Bear with me folks.
I was born in Hawaii...the old Hawaii. My grandfather was the Marine Surveyor of the Hawaiian Islands....and a merchant marine captain during WWII. He finished out as a Master for the Matson Lines....the Lurline, etc for you old farts. Our produce guy today in Carmel Valley, Denis Thush, was a steward on the Lurline when my grandfather was Master.
My grandmother was cut from different stock. She was also from Oregon (we still use her grandmother's recipe to preserve ducks and pork)......but she was small and dark. In Hawaii, she fit right in, and everyone thought she was a local.
Gramps was away a lot...and Grannie lived in a third floor apartment on the Ala Wai Canal.....kind of a gnarly neighborhood in later days, but fully working class in 1946. On the second floor lived a great roly-poly Japanese butcher. Grannie was terrified of the man, because they often arrived at the same time and she had to dodge around him on the stairs.....he with his blood-soaked apron and handful of carving cleavers.
One day, she missed her dodge around the butcher and was trapped on the landing outside his apartment as he opened his door. The giant bloody butcher with an armful of razor sharp chopping cleavers and knives invited her in for a cup of tea.
Trembling in fear....she accepted. She had her tea, and could not help but notice the cages of gorgeous singing pigeons that the butcher was raising in his tiny apartment. The birds were fat, and loved, and beautiful...with sweet, soulful voices. Grannie, in her discomfort....and frank terror.....admired several of them profusely. The butcher seemed pleased with her praise. She eventually made her escape.....and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Next morning, when she emerged from her apartment to get the newspapers....there were four beautifully wrapped packages on the mat.
The pigeons she had admired.
The local Hawaiian culture was such that if you went out of your way to admire something......that person who owned or created it would be honor bound to give it to you.
Hold that thought.........
This is Dylan's birthday week. Actually he is an April 18th guy.....In New Jersey when you say: April 18th, people immediately say: "It was April 18th of '75, hardly a man is yet alive.....who remembers the famous Day and Year......of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere....."
In Carmel they go: "Huh?"
By growing up in California, Dylan has at least been spared the unending historical trivia that his birthday would generate in the Northeast. Still, the lad lives in Santa Cruz....and the 4/18 is perilously close to 4/20. Along with being Buddha's birthday, 4/20 is the International Smoke Out Day....and we are not talking Cohibas here.
Having a birthday close to 4/20 in Santa Cruz is like having a birthday close to Christmas in the rest of America.....hard to get personal attention.
I thought it would be nice and completely different and out of Dylan's normal orbit to do a birthday dinner for him at Manresa....our favorite restaurant on this continent....or at least this half of this continent.
Manresa plays in the same leagues as our favorite Spanish restaurants: insane attention to detail and technique, whimsy, insane attention to detail quality and variety of ingredients, insane attention to detail of the plate.....
"Insane" in my world is not a perjorative, by the way.
Taking Dylan to Manresa, once we got him there, and got him installed in his seat.....I realized....was in the same league as me buying my Dad the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" album for Christmas in 1965. The possibility of self-gratification was all around the "gift".
Dylan lives in a hive of a dozen or so Banana Slugs on the railroad tracks in North Santa Cruz. The house is close to: 1) a cheap Thai restaurant; 2) Safeway; 3) a brew pub. He and his other engineering genius housemates are working on the design of a vehicle to travel up the railroad tracks to the brew pub and the Safeway.....
DUI on a railroad track? Not possible.
His rent is $300 a month.
So....spending five months' rent on dinner for four......is a gesture almost on the level of a rock band trashing an expensive hotel room. Why did we do it? Because we CAN, dammit!
Enjoying David Kinch's food at Manresa always fires us up. When it is great, we are awe-struck and inspired. When it is just good.....we are really inspired, because we can do that too! Regardless, the innovation and vision we see on his plates always lights us up and gives us big push on the crazy swing-set we call Culinary Life.
We just went through this with Dylan's brother Conall in Spain....having wonderful, exotic, creative, over-the-top meals and great conversation en-famille....and then trying to hide the bill from him. To me....a couple months' momentum is worth a couple months' rent. No?
And....Dylan has started working with me as a chef on the hotside at The Store. The lad needs to see gorgeous plates.....we are knocking out a hundred or so each every Monday, and I wanted him to understand why I have falling down fits about the exact color of the dust on sole fillets, or the placing of the Himalayan Red Rice just so, or the direction the asparagus lays......or why I curse the waitress when she tries to pull the plate away before the Cypress lava salt gets its time.....
I am protecting Dylan from Brendan's station for a while. Don't want to scare the kid off. After 23 years in a restaurant family we are just now coaxing him in to our culinary crack house......He has been wary up to now.......Why ever?
In the course of basking in the glow of my favorite chef's food and the company of most of my favorite people on the planet.....I hearkened back to Dylan's first birthday.
Dylan's full name is Dylan Ansel Slattery Jones. The Ansel is for Ansel Adams....our employer and mentor for the first years of our business.
Ansel died on April 22, 1984.....a year before Dylan was born. The circumstances of his death are worth a book.....and certainly a good blog post. Ansel Adams was/is definitely in there in Dalai Lama Land: wise, connected, ironic, kind.......all that.
A year later, Ansel's wife Virginia asked us to go to Yosemite to do the catering at the first anniversary of Ansel's death....and the occasion of the naming of Mount Ansel Adams in Yosemite. Fuckin' A! Of course.
Virginia grew up in Yosemite.....She was Virginia Best, the princess of the premier California art family. Her Dad was a famous painter, and had the concession at the shops in Yosemite. Virginia still did.
