It’s mind-boggling, but my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this year. Actually, they celebrated it twice. The first occasion was on the actual date and the second time was a weekend in May when we gathered a slew of relatives at my sister’s farm in Virginia. As you might imagine, my task was cooking for the mob.
The “mob” in this case consisted of relatives from my mother’s side of the family. My father is the black sheep in his family – a collection of nice but straight-laced people who would have been completely out of place at an event that featured loads of food, booze, and often off-color jokes. My mother’s family is an occasionally rowdy and often profane group of liberal intellectuals and Dad’s family isn’t. So although we would have welcomed their presence in a familial sense, we would have felt constricted and they would have been uncomfortable.
My mother’s side of the family also loves to eat. As everyone does, they have likes and dislikes, but most of them are willing to try new things, to explore exotic dishes, and they eat like trenchermen. It’s not just my relations; people who make a point of celebrating with food always seem to know how to have a good time.
A couple of days ago I catered a small dinner party. I had just served the appetizers when a thunderstorm took the power out. But my clients just laughed and opened another bottle of wine. And because the cooking was forced on hold, I ended up joining them and we sat around chatting until the house lit up again.
Aside from the power outage, it was a pretty typical event: A family or group of friends gathering to celebrate some special occasion in someone’s life. In this case, Rebecca’s mother had just retired after 40 years as a school teacher. The party consisted Rebecca and her husband, her parents, and her sister and her husband. A small intimate affair and I was in essence a retirement gift to her mother.
I love doing these affairs. Since most Americans don’t believe in servants so I have a unique status: I’m not hired help but not family either. Instead I become entertainment. My job is to be charming, knowledgeable, a competent cook, and have a store of self-deprecating anecdotes. In exchange for this service, I’m not only paid well, but actively welcomed into their lives for part of an evening. I consider it a privilege.
For me, food and cooking are as much about nurturing our souls and our bonds with friends and family as it is about feeding our bodies. And most of my catering clients feel the same way to at least some degree. They have decided to pay a lot of money to eat a specially prepared meal together in their homes. So I do everything I can to support that from printing out special menus to developing special recipes. This effort, in turn, nurtures me and when I slip out the door at the end of the evening I inevitably have a happy grin plastered across my face.
On this night though I received a special bonus. Rebecca gave me a big hug just before I left.
You can’t beat that.