I’m going to guess and say that every once in a while, during the course of our travels, there seems to be a time when you get a request or a suggestion that sparks a trip down memory lane. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but depending on the situation it sort of sparks a highlight reel related to that request, and during the past few weeks, I have had that reel playing in my mind.
The request itself was fairly simple, a long time friend and supporter of Seattle Chef Joe contacted us with some pretty bad news about one of their friends and asked for our help. To sum it up without specifics, a friend of theirs has been diagnosed with a severe illness and very little time left. They asked if I could work some personal cheffy magic and make some of their favorite dishes. The only response I could even entertain was “when would you like me there?”. Once we figured that timeline out, I began creating the menu, and found myself strolling down the streets of memory lane in my mind.
While the situation seems extraordinarily heavy, it had me thinking of the mission I had hoped for when I returned several years ago from Madrid, to provide that final taste. Sound strange? It is, and yet it is not. We all know certain tastes, dishes, textures, sights, sounds, and everything in between spark a memory. Why not be the one holding the match for the person to help that spark get started? So I embarked on selecting ingredients that were not only nutritional, and added flavor, but ingredients that inherently lighten our moods when we eat them.
While I was cooking a multiday menu for them, my mind started replaying some of my favorite moments during my cooking history. The funny thing is, none of these memories involved conversations with food critics, VIP’s, or the photo sessions that I have been blessed to experience. Instead they were memories of feeding families at Ronald McDonald House, teaching a cooking class to soldiers returning from deployment, working culinary magic with folks on chemo, and providing the last memory for a lady we’ll call “S”.
Some of folks know that I left the typical restaurant scene to see what kind of magic I could do in the non-profit side. I was no longer chasing ratings, reviews, and write ups, instead I was hell bent on turning a non-profit with a shoe string budget into a culinary work of art, and that is where I met S. She was a resident of a place that I was working to transform. Through the menus we shared her aches and pains, the ups and downs of her days, and through a Halloween extravaganza I was able to provide that final taste and memory. That was one of the first events where I put it all out there. Anything I could dream of designing; I did, and the pay off was huge to see everyone’s excitement as they were gathered experiencing the dishes I put together for them. It was the happiest I had seen S in the whole time I had been there. Just before she had left the event, she rode her hover-round type chair over to me and thanked me for the best time she had had in a long time, then left to relax before the dinner service. Sometime between when she left and before dinner, S had passed, still in her costume. Of course I was bummed to say the least, but I was also strangely comforted with the fact that I had given her the best send off I could.
That is one of the few memories that stay with me throughout my travels and has been what has helped shape Seattle Chef Joe. The understanding that we all are different, and creating the flavors to those differences with hopes that your fork will create a memory to spark a smile.
~Seattle Chef Joe