Saturday, April 28, 2012

And the Award Goes To... Probably Not One of Us

Next week, the James Beard Foundation will crown as the top chefs in America those who have inspired with their culinary prowess and set a national standard for excellence. To our chagrin, Chef Matt was overlooked once again.

The Beard Award is a Pulitzer. It is prestigious and exclusive and practically a guarantee that your reservations will fill up for the next year. Minnesota has three winners of the Best Chef: Midwest award, and all three of them are incredibly gifted chefs. But to 99.9% of the chef population, all those other creative, tireless, obsessively dedicated cooks, the Beard is eternally elusive.

Not that I am an advocate of every little soccer player getting a trophy. Illustrious awards are illustrious for a reason, and the Beard winners have all done their time. But the shadows of the most influential American chefs are long and deep. Many of the "unsung heroes" of the profession will spend their careers firmly planted in those shadows.

The world of professional cooking is a serf-and-lord hierarchy, where the critics are brutal, the lifestyle is unforgiving, and the chances for advancement and overwhelming success are remote. Reality TV has made chef celebrity seem attainable, raising the hopes of poor, naive foodies everywhere.

People like my husband are part of an army of chefs who do precisely what they are meant to do: cook amazing food that wins no awards but makes people happy. As any musician knows, you cannot just string any old notes together and hope it makes a song. The same principle applies with food, and there are thousands of chefs across the country whose knowledge and talent produces nightly works of art, eliciting that dreamy look of pleasure from their patrons.

Although a Beard medal and the publicity that comes with it would certainly be a game-changer, I honestly think most chefs just like to cook and make people happy. I could be wrong. They could all be laboring in sweltering kitchens twelve hours a day, battling food cost and finicky guests, on the slimmest of slim chances that they will be nominated for the highest culinary honor. Somehow I think that the majority of them just love food, but ask me again when Matt gets his nomination letter.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Farewell to a First House

Dear House,

You have probably noticed that we are leaving soon. I know that, in your 128 years, you have probably seen many families come and go, so we may be just another brief chapter in your long history. You have seen two world wars, the birth of automobiles and a man on the moon; our brief stay in your four walls is perhaps not as monumental, but I can promise you that it has been so important to us.

Moving in, May 2007. Five years and three kids to follow.
We arrived six months into a new marriage, expecting a baby, and looking with so much hope toward our future as a family. Three times we have walked out the front door and returned two days later with a baby. You have surrounded us as we learned to be parents, remembered how to be parents again, and juggled children who suddenly outnumbered us.

You have sheltered us from two feet of snow and 100-degree heat. You looked so lovely in Christmas lights, and probably laughed when our very first Christmas tree toppled over in the middle of the night. You sighed with contentment as we watched the neighborhood from the front porch swing.

We gave you a face lift, one project at a time over five years. As we pack up this last week, it makes us so proud to see your refinished floors, your gleaming kitchen, and your beautiful little yard, and know that we did our very best to make you into the home we always wanted.

And then, of course, were all the meals we ate within your walls. Three baptismal brunches, Sunday night football frozen pizzas, cook-outs with our friends, a handful of elegant suppers on our wedding china, and thousands of meals with our sweet kids, most of which ended up on the floor and in their hair. I learned to make pies in your kitchen, and ate leftovers upstairs while hiding from a mouse I saw downstairs.

If time is actually measured by memories and not days, we have lived a lifetime in these rooms. My heart aches when I think about our daughter's first steps in the kitchen, our son crawling in the new grass out back, and our baby's first "mama" yelled from his crib. We will be moving on to bigger rooms (with, no offense, more closet space), but those rooms will never be able to claim those milestones.

Please do not forget us. This last week will likely be a whirlwind of packing, kid-wrangling, and address-changing, and throughout it we will be both sad and hopeful. Remember that wherever we end up in life, you will always be our first home. We came in as two and are leaving as six, for in five years, you became one of the family.

Thank you, Little House. You are very dear to us.

Love, Your Family