Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gabrielle Hamilton

In the university program where I was supposed to be emancipating myself from the kitchen, preparing myself to go back to New York having at least answered the question of my own potential, the novelty and thrill had thoroughly worn off. I could not find the fun or the urgency in the eventless and physically idle academic life. It was so lethargic and impractical and luxurious. I adored reading and writing and having my brain crushed; but those soft ghostly people lounging around in agony over their "texts," endlessly theorizing over experiences they would never have, made me ache to get out of the leather chairs, to put my shoes and socks back on, and get back into the kitchen, which I increasingly found practical and satisfying. The work may not have held much meaning and purpose, but I was gunning the motor of my car to get off campus and get to it each day.

To tackle a prep list at eight a.m. and have it knocked out by four p.m., black Sharpie line crossing out each item on the To-Do list:
  • 6 quarts aioli
  • brown brisket
  • butcher salmon
  • toast walnuts
felt so manageable and tactile and useful. I could wake up and tackle that in a way that I would never be able to wake up and take a crack at certain literary pursuits, like for example, illuminating the fog surrounding the human condition. This is not suggest that I accepted this understanding about myself gladly, with just a sneering dismissal of the pursuit in the first place. Human condition. It's a blow to have to admit to yourself that you are not quite cut out for something that matters so much to you. More than a blow--it's a knockout. I had to lie down on the floor of my apartment for a very long time letting that one sink in. Did I have something more to offer, any other talent than a strong work ethic? Did I have something in me other than dishwasher?

As it turns out, I did not.

To stand at the prep table with other cooks who were just doing mundane things like fixing the car over the weekend, cleaning the house, and shuttling kids to doctor's appointments felt newly satisfying and meaningful enough. I liked these people and their lives. But more to the point, I came to understand that I liked People and Life. After sitting around for too long in those leather chairs, I welcomed the intense pressure of getting a dinner for 200 plated quickly, and came to see that there was a rush and a method in that that I hadn't quite known to what extent I liked and needed in my life. And I will admit, spending that chilly hour cleaning out a cluttered walk-in and putting impeccable order to it is still, 30 years later, my favorite part of kitchen life. I bring my mother's compulsion for concrete order with me wherever I go.

--Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (2011)