Thursday, March 14, 2013

Marvann's Aluminum Pot

Once upon a time in Minneapolis, there was a restaurant that no one remembers. As the Cold War grew out of the underbrush of World War II, this restaurant opened and closed without fanfare. The proprietors were a young married couple who would someday be parents to seven children, among them two sets of twins.

But when Marvann's opened its doors for the first time, they were still just a young man and woman seeking dreams in the shape of a little 1950s restaurant. Ann worked in the kitchen, learning often on the fly and on at least one occasion from a customer, and Marvin handled the business and the conversation. They were young and happy, and only when a series of unfortunate events tumbled down around them did they step away from Marvann's, never to return to the restaurant business.

The restaurant was never a Minneapolis institution, and it did not meet a ghastly end by fire or flood, so in all likelihood, the only people who remember it are Ann and Marvin themselves. The historical ephemera that sometimes survives closed restaurants, such as menus and placemats, may or may not be tucked away in a box somewhere. Only one relic survives that we know of: a black, well-used, aluminum pot.

That pot, perhaps fittingly, lives at our house: the home of a chef and a historian. Even more fittingly, it lives in the house of Ann and Marvin's grandson, the only one of their grandchildren to pursue a career in the culinary arts, which ensures that the pot is used and its provenance remembered.

We have had this pot since we were married, and we have used it a number of times, although not as often as our more everyday pots and pans. Extracting the heavy pot from its cupboard seems to unleash its past use, like a flurry of moths from an old, deep closet. What did Ann stir up in that pot 60 years ago, and is her grandson somehow channeling her dishes when he creates dishes for his family? What busy restaurant conversations with Marvin are somehow echoed in the chatter of his three great-grandchildren?

The wonderful thing about this artifact, as opposed to most other historical objects, is that we can still use it. Our braised meats are cooked just like theirs, with no fear of harming the pot. It may, in fact, simply grow better and more seasoned with age. The more we use it, the less of Marvann's we lose.

As a historian, I wish that more evidence of Marvann's existed to help continue its memory when Ann and Marvin are someday gone. But as Chef Matt's wife, I am so pleased that the pot ended up in our hands. If there is to be one single piece left from Marvann's, we will be grateful custodians and continue to cook up beautiful things to serve alongside the history entrusted to us by Matt's one-time restauranteur grandparents.

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