Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Olives, Charcuterie and Death

I believe every Chef has a defining moment in their career in which they really “got it.” Some eventually find out that they are in it for the money, sans the shit encrusted brunch you had last vacation at whatever hotel you were at. Some do it because they were lost at some point in a career search; some do it because they started as a bus boy or a dish washer after swimming across a border. Some do it because they realize that it’s a way into people’s souls – a memory creating experience that can change minutes, hours and situations in people’s lives.

My moment came at a death of a man that was most pivotal in my life. On a beautiful November afternoon in Miami, in a house that I had spent many afternoons drinking Pernod and eating a cheese course or some amuse prepared by my Memere, I watched as my grandfather lay riddled with cancer die. His cooking and techniques were the direct inspiration for me as a cook, his life practice, outlook and life lesson the inspiration as how to be a man. When he was gone…when he was finally gone…I did what I knew to do. Realizing how spent the family was at the time and how grim things felt, I went to the market to pick up some things so we could eat.

I felt I shouldn’t cook anything so I picked up some rich and satisfying things that would possibly offer a difference in emotion – anything to take the mind off the event that just took place. I picked up some brined olives, some French and Greek, some artisinal cheeses, breads, sausages both dried and cured. I arranged some platters with my cousin who with me, for the last week, had taken care of my Grandfather as he lay in his bed. We talked of cooking with Pepere and how to arrange the platter (Again, anything to take the mind off of the situation). I must say that cured meats, salumi, charcuterie and olives have been on my top list since a very young age. I have fond memories of holidays, special events and visits with large platters of these special foods with the most treasured of my family.

Pivotal was the moment of eating these great foods with these great people, with the unexpected feelings of grief at the time. Platters and items that were in retrospect a joyous release were met with sadness and discontent, in a somewhat reverence of a great man who was such an inspiration to us all.

Upon reflection, when I really got what had happened, it was an epiphany of sorts. Although a main sustenance in life, food isn’t really different than other necessities. It evolves like all else – making this world grow greater and stronger every day. Emotion reigns supreme in most things in life and that is what has happened in food in my opinion. If you go to a funeral, what do you bring?


House party?


Baby shower?




Swingers party…wait that’s different (never been but I’ve heard they are swinging). Food, as in all else, needs the yin to the yang, the difference of emotion that will bring great joy or upset to whatever the situation. It doesn’t always have to be a happy one.

I feed people the food I want to get the emotion that I want. Selfish or not that is why I do it. I ultimately want people to be happy and feel what I felt the first, not the last time - I ate olives, charcuterie and death. I still serve them often, eat them seldom.

The Pernod is still flowing freely.

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