I sit here still buzzing from a week spent in LA cooking with my friend David Wilcox at his restaurant Journeymen. The time away came right on the heels of the 21st anniversary of my mother's death on April 1st, and it turned out to be one of the most difficult April 1st's in recent memory. A few days before I unearthed a pile of letters she had sent to her parents between ages 19-25 and reading those brought out an intensity of the depth of loss that I had yet to experience. She wrote from the beach of Montauk, about how she got her first job as a cashier in a restaurant run by "two of the biggest queens around". I had never heard these stories, never even knew she had lived in New York or what her first job was, and with her gone by the time I was 13 there was still so much to talk about. It hit me like a gut punch how much had been lost, how much about her I would never know.
My eyes still puffy and emotions very close to the surface, I flew in to LAX to start my weeklong stay, cooking and hanging at my friend's restaurant. It was perfect timing really, I was grateful for the chance to throw myself into a project and focus on something outside of myself for awhile. I prepped all day with David and his crew - made duck liver pate and stuffed morcilla blood sausage, braised flageolet beans, cleaned artichokes, made dressings and sauces - and ate there at night with friends. I had a studio rented one block from the restaurant and for that week my life felt very basic and very simple - no errands, no plans, just cook.
I went to be re-inspired by cooking. My many years at MH had been incredibly rewarding and incredibly draining. I had turned into more of a manager of people and less of a creator of food. I wanted to feed off of the relentless drive and passion I have always known in David. He runs a tight ship but one that also feels very comfortable and not harried. Just put in the time, get your work done, do it right. I was surrounded by new dishes, flavor combinations I had never thought of, and an integrity of work that shone through every aspect. He sources each and every vegetable and fruit in the entire restaurant at the farmer's market. No back up produce company, nothing. Inspiring to say the least.
In the end, the trip left me feeling slightly confused. I have been very clear with my decision to leave the restaurant world. So go figure that it turns out to be the environment where I am the most confident, a space that I know how to navigate, a place that feeds my excitement and inspiration, a home away from home, a community of people, my people, who work incredibly hard and the best of whom can maintain integrity of the vision under the stressful conditions that are always present. It is not a lifestyle that has ever truly been sustainable for me, but I felt so alive this past week that damnit if I can't help but wonder if I will be able to find that buzz outside of that place. Maybe I never will, maybe I've just got to get used to a whole new set of feelings.