Ansel became famous....but Virginia was always the Queen. When Virginia and Ansel married, Pops Best was not stoked: his daughter was marrying an unemployed piano player with a big camera. It was for us, years later, to watch people fawn over Ansel and ignore Virginia....at their peril.
So....when Virginia said "Jump!" we already knew to say "How high?"....on the way up, of course. This is not to imply that Virginia was a bitch......quite the opposite, she was our buddy and co-conspirator....but power is power.
Saturday, April 20th....Yosemite....Reception for 150...No problem, Virginia.
The only problem in the way of our catering this party two hundred some odd miles and five hours away from our kitchen in a remote location with no staff, no facilities, no refrigeration and international scrutiny was one tiny one: my wife was nine months pregnant.
No worries.....Jane is a trooper. She'll deliver on time, and everything will be fine.
Well....it kind of worked out. We got all our prep done, lined up some stalwarts to make the trip with us: me, partner Valentine, Deborah2, Crazy Robert, Chef Peter....and, of course Jane, Brendan (age 4.5) and Conall (age 2.5). We would leave on Friday morning the 19th....get situated, meet our local staff, do the party on Saturday afternoon....no problems.
I was so insane....in the bad way...that I had flights booked for all of us on Sunday night for New York. To get Jane and the baby to good room service.
Jane....God love her forever....went into labor on Thursday, right on schedule.....and Dylan was born Thursday afternoon. We didn't know his name was Dylan yet....that was decided by public vote a few weeks later: Owain and Gawain were the other choices. Jesus. Talk about child abuse. Even those crazy Texas Mormons don't go that
Baby and mom home from hospital to the joys of a pre-party pack. We bundled everyone up....."Nice to meet you, Baby! Please stand back....we are loading the van."
Dylan was now eight hours old, and we loaded him in the catering van and drove to Yosemite to do a party.
When we arrived at Yosemite some five hours later, we attempted to check in at the Awahnee...the gorgeous old hotel. Nope...sorry, folks. Camp Curry for you worker bees. No worries.....we checked into our shitty motel and still made it in time for dinner at the Awahnee. Deborah2, who became Dylan's godmother by virtue of being the only female Catholic in California who would talk to me.......had not brought formal clothes. We bought her a big T-shirt in Virginia's gift shop, and a belted it.......Voila!
We did the Fancy Restaurant Perp Walk.....Me, 4+ Brendan, 2+ Conall, recently pregnant Jane with 14 hour old baby, Deborah2 in belted T-shirt, Valentine, etc...... Everyone stared, and our waitresses were note-perfect. One of them took little Dylan on a tour of the giant gorgeous dining room. Somewhere I have a foto of her with him standing inside one of the humongous fireplaces...
Next morning, I walked outside of Camp Curry in the cold frosty dawn with little Dylan. We walked up to a famous old oak......the "Oak Tree Snowstorm" oak. I gave the little guy a monologue about oaks in general....and this particular tree, and about Ansel. We stood there as the sun came up and the groundfog lifted....and both of us....all three of us at this point...stood in shock and awe as the light whipped through all her various tricks as the day began. Day One for Dylan.....kind of. Day 1.5 for sure.
Anyway.....we did the party. Knocked their socks off. Dylan was a star, as was Jane. The wonder and absurdity of a 36 hour old mom and baby caterer tickled anyone who cared to notice.
After the party, I wandered through the gift shop. I stopped in front of the jewelery section and admired the turquoise. Ten years before I successfully lured Jane back into my life in Telluride, Colorado......and bereft of the normal human communication skills....I bought her turquoise and silver from the Four Corners Navajos who would occassionally sneak into our cursed valley. All of it was stolen by kids as soon as we moved to Carmel Valley...but enjoyed looking at it all....especially one belt buckle that reminded me of one I had bought Jane...... and told as much to the sales girl. I also told her about Dylan and my little session with the oak. She was nice.
Virginia had lots of turquoise because she loved it, too.....and had a route to buy it all through Arizona and New Mexico, back in the day. If you know anything about photography, you know about the visual relationship between Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keefe....and the launching of Ansel's career with the image of "Moonrise Hernandez". The only reason Ansel was introduced to New Mexico and Arizona was because of Virginia's turquoise Jones....
Anyway, we packed up and left.....we had a plane to catch!
The story goes on......to Los Banos and New York City.....
When we returned to Carmel Valley there were two packages waiting for us at our house.
Package One was small. I opened it up: the silver and turquoise belt buckle I had admired in the shop.
Package Two was large and flat.
I opened it up: one of the very few personally signed and personally printed images of "Oak Tree Snowstorm" that Ansel Adams ever did.
Virginia Adams was.... and is..... my image of the perfect employer. She ran a 90 year old business from a distance....a business the existence of which changed the face of modern art and photography.....and yet was so in touch with her products and her workers that she could devine a special gift for a friend out of counter-top gossip.....
And the morals and ethics of which gift matched Dylan's' great-grandmother's experience in Hawaii forty years before.
There are still folks out there who are paying attention to every detail......moral, social, practical, ethical, visual, political.....spiritual.
So....dinner at Manresa was not such a bad choice.
His mom was totally blase about delivering a baby and immediately diving ensemble into Catering Land for the first 48 hours of his life....
And I was wondering why it took Dylan so long to try to dip his toe back in the culinary waters?
Bad kind of insane, Dad.
But...... a great kind of backwards birthday present to be working with my son in the Sturm und Drang of hotside service on Monday Night at The Cachagua Store.
And a huge "Thank You" to Jane.....and Virginia....on the occasion of Dylan's Birthday.