Good Stock: The Cure for Lost Souls

Last week I had one of those days where you come home from a hard day's work and fall asleep in a malformed pile of limbs on the first soft surface you meet. I even have the subsequent kink in my neck to prove it. But let's start from the beginning.

Through a series of fortunate accidents, I was connected with Sandy and Angie D'Amato. The retired couple were about to throw a party celebrating the kick-off of recreational cooking classes at their newly renovated farmhouse. Because Sandy was tackling the catering menu solo, and they were dealing with an ever-expanding guest list of friends and local connections, I was recruited to be an extra set of hands in the kitchen.

If you haven't heard of him, Sanford D'Amato is an accomplished chef and the previous co-owner of several celebrated restaurants in Milwaukee (Sanford, Coquette Cafe, and Harlequin Bakery). He and his wife have traveled the world cooking and eating together, and now they are starting this new venture on their farm in Hatfield, MA.

I will admit that when I tied up my hair and grabbed my shoes before heading over to help with prep that first day, I wasn't fully aware of the James Beard Award-winning level of Sandy's career. And this was probably for the better. You may have gathered by now that I tend to get a little jumpy. A little nervous. But at least I would have brushed up on the vocabulary and skills so rusty from culinary school that I can only call them "dormant" with any sense of good conscience.

When I arrived at Good Stock Farm I was welcomed by warm and friendly faces and offered hot coffee (not to mention the from-scratch lunch I would have gladly paid upwards of $20 for at any restaurant). My prep station was set up and fully-stocked. I was given a quick tour of their kitchen and basement pantry. And off we went to start in on a full eight hours of prep work reminiscent of my culinary school internship. "We're going to bring that to soft ball stage." "Cut those at 1/4" on the bias." "Separate these 36 eggs and whip 18 whites to medium peak."

Perhaps you can better appreciate and envision my asleep-upon-full-collapse position described at the start of this post. But what you may have overlooked is my beaming smile. Yes, I had to soak my feet in hot water and epsom salt. Yes, I lamented my stupidity at cutting this and that not to spec and clung to insecurity about my need for direction and added clarification from Sandy. But I spent the entire day really cooking. And using muscles long lost. And getting my hands dirty. And learning! Oh LEARNING... from a truly great, gentle, patient talent. Be still my little heart - it was amazing.

Sandy and Angie and their beautiful party with far too much food helped me remember who I am. Sometimes life has a funny way of clouding our sense of self with schedules and bills and anxiety. But I'm not a retail associate. And I'm not just a cook in a fast food kitchen. I am student at heart. And more importantly, I am a student who loves food. I am a chef, even if I still have many many things to learn.

So please. Do what you love until you fall asleep in a heap of happy exhaustion - Doctor's orders!