A deep fog hangs in the air this morning. It’s the morning after a snowfall, the sun revealing the last few flakes lingering in the air. It feels like a good day coming. Frosted trees have always brought me a sense of peace. And now, turning the key and walking into the empty restaurant, I smell the fragrant aroma of the beef stock that’s been simmering overnight, coaxing out the deep flavors of the roasted bones, wine, herbs and mirepoix. There’s something about being the first one in the kitchen that gives me solace. No one waiting to ask me questions, just the low hum of the coolers running. The challenges that Covid has brought into our lives don’t exist right now, at this early morning hour.
With a loud whoosh the hood fans start their daily task of sucking up the smoke and steam. I pull down a large pot from the top of the oven and place it on the stove. On days like these, I feel called to make something warm and comforting. I’ll let the pot speak to me. Grabbing a cutting board, I lay down a wet towel so it won’t slide around. I run my chef’s blade across the sharpening steel a few times and begin to peel the onions. Many times I start a soup this way, with no solid idea of what will come out of the pot. The carrots are peeled and chopped, crisp celery stalks are chopped as well. As I start to sweat the mirepoix my mind turns to the walk-in. There’s an ingredient waiting in there … waiting to be the star of the show today. A few flats of mushrooms catch my eye as I walk through the door. These humble little fungus will make someone’s day. I add whole garlic cloves to the pot and they begin to caramelize. A little wine, maybe some marsala or brandy. Building into layers, adding depth, the ingredients are starting their process of transformation.
I really need this. Taking a deep breath and letting the fumes from the brandy hit my nostrils, suddenly a tear comes to my eye. I sense my own sadness just below the surface. The struggle and pain of the last year is very real in this moment. I just want us all to be okay, to enjoy each others’ smiles around a table again, to get back to living our lives.
Tap, tap, tap… methodically slicing the mushrooms, I start to feel better. We will be okay. I can be present today. I can listen to the sounds of the kitchen and the voices of my coworkers as we laugh and joke with each other. And this creamy rich broth is coming together. A dash of cayenne and white pepper. A bit of freshly grated nutmeg, and my secret ingredient: a little drizzle of honey to bring out the earthy sweetness. I toss a loaf of baguette in the oven and spread it with cold slabs of butter when it comes out. I hear the sound of the back door opening.
“Good morning my friend.” Jose and I sit quietly at a table together, masks pulled down over our chins, slurping and munching. I’m grateful for the company. My belly is warm and my heart is full. It’s going to be a good day.