lenten journal: meals and memories


    Wedding season officially began today at the Inn. Weddings in New England are not the finger-sandwiches-in-the-Fellowship-Hall affairs I was accustomed to attending in churches across Texas. You don’t have a reception, you have a meal – and you stay all day. We have at least one wedding on the books every weekend from now until the end of November, along with all sorts of other functions, which means we will feed anywhere from one hundred and fifty to five hundred people in our function hall every week for the next seven months.

    And it’s beginning to look like I’m going to be the chef running the function kitchen.

    Life is funny. Less than two months ago they were laying me off and now they want me to take on a bigger job. I’m not sure how all of that is going to go, but for this week, I was the Function Chef, which is a lot like being king of Rhode Island: I was in charge of a very small crew. It was me and Alfonso, a Brazilian high school student who works for us on weekends. Together he and I prepared the following menu for one hundred and twenty five people:

    a cheese and fruit display
    an antipasto display
    bacon wrapped scallops
    chicken satay
    brie and apple puffs
    lobster fritters
    Caesar salad
    Statler chicken breast with teriyaki mushroom demi-glace and red onion jam
    roasted salmon with lemon sage beurre blanc
    scallion and truffled whipped potatoes
    haricot verts (that’s green beans to you and me)

    He and I did all the preparation on Friday and Saturday and served it this afternoon, with some help from the dishwashers when it came time to plate the entrees. Of the five of us gathered to put chicken and fish on the plates, I was the new guy. When we started to work, Pedro, my favorite dishwasher, said, “Milton! First time in charge.” Then he patted me on the back and smiled. I may have been the one in charge, but I was not the one who knew all the details. Things went well because I leaned on the ones who did know – Pedro and Alfonso and the other Brazilians – to show me the ropes. They knew when to put the plates in the warmers, when to put the dressings on the salads, how to stack the filled plates in the warmer, and lots of other stuff. I asked for their help and they made us all look good. The day went really well. If today was any indication, we are going to have a good season ahead of us. I made a point of thanking my crew over and over for the job they did today. They don’t get noticed much.

    Wedding season. It makes it sounds like a sport, as if some months ago the call went out for “brides and grooms to report.”

    I went upstairs at one point this afternoon after the meal and the crowd was on the dance floor moving (notice I didn’t say dancing) to the beat of some wedding disco standard. For them, it was The Afternoon; for us it was the first of many. I worked hard to give them the best food I could, but I still don’t know their names. It was their wedding; it’s my job. We were all part of the same event but did not find the same significance and we will carry away different memories.

    Some of the things I want to remember from today are cut the wedding cake in smaller pieces, don’t start dressing the salads until the begin the toasts or the lettuce gets soggy, seventy pounds of potatoes is more than enough to feed a hundred and fifty people. I imagine the couple’s memories will run more along the lines of the old Sinatra song:

    some day, when I’m awfully low
    when the world is cold

    I will feel a glow just thinking of you

    and the way you look tonight

    I cooked one other meal today. Ginger and the staff at church asked me some time ago to provide a meal for a Leadership Appreciation Brunch after worship. Everyone serving on a committee or singing in the choir was included. About forty people stayed for the meal. I prepared it along side the wedding stuff over the last couple of days, so all I had to do was finish cooking it today. I served a pineapple and roasted corn risotto-stuffed chicken breast with a sweet chili glaze and lemon sage beurre blanc (yes, the multiple use of the sauce was intentional) and green beans. The meal went well but the memory I took away was Ginger and the other staff people taking time to call everyone by name and talk about how they had led us and served us as a church. We were all invited to fill up on food and affirmation. The comments were well-articulated memories of specific talents, words, and actions that spoke to our connectedness. Though being a part of the church means different things to different people, the memory we all were asked to carry away from our time today was it matters that we are here together for these days.

    One of the members of the youth group asked me earlier if he could help this morning, so I had another high school student – Nick – working with me much like Alfonso does at the restaurant. While we painted the glaze on the chicken, I found myself explaining what was in the glaze and why we were doing it as we were. When I caught myself, I said, “I’m teaching like you asked me how to do this. You may not be interested, but I can’t guarantee I’ll stop. I like talking about this stuff.”

    He laughed and said he liked cooking and was having fun. I kept talking as promised.

    Tomorrow we move on to new meals, new marriages, and new meetings (I thought I’d keep up the alliteration). Oh – and new memories.



    1. I play flute at weddings, usually during spring and summer, and I notice some of the same things. It’s amazing what I’ve learned about my own marriage just by watching these young (and not-so-young!) couples on Their Big Day.

      I also have a great laugh at how totally fried the bride’s family usually is over the whole thing. We planned our wedding in 6 weeks, at a total cost of about $2500, including the wedding dress. It’s fun to be able to just sit back and watch the action now. 🙂

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