I’m watching Chef walk an interesting creative line these days. He’s in the process of making some menu changes that work to incorporate his culinary creativity with the fact that our restaurant is, as he puts it, “in a meat and potatoes town.” Instead of each steak on the menu having a different starch and vegetable, he added a couple of new steaks and put garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus with all of them. People now pick their steak – 7 oz. center cut filet, 8 oz. flatiron, 10 oz. sirloin, 12 oz. rib eye – and how they want it cooked. He still dry ages the larger steaks and brings his creative touches to the dishes, but he’s working to meet his public where they are.
And he served steaks as fast as he could cook them last night, even though our crowd was down a little since a lot of folks stayed home last night to watch the Sox beat Cleveland. (Sorry, Davy.) And he did it without selling himself short.
I’ve learned a lot working alongside Chef. He has an artful simplicity to his combinations of flavors, textures, and colors. Our dishes taste and look beautiful as they go out. The quality of his thought and practice come through in everything from the salads to the pizzas to the steaks and seafood. He has also chosen to cook in something other than a fine dining restaurant. He knows all that stuff. For his dinner last night he brought in (and shared with me) a batata, which is (I learned) a Caribbean sweet potato. While it’s probably normal stuff if you’re in Jamaica, it was exotic to me. So we ate batata and dished up the roasted garlic mashed with the steaks. (I had some of the potatoes, too.)
What Chef understands is, no matter what the dish, people are always part of the recipe. Years ago, when I was a Youth Minister, I asked one of our church members who was also an educator, to lead a teacher training for our youth Sunday school teachers. He began the session by writing one sentence on the board:
I teach young people the Bible.
Then he said, “You tell me the direct object in this sentence and I’ll tell you what kind of teacher you are going to be.” After some discussion he said, “If you think you are teaching the Bible, it won’t matter to you who is in the room; if you think you are teaching young people, you can read from the phone book and change their lives.”
Thus endeth the lesson.
Cook. Teach. Pastor. Work. Live. None of it happens in a vacuum. Not only are we surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, but a gathering of fellow participants, companions for the journey and the meal. Sometimes that means you get to try new things and sometimes that means you serve up the steak and potatoes. Both are best done with the intentionality of a personal vision and the flavor of community.