a cook’s life.

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I think of myself at times as a niche cook.

I fit in where other people are too big, or too clunky.
I’m good at that. Filling in the cracks.

Which is what happened last night.

My friend asked me a couple of months ago if I’d be interested in catering an outside event for 35 people.
Hors d’oeuvres + five courses = a good time

I say yes. I really have no other option. Saying yes to things is the only way, I think.
I purchase a large country ham from Benton’s up in Tennessee.
I source my grains and peas from Anson Mills over there in South Carolina.
My quail is from Georgia.
And well, I am a dude from Mississippi who learned to cook in Oregon.

I prepped and cooked and stored two hors’doeuvres, and five courses in my tiny apartment kitchen. Not to mention three allergy people, having me make four separate courses.

I started cooking on a Thursday and didn’t stop until 11:30 on a Saturday night.

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We had been watching the weather, because it’s Mississippi in the summer time. It’s going to rain, it’s just a matter of when. So we pushed our host to really consider moving it inside. He kept insisting that we try to have it outside. We kept saying he should REALLY move it inside. He kept saying to wait. So, we did.

And it rained. And rained and rained. And blew out our fires. My friends at my back, holding our tent down as the thunderstorm raged above us. Beside us. Underneath us.

The dinner party had relocated to under the gazebo while I was mid-way through cooking my pork belly dish.

Saron, my friend and our event coordinator, ran under our kitchen tent and we pushed around a few options involving some restaurants that were closed, that would house us on such short notice.

So, we called my boss and he okayed that we move to my other place of business. We hustled and yelled and got soaked. But now we were in our element. Ovens. Sinks. Warmers. Thank God.

The party had congregated in the front of the restaurant. Wet, but laughing from all the strong drinks. We pushed together tables. Turned on some music and started to assemble.

Five courses.

Sorghum Molasses cured Pork Belly, with charred peach, soy/honey vinaigrette, benne seed

Chicory Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, Gorgonzola, Radish

Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Louisiana Jasmine Rice, with Crispy Duck Skin, Scallion

Quail with Sea Island Red Peas, Black Garlic Puree

Banoffee Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate

I walked out of the kitchen at 1:30am. So proud of my team for hustling and keeping a good attitude. This was one of those situations where you reap what you sow. And I’ve worked hard to treat my people well and with respect and dignity, and it showed. That’s what makes this stuff so insanely rich. I am never poor in company and friends. Goodness gracious.

Having maybe eaten two or three times in the past three days, I collapsed on my sofa.

I reached for whatever I had in my box from the night containing most of my mise en place.

Rice crackers and pimiento cheese.

I fell asleep with my hand in the container.

Stood up, brushed my teeth and fell into bed.

The life of a cook.

Ya know, it’s not so bad.

‘how wild it was, to let it be’

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The infinite spirit of the human being.

I think maybe this has been some theme swirling around in my head for quite a while. Maybe a bit medicine-induced; a fever-like sort of haze.

I don’t quite know how we make it through the horrible shit.

Abuse and death and violence.
Divorce or moving or taxes.

And yet, here we are, being soft again.

And again.

I helped cater a wedding this weekend. It was a beautiful wedding.
I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in almost eight years.

My tiny corner of dessert prep was done in the back of a refrigerated rental truck. Slicing strawberries and bananas as thinly as I could with the motor vibrating against my shoulders and the condensation from the cooler dripping on my shirt every thirty seconds or so.

I jogged to my car, slipped off my chef’s coat into my nice shirt and adjusted my wrinkled tie. I was lucky enough to have a stunning wedding date this time around. She gave me a thumbs up, though I felt like a sausage packed into its casing. I’ve never been one to tuck in shirts, is all…

I drifted in and out of wedding land. Thinking about my desserts in the truck, hoping a server didn’t slip and crash into my 48 banana puddings and mini peanut butter pies. Then I watched my beautiful friend walk down the aisle of an old New Orleans church, built in the 1850’s.

The back of my shirt had come untucked. I’m used to it, being a tall oddly shaped guy.

Then came the message from a person I knew long ago as a pastor and friend.
He said all the right things and it was picture perfect. To be honest, who cares if I agreed or didn’t agree. It was what it needed to be.

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Only, it’s hard to sit at some weddings and not feel a little jaded from it. For some reason, marrying people allows you to talk about what’s right and pure and what’s wrong and damaged. Like divorce. Or that marriage is hard and challenging. Which it is.

When I tell people a bit about my life, I bring up the fact that I was married, and that I’m not married anymore. Usually the response is “I’m sorry, marriage is hard”. And I nod and swallow, somewhat bitterly. I move on, because I don’t have time or the want or the energy to walk them through why everyone and everything is so complex and different.

I find myself thinking, “Why do people even have to say anything?”
But they will. And you will listen and it will make your heart heavy again.
You will smile and the conversation will move on to work, babies, etc.

Weddings are fast and emotional and busy. It is a whirlwind of remembrance and newness. Perhaps it will flood your brain with memories of love lost. Whatever it is, you feel it.

At the end of the night, my wedding date had a glass of red wine spilled on her dress, and her phone stolen from the venue.

She also smiled and laughed. And we both had our choice words.

I watched people eat the desserts and dance in the aisle, and I imagined it such like a place in the cosmos. All sorts of energies colliding and creating. New life mixing with old.

The Second Line marched the wedding party out of the doors and into the streets.

I cleaned up my jars, packed them away in my car and drove back home.

Somewhere, somehow, I said, “This is all just feels so good. And I feel so lucky. It’s just the best.” Not about any specific happening or memory. But that time shifts and moves forward.

I think it’s because at the end of great sorrow, there is birth to something else. Something new and undiscovered. And that’s exciting and scary.

It’s coming and I feel it all, wrapped up inside my heart — like a bud — awaiting to open and invite in the Beloved.

For a moment. I feel wild and carefree,

and it is enough.

I am enough.