Through a window to the kitchen, I used to watch the Nectar line cooks in their white jackets with their heads down. I used to wonder what they were chopping or sautéing or saucing. But now, hungry friends, I’m one of those cooks. I spend long hours in the cramped quarters of Nectar’s kitchen and I’m proud to say that I can work the dishwasher and locate the ladles and I can even make you some aioli if you’re in the mood.
You know what else? You look good out there! While you’re busy devouring some of the city’s finest food, I’m taking a peek at you and I’m cracking a sneaky little half smile. You know why? Because sometimes I catch you peeking up at me, too. And then there we are–locked in a millisecond of mutual wonder.
Of course, between you and me, it’s not always magic and sunshine. Sometimes my legs feel thick and heavy like tree stumps. Sometimes I wonder if I should be more assertive or less assertive or if I should simply have my head examined for wondering about either. And sometimes there’s an enormous bucket of tomatoes to sort, cut and core.
But here’s the thing. I’m flanked by cooks who are inherently cool and who are supremely talented. Cooks who’ve earned their place at the sauté station because for years they’ve followed orders and they’ve shown up and cored tomatoes and known their place. And now they work this job and they probably work another job, too, and they know what the word work means. Some people don’t know what that word means, but they know it in their bones.
I’ve spent my life in restaurants being catered to and being wined and being dined and having strong opinions about both. But after having experienced the heat, the boredom, the chaos, the ritual–it’s hard to imagine ever writing about food the same way. The truth will come out, I suppose, it always does. But even more than ever, it’ll be edged in profound respect. The kind that only comes when you’ve looked outside from the inside.