Laying on my couch, taking this moment to ground before I drive up towards Purgatory Resort to cook a seven-course meal. Taking a moment to reflect on how I arrived in Durango (albeit eight years ago) and how I'm currently paying my rent and bills... as a private chef. It's astonishing, really. The past year has been an unexpected one. A year ago, I would not have guessed that I'd be a private chef and not a social worker. (Who knows? Maybe a year from now, I'll be using my graduate school degree and no longer working as a full-time private chef. I doubt it.)
A friend reflected to me yesterday that I'm in a love affair with food. The sentiment landed deeply. I am head over heels in love with the ingredients I use to cook.
I accepted tonight's job just two days ago. At first, I wasn't sure what I would cook. Although I've been cooking for twelve years, spent a year at a hut cooking three meals a day for up to eight people, and have worked on and off as a private chef for a year and a half, I only recently formalized offerings. (I remember hiking Engineer back in August with a friend and decided I was going to build a website and make business cards.) As I wondered how I could cook an incredible meal for tonight, I realized I was overthinking.
Instead of thinking, I went to Sunnyside (Durango's local butcher and one of my favorite specialty shops in the world) and purchased some local meat (bone marrow, lamb, and their maple bourbon bacon). Instead of thinking, I purchased seasonal vegetables (delicata squash, carrots, and greens). Instead of thinking what I should cook, I let the seasons inform the menu; I let the ingredients speak for themselves.
Tonight's menu ranges from roasted bone marrow with a salami red wine roll (from Bread, obviously) to roasted delicata squash filled with carrot puree topped with honey and parmesan to spicy lamb kelp noodles inspired by Northern Chinese flavors to Thai summer rolls (basically a salad packed into a rice paper roll) to a venison stew (the deer being one my friend harvested and I helped process) to Mexican spiced chocolate fudge. That's not even the full menu. I am proud to say that each dish is built on a local ingredient (whether meat, goat cheese, or vegetable), and I firmly believe you can taste the difference.
Who knows what tomorrow will hold... but for today, I am endlessly grateful to be a private chef here in Durango, Colorado. Of all the places I have ever lived, this is the place that taught me what home feels like. To the seasons, to our lands, to home.
I've been wanting to write a post reflecting on my relationship with food over the past several years of cooking. Here we are.
These days, the phrase "from the gross to the subtle" is never too far from my heart. As we move with intention through the world, our experiences shift from gross to subtle. Our awareness sharpens, and we become more attuned to the nuances present in the day to day.
I have noticed my awareness sharpening as it relates to my culinary offerings. I think back to how I related to food ten years ago. I would check the ingredient list and felt satisfied if there were no additives. It didn't occur to me to wonder where the food came from, or when it was last a live plant or animal. I just cared that the ingredients were "clean."
Several years ago, I shifted to consuming mainly organic foods (a huge privilege in and of itself). I felt that if there was a USDA stamp of organic approval, then that was a step up from the foundation of clean ingredients I'd previously operated from.
Now, I feel myself in the midst of another shift. Organic is wonderful, and we should all have access to foods that are grown without harmful pesticides. However, I am starting to feel like it's not enough. Our foods are only as healthy as the soils they're grown in. If our "organic" food is grown in soil that is fundamentally devoid of nutrients, then our foods will not have the nutrients our bodies require.
I am wondering what it looks like to think beyond that which is merely sustainable. I am wondering what a private chef business could look like if I only cooked with ingredients that are local, seasonal, and grown by farmers who value regenerative practices.
I don't know if it's possible, but I'm dreaming of a summer spent canning, preserving, and pickling local foods. Of a winter where offerings are local meats, root vegetables, delicious squash dishes, and that which has been preserved from the summer.
I believe in contemplation before action. To truly allow ourselves to be with the dreams without attachment to how they will unfold. This is a glimpse into the dreams I'm with these days: a dream that honors the journey from the gross to the subtle.
What is trust and how do we cultivate it within our lives and within ourselves?
In my humble opinion, we currently live in a society that is fueled by distrust. Distrust of ourselves and of one another, of our innate wisdom and capacity. Unfortunately, the machine of capitalism runs on said distrust.
I deeply believe that we are born with the wisdom (and trauma) of generations past and that our lives fundamentally change when we remember how to trust ourselves. So how do we begin to remember?
I believe that the answer lies in putting the cart before the horse. We listen to the voices in our head that tell us "YES!" or "No...!" and observe what unfolds. Move because you feel like it! Marry because it feels right. Leave the job because you feel like there's something else out there.
Maybe you'll be thrilled with your decision; maybe there's a layer of regret. But the way we reconnect with our intuition is to honor it and not be afraid of the outcome. The way we honor ourselves is to listen to our intuition and start to develop relationship with the voices, the feelings, the impulses.
No matter what life we choose, there is no perfect outcome. There are lessons and there is learning. And yet what I've learned in all my "mistakes" and "messes" is that mistakes aren't mistakes when we live from our hearts. When we trust ourselves and life (inevitably) smacks us in the face, perhaps we remember that life is going to kick our asses no matter what.
And when life arrives to kick my ass, there's no where I'd rather be than in a deep process of trust with myself.
Hi! Thanks for being here. It's been a while since I've done the whole "blog" thing, but I'm happy to be back at it.
Someone asked me yesterday if I was surprised to be where I'm at (i.e. starting a private chef business in Durango and depleting my *meager* life savings to do so, lol), and it took me a quite to feel into my answer. The best I could offer was yes and no.
Yes, I'm surprised that I finished my Masters degree in May and am not yet embarking on a career as a social worker. Yes, I'm surprised that there may be an opportunity to channel my passion for ecopsychology* into something food related.
And at the same time, no, I'm not surprised. I'm here because I've been following the breadcrumbs. I'm here because even though I thought I'd be elsewhere four months post-graduation, life had other lessons in store. I'm here because I took rejection as redirection.
I've been thinking a lot about the notion of arriving recently. What does it mean to arrive? How do we know we have arrived? Most importantly, how does it feel to arrive?
To me, arrival is a feeling. It's an experience of "mmm, yes, this" in our bodies. It's an experience that inspires and settles, even if the arrival itself is imbued with a degree of uncertainty.
In typing these words and dreaming ahead to this week's food offering, I feel that I have arrived. Although I have no idea whether the past year and a half of private cheffing will translate to a "successful" business model, that seems beside the point. To me, success is the process, not the outcome. To me, the feeling of arrival is the success.
I'll be posting here at least biweekly. Once again, I'm honored you're here and look forward to the continued adventure!
*Ecopsychology is an emerging field that is less about learning and more about unlearning. It reminds us that we are not separate from the natural world; we are of the natural world. It's about remembering the deep interconnection and interdependence between all beings - not just human beings.
PS Success is also figuring out how to bake your favorite gluten-free fudge cookie from home.