Whenever you come to REPUBLIC and see me charging up from the basement or carrying a pot or pan of something down to the basement, or standing in front of the line expediting during service, see what I am today: A working chef/owner. I was not always this person. I, over the years (and I have seen many), have changed and evolved. I, unlike many of you I am sorry to admit, do not carry any of my past experiences and human connections with me save for my love, Claudia, and a few very dear fiends to whom I am so grateful, would not let me leave. Each turn in my life has been drastically different from what came before and I do not look back. I do not reflect either positively or negatively on what has occurred. It is not as if it never happened since all experience molds a person, but for me past experience is more nuance than specifics. It is, I admit, a deep character flaw, but it has freed me to expand and constantly be accepting of extreme change. So what am I getting at with this personal expose? Two things happened to me recently that have shaken me and caused both reflection and joy: A contact from my past and a recipe that affected a guest.
A few months ago a friend who I have not heard from in over 30 years ago unimaginably made contact via this blog. It is more remarkable given that he has been living in Israel almost this entire time. In his comment, and after a few emails were traded, he alluded to a “tape” that he possesses and that I would love to have. He would send a copy A.S.A.P. “What tape?” was my response.
The other situation came on a Wednesday night at REPUBLIC. A couple was sitting at the marble bar as I was trespassing behind my bar pilots in order to fill a glass with a much needed beverage. I asked as to their dinner and the women looked at me with wide eyes that stopped me.
The intense look in her eyes made me think, “She hates her dinner and I am about to get blasted in front of a full bar. “Did you make this?” she asked, pointing at her plate. “No” I replied. “It is my recipe, but my line chefs prepared it. Is something wrong?” She was eating our eggplant Neopolitan and said her favorite aunt made a very similar dish and she had not thought of her in a while. She thanked me for the memory and made me promise to email her whenever I put it on the blackboard.
Reconnecting with my friend was a joy. The tape brought me back over 30 years and my mind filled with images of truly another life and time. The look on my guest’s face and the way she hugged me as she left also made me wonder how something as insignificant as eggplant can trigger such a response. In both cases I was jealous of my friend and my guest since almost nothing triggers that in me.
I hope that this essay does not paint me as shallow, but my profession demands that the present and the future dominate my focus and I have been in this profession a very long time. I have now resolved to extend myself to those who have stayed with me over the years, relish and commit to all the new relationships we are making at REPUBLIC, and keep true to the products we serve, hoping that someone else may taste something that triggers a memory.
As to those tapes???? I did receive them. It was 1974 and I was 19. It was a different world for sure as some of you may remember or have read, and I was product of my time. I cannot bring myself to blast the contents on the web. Come by and I will tell you. Until then, do not dwell on the past, but bring the best with you always. In a way we are doing that with our products and procedures in my kitchen. Real food, prepared simply and respectful of the source. I have not lost all sense of past after all.
Thank you L.R. You are invited to MANCH-HATTEN anytime for falafel, hummus, tabouli, harissa, kefta, flatbread and day-boat cod.
See you soon