Just over three weeks ago we lost my mother to lung cancer. In the week before her death, while sitting in the early morning darkness of her hospital room, I was overwhelmed by a wave of sorrow and regret. I was sickened by the terrible realization that I had wasted precious time and opportunities that would never return….
My parents were divorced shortly after I moved to Colorado Springs to attend culinary school in August of 1996 The next time I returned home to visit everything had changed. Home was a different place, populated with different people in the same bodies. The idea of home that I grew up with was gone. That idea of a lost home is what drove me to keep travelling, cooking and searching for my next family.
The best thing about cooking isn’t the food, it’s the people you cook with. In some kitchens the bonds forged under stress are so tight that the staff are more like siblings than coworkers. There is something special about a group of people who can work together in an extremely stressful, near chaotic environment and produce amazing food. In some kitchens that amazing food may be seasoned with a few choice angry words, the pointing of a spatula or spoon and an accusation of stupidity. But still, at the end of the night, we would all come together as family in the kitchen again.
At the end of a busy dinner service the cooks often stayed around to have a few beers and talk. Sometimes throwing a chunk of pork belly in the oven to crisp up for snacking. Sometimes staying late meant drinking beer while we helped the shortest guy in the kitchen jump up and down in a wine barrel full of shredded cabbage, spices and salt for the sauerkraut. It was work, but the people you did it with made it fun too. Those moments with my culinary brothers and sisters are priceless to me. These were family kitchens composed of strangers brought together by hard work, stress and a passion for cooking.
For most of my life I never believed in the idea of home, Home was always where my head laid down. Sometimes it was a coworkers sofa in Brooklyn, sometimes it was a beach in Spain or the floor of my brother’s house. Being lost and the act of searching for home and family has been a blessing. Without that journey I never would have realized what family and home is.
…in the week after my mother’s death we spent a lot of time with my family at my late grandparent’s home where some of them still live today. We ate dinner there almost every night that week. The death of my mother brought me closer to my family than ever before. And I realized that all those years spent drifting through life like a ghost, all those years spent searching for a new home and family were unnecessary. Home and family isn’t a place, a town, a building or a name. It’s a moment, experienced with people you love. I finally found those things I was looking for. They were right where I left them. They had been there the whole time.