Lately, I have been obsessed—totally obsessed with Chef Thomas Keller. It is not just the man alone that sparks this passion in me. It is the whole world that he has created and what he stands for: the culinary garden, the finest proprietors, sustainability, precision and doing something that you love really, really well. I have devoured every e-magazine that he has published to date and even made a road trip last week to New York City to experience first-hand one of his restaurants, The Bouchon Bakery and Café at the Time Warner Center. While there, I took this picture (above). It is the door for one of Keller’s finest restaurants–and one of THE finest restaurants on the planet—Per Se. I have been planning my 50th birthday celebration at Per Se for a couple of years now, and I still have two years left to wait. Next week, I will be attending a conference about 70 miles from another Thomas Keller establishment, Bouchon in Yountville, California. I have made a reservation at the restaurant with the hopes of getting a feel for the whole environment. I plan to visit the French Laundry culinary garden and the Bouchon Bakery (west), too.
As posted multiple times over the last few months, I have been trying to find my next career adventure. What has been revealed to me through the writing of Thomas Keller is a passion that has been hiding behind thoughts of what I think I want. Gardening, farms, healthy food, the best ingredients for cooking and using creativity to produce something with one’s hands are the things that feed my interests. When I am not working in an office, this is what fuels me. Actually, I could take that thought one step further and state that these are the things that make up for working in an office all week—a balm to my psyche. The realization and awakening of this passion feels somewhat miraculous. I am not a person that came out of the womb knowing my purpose. Mapping out a career has been a journey and a struggle. Now, acknowledging these interests helps me to see what was in front of me all along.
Looking back at my life and the roots of my family, I remember that gardening, food and farms have been central to our existence for generations. My mother was raised on a dairy farm, and my father’s family was gardeners and even raised chickens. My paternal grandmother, Elsie Cantz, with whom I spent much of my time, was a cook at a local public school. She actually studied cooking in college early in the twentieth century. Elsie was the also best home cook that I have ever known.
As an adult, my happiest childhood memories are of the garden that we tended at my Grandmother’s house. We lived just 5 minutes away and spent several nights each week at the garden, weeding, harvesting, planting and climbing the single apple tree out back of the house. Experiencing the original farm-to-table movement, we picked vegetables, washed them off with a garden hose, grabbed a saltshaker from inside the house to season our little treasure and then CHOMP ate it on the back steps.
My love a plants and nature did not stop at the family garden. In high school, I had a dream of owning a greenhouse and of being a florist. I remember dropping this interest because of my distaste for the state schools that offered horticulture programs, and went off to an artsy east coast school in Vermont to study environmental science, forestry and opera…a rare combination, indeed.
Now, free from the fog of martinis and wine, my thoughts have come full circle back to my first love. I am surprised at the realization that has come about. As a graduate of business school, I have been seeking the perfect office job in a successful company and now that idea has been turned on its ear. A friend of mine challenged me the other night about this 180-degree turn, and it made me second-guess giving up the search for a perfect corporate job…but just for a moment. However strange it might seem to others, I keep coming back to the excitement that I feel thinking about visiting Bouchon and The French Laundry, gardening and cooking. Deciding to allow myself the luxury of dreaming about a life that connects me back to the garden of my youth just feels like the right thing to do.