On Experimentation, Copenhagen & The Spilled Root Beer Float in My Heart
You can find yourself in lots of places, if you want.
In the last week, me: clipping flowers into a red sink, walking up and around the snaking levels of the Guggenheim, drinking in Hilma af Klimt’s color palettes (I want to live in those tones), taking shelter from the rain and humid Thursday light at Kitchen Arts & Letters, dying in the backseat of a rental car in Queens after an MSG coma. The ultimate lunch: pea shoots w/ garlic, fiery pepper chicken covered in whole chillies, bowls of jasmine rice, green tea, and cold sesame noodles, leaving an orange oily stain on the plate, pork soup dumplings and charred green beans, with a black smudge along their spines. And before this: the wooden banquette of Cervo’s on Canal Street, w/ cara cara orange salad and fresh crudo, clams from the Cape and a “Madeira Sour”, sipped between oily bread dunked in butter juice, and figuring through plans to get to France and Tuscany this summer for Nicole’s wedding.
Each moment in its time and place.
Lately, I’ve become more fluid in my appreciation of boundaries, or lack thereof -- I’m a girl of everywhere and nowhere. I’m splitting my time between my parent’s place in Chicago and my “pied-a-terre” in Brooklyn, putting a new shape around my life. This is a confusing time, but an interesting one.
These days I often wake up and forget which city I’m in, only to remember again after locating the quality of light. In New York, it’s two moods. Clear and sharp, coming in through the slats of my 1940s blinds, or overcast and thin, sort of heavy with expectation and comforting all at once.
And in Chicago, bright and clear -- buoyant even.
The light of Laguardia at 6:20pm on a Sunday -- when I start thinking about this post, directly after spilling an entire root beer float at my feet -- is bruised and honey-colored. Or is that just my headspace? In the last 5 days in NYC, my liver has taken a beating (3 bottles of Lambrusco post din was a bad idea) but my imagination is in full bloom.
I’m reading Rene Redzepi’s “A Work in Progress: A Journal” at the gate and I’m loving it. Rene Redzepi is the chef/owner of Noma (the world’s best restaurant 3 years running - debatable as to what this title even means, but mega impressive as titles go) and this book is his mad hatter’s confessional of a year in the life -- of an artist on a journey to experiment, explore, flunk, fuck up, and generally lean in with no holds barred. I’m relating to the book on emotional and tangible wavelengths, but I’m also loving the prose, which is very unguarded and volatile in its style (I’ve also been thinking a lot about honesty, and what it means to really share a journey as it’s happening).
A favorite excerpt below:
“Roddy, our roughneck diver from northern Noway, has sent over a gift box full of mahogany clams. Every time we get these suckers, it always creates a stir in the kitchen, with cooks jostling around the bench to touch these ancient denizens of the deep. Their dark shells are ridged with lines that count their years like the rings of a tree; they are older than our great great grandparents. They have watched the submarines of World War II fall around them. Some of them probably heard the echoes of the Bastille crumbling. Usually, the specimens we have in our kitchen are between 180 and 220 years old. How are we supposed to cook them with enough respect?”
I admire the style of the book and its openness, to language, ingredients, and anecdotes, inspiring as I go about my own pursuit of figuring my shit out. I realize when I’m in the thick of these kinds of narratives that it’s the eccentricities, personalities and unexpected moments of grandeur, never mind the fusions of culture, that pull me back into the kitchen.
Since getting to Chicago, I’ve been on an adventure which has taken me down long roads, back roads, into the bowels of big coolers and looming foreign kitchens. I’ve private chef’ed for a few occasions, worked as a porter with my elbows in the trenches of the half-drunk cocktails of 1,300 people, with just Hector and I slinging dishes (and throwing half limes every which way) and spent many afternoons styling photoshoots, washing dishes, figuring my way through ingredients, narratives, recipes.
Highs and lows, highs and lows. Highs: a pop up dinner with a friend living in Sweden, focused on food, memoir and identity, my first paid cooking gig with 5 courses, and 10 women I had never met -- a real test of my nerves, and super fun. Highs: a best friend’s 30th in her grandparents 60s hacienda in the suburbs, filled w/ amazing white light, fig trees, and Mexican ceramics from the past, with a Mediterranean menu, highlighting spring veggies and dirty martinis, the bday girl’s favorite. And lows: loneliness, solo afternoons, waking up thinking GOD I’M 30 FCK! and rebounding with notes, walks, books, friends.
In my time here, I’ve worked with food photographers and stylists on my first professional shoots, developed content and marketing for chefs and restaurants, futzed in the kitchen as a sous chef, concepted my own menus, florals, and programming, and generally just dived in headfirst.
It’s been a challenging few months, going outside the bounds of home cooking into professionalism. Jake asked me where I’ve learned the most, and I think lately it’s in the R & D of recipe development. For the events I’ve put together, I’ve needed to be rigorous in testing recipes and tweaking to get them to the right place. For Em’s 30th, I wanted to make a marigold handmade maltagliati pasta dough w/ sungold tomatoes and olive oil (a beautiful composition of ingredients!) but I tried the recipe about three times in the week leading up, and wasn’t able to perfect the dough (just couldn’t roll it thinly enough). It’s moments like this where I’ve realized I’m making the switch from avid home cooking to professional pleasing, and there is a big difference. Putting research and rigor around what I’m doing has been really exciting, and challenging; I’ve thrown my clothes into the wash, covered in oil and flour, about a thousand times since getting back, only to smack my forward and pour a large glass of wine, but I’m taking notes and improving as I go, and that’s satisfying.
I was at a wholesale flower market a few weeks ago and stopped by the rough cut leaves, to admire them (it takes me forever to get through that place) and started chatting with a woman who was assembling an arrangement for a client. “I love those” I said, gesturing to her greens, “I used them for a pop up a few weeks ago, and they lasted for two weeks without water.”
I took a second, and let that wash over me. I had been in this chilly flower cooler picking out eucalyptus and chamomile and wildflowers a few weeks previous, and I was back. I’m spending my time in spaces and places that mean something to me, where beauty is present, and where my passions can take shape. A privilege and something I appreciate so much.
“Thanks!” she said. “No problem” and I waved goodbye, making my way to checkout, where Emmanuelle the flower guy is always in a Black Hawks hoodie, ready to ruminate on flower food, and whether I need that second bunch of ranunculus flowers (I don’t).
I have weekly panic attacks about the state of my life, but I also smile flipping through my photos every day. That backseat in Queens, that orange sumo orange, that coral Pantone cocktail -- the colors, tastes, and moments are coming together, in a wave.