more lobster in seven months than my entire family has consumed in their lifetime. I danced under the streetlights on main street at the Atlantic Blues Festival during a warm night in July. I shucked oysters every Thursday and Sunday night for our $1 oyster special. I learned about utility companies, renter’s insurance, and taking the feet off of a couch to fit it through an entryway. I cried myself to sleep because the fear of failure or disappointment can be crippling when its coupled with distance from loved ones. I relished in the genuine DIY spirit that elevates Maine from an isolated, rugged state to an independent, fascinating landscape filled with artisans and some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I copied recipes, ideas, and order lists frantically into my crumply back pocket notebook. I drove to the lighthouses on my day off.

I worked for a Chef who wears overalls, has an uncompromising commitment to quality in her food and her employees, and shares her heart in an honorably intimate fashion through her restaurant. I cooked some of the best meals at my apartment between the hours of 1-3 am after a long night of botched call-backs and rushed bathroom breaks. I experienced the inspiration that can be drawn from incredible products. I butchered a lot of chickens and fed pigs that later became food. I developed a fierce respect and sense of protection for my overall-wearing chef. I made dishes with herbs and vegetables whose names were foreign and exciting to me. I worked with a team of highly skilled, passionate, inspired, diverse, and hard working people. And I left a lot of family meal in my lowboy.

And then after Primo closed their doors for the winter on January 5th (we re-opened on May 1st, come eat with us!), I flew to Chile to work for a CIA grad/Primo alumna at a fly-fishing lodge in Patagonia. Her refined palate, their tough as nails work ethic, and a shared entrepreneurial spirit led Anna and Frans Jansen to a small town in Southern Chile where they built Martin Pescador Lodge's series of breathtakingly beautiful fly-fishing lodges with fantastic food.

“We’re a fishing lodge first, but we serve really great food,” Anna smiled at me one day as we stood together at the stove. It’s a seemingly humble mission, but one that I enjoyed embracing each day with enthusiasm, an open mind, and a sense of adventure. There was no Sysco truck, no purveyors, and no celery. But there was some really beautiful food.

I thought that I would receive all the answers when I received my diploma, and I didn't. I still have more questions than answers, but I also have time behind me to give me clarity about which questions still need answers. There is something exhilarating about watching a story unfold and anticipating the next development. We missed that chance to share the developments of a my first year as a CIA graduate as it happened over my past year. But hindsight is 20/20 so that can be a compelling story too.

Up-next: Finding Mr.RightNow

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