Cooking is a passion that I have always had brewing in the background of my life, but it was never a driving factor for a career. I’ve always had a fascination with food. Not to eat it, but to prepare it. One of the first things I learned how to cook was eggs. They were supposed to be scrambled, but after a few times of burning, I tended to leave them slightly undercooked. The yellow glistening in the light giving off a look that I have only seen replicated in animated versions of eggs. Being a kid, I didn’t want to admit they were undercooked and just called them “fancy eggs” because of how they shined. This is one of the few instances that my dad will never let me forget. That and “pickle salad” which had more pickle slices than lettuce. No matter the teasing, I always wanted to learn how to cook. How to make my own recipes, and such, but it wasn’t a big deal yet.
It wasn’t until I encountered my first love that that secret calling was pushed in front of my eyes to the possibilities. Jonathan had a way to evoke sides of me out into the public eye. Sides that were buried under a spindly mountain of common interests. Jonathan was not like other boys that I knew. He wasn’t open about his interests and was very reserved, even around friends. Other than me, there have been two other people in our high school circles that were able to pull him out of his shell. Once that was lifted he was able to share with me a secret that he feared he would be mocked for. He loved to bake.
John was always in the kitchen of his family home learning from his step-father about how to prepare different meals. His step-father was a volunteer firefighter, thus was very handy with a grill. Or so my mother would say as a way to explain why John’s food was so good whenever he would leave me something. As if to say he learned from the best. With our relationship getting more intimate, I felt comfortable enough to tell him about my childhood recipes. He just smiled and encouraged me to pick it up again.
My first time in a professional kitchen, I was in high school. My culinary teacher had insisted we spend the first semester learning all there was to know about food safety, including the names, bacteria, and symptoms for every type of food borne illness. Did not regret a moment of those lectures, but I sure wish we had more hands on lesson in the kitchen side of the class. Every day that we did get to put our skills to the test, I was always sure to bring a Tupperware container of any kind. I needed to take back to the main building whatever it was that we made. I needed to show John all that I had learned. He was proud every time.
He was the only one proud of my work. My family wasn’t as supportive and because of complicated reasons, neither were a majority of my friends. It was only me, Johnathan, his best friend and my other friends that chose to stay neutral in all the high school drama and fighting. I wish I could say he supported my decision to pursue a Culinary Arts degree, but our relationship didn’t survive the in-fighting of my friends. After a bitter break up, my family was certain my dabble in cooking was over and done with. I would go back to cooking only for myself and would stop trying to make food for others. They were wrong.
When I finally entered the culinary program at my local college, my heart screamed. My dad was undoubtedly cheering in the back ground as I stepped into my basics class. It took a few extra years after high school graduation to get to that point, but it was more than a milestone. One week later I was learning how to debone a whole chicken.
For the longest time I thought I would never fully be able to memorize the recipes. Never recall how to do certain techniques. But a few months after graduating with my associate, I found myself surprised by how seeing drippings left over from a roast my grandfather made inspired me to turn it into a gravy. How my knowledge of what to do was nearly second nature and if I didn’t overthink it, I was able to impress those that refused to give me a chance. Those that held onto those memories of undercooked eggs, or thrown together messes.
John was not the inspiration for me wanting to cook. He was the key to a locked door. A door I had left behind when I was younger because no one else would support me in it. He was a spark to relight the flame of that passion. The first person to believe in my abilities and encourage me to keep up with it.