Thursday Jun 29

Lenz Sarah Lenz holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and a MA in Literature from Boise State University. She teaches general studies writing at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She spends her free time blogging at Prose and Potatoes (www.proseandpotatoes.blogspot.com), gardening, and raising backyard chickens.
----------

The Cure for a Bereft Foodie by Sarah Lenz

 

I started my blog because of a void in my life.  I was in a new-to-me, foodie vacuum and by blogging, I found a way out of that desolation.  When I suddenly found myself unemployed, without a daily community of food lovers to talk about and share food with, I knew I needed something to compensate for it. Prose and Potatoes, my food-themed blog filled the gap.

I put myself though college—including grad school—by waiting tables in fine dining restaurants.  I loved it, and I was good at it.  Somewhere though among the nearly 7 years that I waited tables, food become a mode of communication, a way to relate to the people around me, a way to create meaningful bonds.  It began in the kitchen.

Over the years, I had a routine with the chefs.  If I was opening the restaurant for the evening, I’d hurry through the set up duties of slicing lemons and filling ice buckets and warming dinner rolls, and then, we’d have the discussion.  Every. Single. Shift.  “What have you been cooking?”  Either I would explain to the cooks some new dish I’d tried.  I was dating a vegetarian at the time, so Kevin—a red-blooded, red-meat eater through and through—would grimace in mock horror when I explained the newest dish I’d created with tofu or tempeh.  Sometimes we’d talk about other restaurants that we’d went to—critiquing the food, the service, making recommendations and suggestions.  Other times, I’d ask particular questions.  What’s the best way to braise a piece of meat?  If I’m making a sauce should I make a roux or use cornstarch?  Where can I get tamarind paste?  Chefs loved these questions, loved my curiosity, and this began my culinary education.  And sometimes, I’d get a passionate treatise on a particular kitchen implement.  Chef Brian shared his utmost passion for the immersion blender he used to make Romesco sauce, and Chef Brady nearly waxed poetic about his Mircoplaner, especially when it came to lemon zest.

I also got fed extremely well.  At one restaurant, Executive Chef Jamie would roll sushi for special sake tasting diners.  Since he knew I loved sushi, and I was an adventurous eater, he always snuck me samples that no one else got to try.  Raw octopus?  Sure, I’ll try it.  Likewise, when Kevin came in after a weekend of wild mushroom hunting, he fried up a huge plate of golden, breaded morels for me.

These food dialogues extended outside of the kitchen as well.  One of the features of working at an upscale restaurant was the constant and lengthy table service, whether it was to carve a chateaubriand or to open a bottle of wine—I spent a lot of time table side—and the ability to carry on a conversation with the guests while doing so meant the difference between a good tip or a bad one, not to mention avoiding the pain of awkward silence.  More than anything, food was what my guests and I talked about.  Even more than discussions of weather, it was a safe, appreciable topic of conversation.  After all, we all have to eat, and everyone has a story about food that sticks with them, cleaving as meat on a rib bone to who they are.

Near the end of my graduate student career, it was a shock when the owner of the Spanish tapas bar I worked at announced that the restaurant was closing it doors.  At the time, I was in the thick of writing my graduate thesis. This was in 2008 when the job market was pathetic.  I was about to graduate, about to move across the country for my husband’s job.  So rather than look for a new server job, I took out a few more student loans, and hung up my server’s apron for good.

It only took me about a month to realize that I had entered a foodie vacuum.  Gone were the daily conversations about food, gone too, the opportunity to taste and try the chef’s new experiments.  I missed the meaningful conversations that occurred when people talked about the food they loved, the food that defined their identities.  I was miserable.

I’m not sure how I decided that a blog would give me the foodie community that restaurant work had supplies all those years, but I needed “someone” to tell my food stories to, and at the moment, a blank Blogger screen was it.  And so, I began to learn the ropes of blogging.  I told my stories and slowly built up a small readership.  The blog functions differently than the restaurant community—it lacks a concrete space—a physical coming together.  But of course, that it is also the blog’s strength: it has the freedom from a confined place or time.  It has allowed my friends and family in different states to share in food stories. It’s allowed me to meet new foodie friends, and even once, after I wrote a lengthy post about how much I missed the rosemary foccacia bread the tapas restaurant served before it closed—Pat, the former baker and pastry chef showed up at more door a couple of days later with a round loaf of olive oil-kissed fresh foccacia.  The blog is less reciprocal than sharing food and conversation physically with people.  In the cyber version, I give more than I receive in this exchange.  But, the blog allows a constant outlet.  It’s a place for me to make sense of I do in the kitchen. More than anything, it offers a concrete record of what I’m eating, what I’m cooking, and what I’m experimenting with.  As a constant log, I’m grateful for that because food disappears.  It’s eaten or composted or fed to the backyard chickens, and all that is left is a memory and a story.