In my last installment of paying tribute to the mentors who have inspired me I wrote about Chef Marshall Lyons. In this segment I remember a woman who taught me reminded me of one of the greatest aspects of anyone who pursues their passion in their work. Her name is Carol Edgerley.
Like Chef Marshall, I met Carol at the venerable Phillips Exeter Academy in 1993. The institution had two dining halls: Wetherell and Elm Street. Carol was the Lead Dinner Cook at Elm Street, a newer, more open-concept facility. I was her counterpart at the older, history-steeped facility about a quarter mile away. (My kitchen was the kitchen that in the old days fed Lincoln's children, the children of the Carnegie and Coors families--the old tunnels off the kitchen were super spooky and fun to poke around in!)
My shifts at work ran the usual Monday through Friday, which suited me fine since I bartended on the weekends at a restaurant. I started at 11:30am and the very large kitchen was cleaned and put to bed by 7:30pm each day. The hall was closed on Wednesdays and my assistant and I would go to Elm Street to feed the entire school (a total of 800 people!). I enjoyed Wednesdays because I got to work with Carol for part of the day.
Carol was a Mother and it was in that role that she brought the best of her work to the Academy. While most of our weekday conversations would be on the telephone (a mere 4 digit extension to "her side of campus"), we conferred 3 or 4 times a day so that the entrees we were preparing were standardized (similar, no matter which hall the students and faculty went it would be the same). In our chats we'd approach together the best way to prepare the 3 entrees for which we were responsible. It was such an amazing experience to open up this healthy dialogue between the two of us. Always---and without fail---the goal was efficient production and nutritious food that expressed care.
Carol was a divorced Mother. I could tell that it affected her like so many that have been let down by someone they loved, and later let them down. Still, and the most amazing gift she lived, was her care for the students at the school. She never took shortcuts to "make her day easier." She might not have had the experience that culinary schools could offer her. Through it all, though, Carol cared for the students as if they were her own! Too often the actual intention of care gets lost in the recipe. Spending those four years with her smokey voice on the other end of a telephone line, I have remembered her gift----no matter the experience, no matter the recipe, there is an element of care towards others that must be a part of pursuing any hobby, passion, or work.
And, if you have a challenging time finding it in whatever you are doing, find something else to evoke this love! When you find the right path, it will be natural and overflowing. The excitement of what you are doing will be contagious! It will translate into the senses of others and be felt. In cooking and entertaining, Carol taught me more than flavors and smells. She stirred in me the importance of connecting your heart to the heart of others via food.
It is a lesson I carry everyday. I rarely have a set menu at The Inn at Long Lake. The phrase "I'll know it when I see it" is trumped by the phrase "I'll make it when I feel it" ("it" being joy, happiness, quirky frivolity, reverence, etc.)
Carol passed away in 2003. I found her obituary online this morning. I still hear her raspy laugh. I still recall dialing her extension and saying "Wetherell calling Elm Street" (she would always laugh even if she was busy in the heat of the kitchen.)
Today, consider assessing during your day how much you are actually attached to the things you are doing. In some cases, perhaps it might be better to farm some things out to others--believe me, there is always someone out there who would find wonderful joy in the things you can't, or don't want to, do. Focus on the activities and work that fill your heart, for it is there where magic is truly made! It is there that you uniquely express yourself to the world. You will care to overflowing!
Like the lesson I learned from Carol, it truly is the "most intriguing spice" that is in your spice rack!
Keith A. Neubert