Friday, August 14, 2009

Past successes, perhaps future successes?

Now that we've fully settled into our thoroughly British new life I become wistful about things I have done in my 15 years of cooking for a living.

I always loved throwing a party which I attended only as a host, coordinator, go to gal... etc etc. I know that for many it defeats the whole purpose of the party. Don't misunderstand, I love throwing my own parties, drinking cocktails with my friends, losing my cocktail plate a million times and only eating once the attendees has dwindled down to w mere handful and all partake in one rollicking conversation. But relieved from the expectations of hosting as a friend- maintaining a thread in a discussion, keeping your fabulous and frivolous outfit together, making sure glasses are full, people are attended to- the minutiae of the event can be checked, rechecked and perfected. There is a large part of my personality this appeals to and it just doesn't exist outside of the vocation of event management (what a unflattering job title that is!) unless you don't mind your friends thinking of you as a bit eccentric.

When I first began cooking for a living I was in the better part of my 20s, the time when you're too broke to notice, too cheap to lavish yourself with things, too young to bother with sleep, too busy to stop socializing. I knew multitudes of people who were always ready to dash over, slice off a hunk of roasted cheap meat, scoop up some kind of cozido, tear off a claw of homemade bread, wash it all down with a cheap but solid glass of wine and then stay for hours while others filtered through my home doing the same. So I threw parties, impromptu affairs that started with calling (no texts, no email, no facebook) about 50 people, inviting all, ending up with friends of friends of friends and often well over 100 people milling around my loft in downtown LA. I hosted parties so large that there were times I met people for the first time in my own home, "guests" who had attended my parties numerous times before figuring out who I was in the crowd and coming over to say thank you. But as wonderful as my memories of these times were, there was very seldom anything that stood out about these parties, making them unique events.

As I approached 30, I had thrown many of my own parties but also hundreds of events for clients. Events that included live concerts, people being flown in, elaborate floral arrangements, changing the color of pool water, hiring ping pong tables, hiring musicians... I had become an event planner. The thrill of having strangers approach me in my own home had shaken hands and traded places with the thrill of "pulling it off". Having a laundry list of the unique needs of clients and fulfilling it...

When we moved to Berkeley, I found a group of like minded eaters and cooks who liked to gather around a roast, a paella pan, make gnocchi, share recently foraged ingredients, celebrate the harvests of stonefruits, apples, arugula, berries, nettles. From this community I grew as a cook, but I also learned to teach people how to cook, I learned to talk about food. I found all of this enriching to my menu planning for even clients with the plainest palates.

As I approached my mid 30s I missed cooking more challenging food, and my desire to widen my circle of guests beyond friends had been rekindled. It was not yet the rage when my husband consented to me taking over our entire San Francisco flat and hosting a "secret restaurant." We convened twice a month, an email went out to what began as a small list and then expanded to a large list. Twelve seats filled each night, 5 courses were served at a polite pace with very polite pours of wine. Once the amuse bouche and the first glass of wine were taken in, rooms full of strangers (a four top in our makeshift hallway dining room, an 8 top in our living room with a view out the bay window and the fire lit) became acquainted. I took breaks to get feedback, explain ingredients, cooking techniques, see how things were going, but for the most part I was hidden in the kitchen. We had dinners that focused on outdoor cooking, or just salt, or just one region of the world.

So now I wax sentimental about these times in my life- when I hosted an event people would remember. It is not the most important thing in the world to do, but it is something we do to carry us from day to day. Relax, uncoil, explore our palates, break from the every day.

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