For as long as I can remember, my whole life has been centered in the kitchen. I had my first taste of wild mushroom soup at The Williamsburg Inn when I was fourteen months old, after I banged my chubby fists on the white linen tablecloth, refusing both the children’s menu and my milk. It was 1986. My poor parents had no idea what they had gotten themselves into.
Post-mushroom soup, my favorite seat in the house was in a wicker basket at my mom’s feet while she cooked dinner. She would toss me strips of bell peppers and carrots and hand me copper bottomed pots to bang around with while pasta boiled on the stove. I loved the feel of the dry crunch of pasta between my baby teeth, and could happily sit perched in the basket for hours watching my mom neatly dice red onions and mince garlic for homemade sauce.
Flash forward twenty years and I’m standing at a long metal counter wearing three layers of clothing underneath my chef coat because Chef keeps the kitchen at fifty six degrees to preserve the meat. In front of me is a raw chicken and to my side is a bucket of sanitizer and my newly sharpened knives.
I have exactly four minutes to completely break down the bird and produce perfect airline chicken breasts, the name coming from the fancy cut of meat served in the first class cabin of planes during the sixties. I take a deep breath and pick up my knife to make the first clean cut down the center.
A year after that moment, I’m standing in a large professional kitchen at an exclusive yacht club in a seaside resort town, tempering chocolate to produce garnishes for three hundred creme brulees. I love the way the paper parchment cone feels under my fingertips and I lift my hand slightly to drizzle the warm chocolate neatly onto long acetate sheets. I concentrate hard for a steady hand, and I can feel a small drizzle of sweat run down the curve of my back. The kitchen buzzes with line cooks and kitchen timers. I am the only girl there.
I love the way my hands sink into a warm mound of bread dough, the yeasty smell rising and the feeling of life under my palms. I force myself to wake up every morning at three o’clock, grab a quick cup of coffee and make it into the bakery by four. From four to six thirty, I produce about three dozen pastries and bake off fifty loaves of artisan bread from scratch. Scents of sourdough starter, toasted flour and sizzling butter fill my nose as I work silently while the rest of the world is still fast asleep. The blast of heat that hits my face as I pull open the industrial sized oven is nothing compared to the scars I have from five hundred degree sheet pans touching my skin.
Now, I read cookbooks like they’re novels, pages dotted with small splatters of red sauce and butter. I work hard to capture food on the page or through my camera’s lens. I cook and bake for those I love, throwing my heart and soul into a batch of cookies or a loaf of fragrant sweet bread.
My life is pretty simple, really, but I enjoy every single second of it.