Last week I cooked for our Nomad Chef: Sensuous, Sexy, South Beach dinner… drawing on my old Latin lovers … Cuban, Mexican and a new one, brought along by a new friend (Jaime, a Peruvian, who came with a dish that had a Portuguese and Brazilian twist). It was hot, hot, hot and spicy… and very warm – these strangers who are my new friends.
And the next day the Nomad Chef catered for 200 people who attended the book launch of a woman who I met for the first time two months after my son died. Looking for something that would really feed my actor/writer/chef’s creativity (though at the time he was disguised temporarily as an internet evangelist working for my company), I found a 2 week writing workshop in Croatia and gave him that for his birthday present. His last birthday. He was thrilled at the chance to travel to Eastern Europe again, where he was convinced lived the prettiest girls in all of Europe. I wanted to support his talent… It was a chance for him to re-ignite his writing passion. Anne Aylor was the writing coach for this two-week sojourn. I remember hearing she and her husband tell me about how he turned up at the boat that would ferry the writers to their little island tranquility at the very moment the boat was about to pull away. He’d fallen asleep on the beach. They told me stories about how he was the highlight (I think they used a word like sunshine) of the writing group that was dominated by women of a certain age and a couple of misfits like my tall, gorgeous son and a young man just a little more than half his age. I didn’t know his bonds with these strangers were so strong – not until they reached me at my office 2 months after he’d died. He hadn’t answered their email. How could he? He was gone by then.
So I adopted this lovely couple that were much closer to my own age. They came to visit me in my empty office, filled with 20 or so beings – but missing the sunlight of my son – bearing poetry and tears. What do you call the borrowing of the almost friends of someone who is already gone? Adoption doesn’t quite capture it. Maybe a better word is “appropriated.” Yes. I took them as I did a few of my son’s other artifacts: his ipod and iphone and box of writings, along with the hat he left on the coat rack when he last left the house. This couple were now mine, part of my inheritance. I slowly got to know them, inviting them to big and small dinners. They remind me of the self I am working on, the inner, hidden creative. And they remind me of how great and loved my son was. I’m the writer now in my family of one. Did I inherit that too? Or did I give it to him only to have it given back to me? Anyway… Anne and her husband wanted the Nomad Chef (moi!) to cater for Ann’s book launch. And I did it with so much pleasure, realizing that I had succeeded in working my way into their lives as my son had done, although he had done it instantly with his sunny smile and warm heart. It was a family affair. I felt him there with me in the menu planning, the two days of cooking and then the 5 hours of serving. I follow in his footsteps even though my path is in a different world.
One of the things I cooked for both of the dinners last week included cinnamon. I didn’t even think to check whether I had enough of it. Ground cinnamon was one of 17 spices that were to go into the stuff I rubbed on the chicken before grilling it on skewers; 250 skewers. But the jar was almost empty. This was a jar, one of many, that I’d inherited from my son’s spice cabinet. I count on these spices to help me feel connected to him when I cook. His fingers have touched these spices. But the jar of memory had run out. It was a little death, a jolt. I couldn’t face going to the spice shop on Portobello Road to replace something so full of memory, something that, when missing, had nearly emptied me out. It was then he came to me. Yes, “he.” I’m sure of it now. I’d purchased some cinnamon sticks a few weeks before. And it suddenly hit me that I could take them and grind them into powder. Relief. Though there were little bits of imperfection in my freshly ground cinnamon powder, it blended perfectly with its new friends – just as I try to do with the strangers who are becoming my new friends. Unrefined ingredients are somehow so much more intense. And maybe a little difficult. Yet they can leave a strong and lasting impression… like my son. I may be a pale reflection of him as the second Nomad Chef, but he has passed on his legacy to me in the form of spices. And I pass them on, like a Nomad who finds great stuff and passes it on.