Thursday, I sat in the back pew of a local house of worship, surrounded by several of my colleagues, paying respects at a funeral service that no one had anticipated we would need to attend so soon. We knew this lovely lady had another bout with cancer, but, her health had just recently turned the corner for the better a few short weeks ago.
As I sat there, I couldn't help but notice that I was among the "who's who" of my industry, all gathered together in one small sanctuary. Sitting in the rows just ahead of me were 5 Certified Master Chefs, and several CMC candidates, as well as several well-respected and accomplished chefs of note and prominence.
All of them, a small fraternity of excellence, the embodiment of hard work, talent, and passion. All of them have been decorated many times over. Many of them having reached a level of success that only a very small fraction of their peers could even hope to achieve.
It's trite and cliche, but I don't know many people who can attend a funeral without taking at least an abbreviated inventory of their own life; where they've been, where they're going, and the people who travel alongside them. Maybe regrets flash in their memories, hopefully not too many. Maybe sweet thoughts of happy times with family and friends...
I've always said, "you're going to be dead a lot longer than you're going to be alive....", and it's long been sort of a mantra I'm not "old" by any means, but as I contemplated where I've been and where I'm going, I couldn't believe how fast time flies by. I was just 17 years old when I made the acquaintance of many of these men I now call colleagues and friends, including our widower, who was one of my first instructors.
Fresh-faced and full of enthusiasm, and lots of youthful ignorance, I started culinary school with little concern for anything or anyone other than myself and where I was headed professionally. As I sat there, I thought to myself, "these guys probably want to shake their head at me; all of my drive and talent, all of the training and awards - I didn't do what they trained me to do. I didn't end up a "chef's chef". ...I make granola".
It's pretty ridiculous. It's also kind of funny. I make granola. Of all of the things I know how to make. Of all of the awards I've won. Of all of the magazines my work has been featured in, I make granola. Of course, none of them treat me this way. They're all very, very sweet to me.
So, at 31, I again realized that I'm going to be dead a lot longer than I'll be alive, and I'm really not too far behind these guys in their 50's, or at least in terms of how fast the time will pass before I'm there. Especially based on how fast the last 14 years have breezed past me, when it all just seems like only a couple of years ago, I was living it up, making trouble and showing off with other obnoxious and precocious culinarians.
I make granola, and, I guess, if I wanted to "redeem" myself for the sins of not "living the life" and setting the culinary world on fire, like the 5 Masters had expected me to, I can point to the snobbish standards by which the granola was developed and is made. The thing is, making granola is one of the best decisions I've made in my career.
No one expects an explanation from me, except me. And, as I sat there, contemplating my past and future, an arm's-reach from mid-life, I know that one day, I'll be in a box or an urn, too, and it'll be just fine because I lived the life I wanted to live, on my terms, risks, reward, and all that other stuff that accompanies the business of making yourself happy.
It's a new year. What are you waiting for?
Stacy Sloan; Chef & Founder of Three Little Birds