The Tale of a Chef |

The Tale of a Chef

You know you're hooked on this profession when everyone around you is running away from the kitchen, always going out to eat, or when they try figuring out what to do about their next meal like it's a prison sentence… and yet for some reason you're running into the kitchen excited to cook….

Passionate- having, compelled by, or ruled by intense emotion or strong feeling

My passion for great food, entertaining, and preparing meals came at a relatively young age. It first came about while listening to my mother tell me about the lavish parties they attended in some of the wealthiest homes in Westchester County around the mid 60’s. She would tell me all the wonderful dishes they ate, how they tasted, and what they looked like. I was barely five years old but I could visualize them in my little head, imagining the taste as she recited their fabulous ingredients. I have always believed you are born into this profession, or better yet this way of life. I eat, sleep, and dream about food, anticipating the next adventure and reminiscing about the many exploits this profession has taken me on.
I first learned and cultivated my appreciation for good food while growing up in an Italian American family in the 60’s and 70’s. While most mothers were stay-at-home moms, my mother was a career executive assistant working her way up the ladder to be the secretary/executive assistant to the president of Pitney Bowes. Every night at about 6:00 or 6:30 the troops were rounded up and we all had to sit together for our family ritual “supper time." I was the baby of a family with two sisters and a brother. I can still smell my mother's cooking and hear the bantering and jabbing that siblings have with each other. My older sister and brother were in high school and I would sit and listen to them talk about school friends, dating, the malt shop, and their other cool hangouts. I associated food with family, and eating together was a special part of our day. It is a ritual that has continued into my adult life with my family.
Most of my childhood -from age seven, 2nd grade- was spent in a small, secluded place called Purchase. Too undersized a settlement to be a town or village, Purchase was called a Hamlet. I don’t remember the move from Elmsford being devastating or life changing except for the fact that we moved into a house half the size of our previous house. This meant sharing a room with my older sister Lauren. I got acclimated quickly and soon made friends with the kids -mostly boys- that lived on my street and the next street over, which happened to be the only development at that time. I loved to ride my bike, fish, and play army- not typical girl behavior. The boys and I would build massive tree forts in the woods that surrounded our houses and fished in our personal lake for our “dinner." We then took the fish home, put them in warm water so they would die quietly, then gut and clean them. Then we'd go back to our forts and light a fire to cook these delicate little Sunny filets, gorging on them slathered in melted butter. It is such a vivid memory I can still taste those buttery little filets and perfectly remember their lobster-like texture. Reliving my past through these notes captures the love and zeal I had for life. Everyday was special, planned with activities and adventure. I was unstoppable.

The boys and I were always on an journey, whether an all day hike through our vast surrounding woods, camping out in our back yards, surf casting at Rye beach in the Long Island Sound, or riding our mini bikes across the barren land of Purchase while tearing up our little town with new exploration. I was fearless, carefree, and unpredictable, vigilantly conniving our next mission. We were a like a pack; there was a chief (that would be me) and there were little Indians that followed. I believe the natural ability to step into a leadership role starts at a very young age. You need the aptitude to make split-second decisions and give answers when other are still trying to evaluate the situation. I had a passion for living, a zest for achievement, and an appetite for the unknown. These are traits I believe supported and nurtured my path to the position I am in today.

I recall how frustrating it is to wait for “your reputation to precede you." Here is a quick story that quantifies the meaning of that saying. Some years ago when my friends and I would get a group together to play baseball, the older kids were always the captains while the rest of us would line up like cattle waiting to be picked. The two captains would take turns calling out the names of the kids they wanted on their teams. You know how it works; the best got picked first and the worst get picked last. Nick goes first, then Brian, then Peter, then Stevie, then John, then Joe, then Henry, then Tommy, then Cy, Jimmy, David, and Frank……and at this point I am fucking fuming! I have a better arm, I’m faster, and I sure as hell hit better than most of the boys, but here I am being picked last. “Oh ya you get Lisa," Danny the big captain says to Charlie, as he is laughing out loud. “Don’t worry we’ll put her in left field, no one ever hits there," Charlie replies. That kind of treatment gives you a feeling that goes right to the core of your existence. For most, it's really failure before you are given the chance to fail, yet for me it was motivation to prove those around me wrong. That scenario has happened many times in my 30+ year career in this industry. The names are different, the positions have changed, the captains have been replaced with chefs and general managers, but the content, the suffocating feeling of waiting for your reputation to precede you has not changed one iota. What has changed is my way of handling the situation and my ability to control the outcome. The playing field has gotten smaller and the captains are fewer and further apart, but it has taken me 34 years to finally have “my reputation precede me." Don’t ever give up or back down, the humiliation can bury you for good. Let your passion, your determination, and your commitment drive you through those situations.

Oh yes, and did I neglect to mention that first time up I hit a bomb to left field, driving in 3 runs. After a few short games, Lisa became the #2 pick after Nick, then Lisa became the pitcher of the team and Danny the captain wasn’t laughing out loud . I was…HAHAHAHHA


lchristie • 01/12/2011
Love this Article Lisa...aka, bionic womanYou are an inspiration to all chefsLaura Christie
lbrefere001 • 01/12/2011
Thanks Laura, perhaps idiotic not bionic. The stories get better. Best Lisa
lhardy001 • 01/12/2011
Great article LisaI can hear your voice as I read itHope you are doing great- Laila
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