Meat and Potatoes

We are like children
We’re painted on canvases
Picking up shades as we go
We start off with gesso
brushed on by people we know
Watch your technique as you go
Step back and admire my view
Can I use the colors I choose?
Do I have some say what you use?
Can I get some greens and some blues?

Painted on Canvas, Gregory Porter – Be Good

In a week or so I’m turning thirty-one. Yup, the grey patches in my hair are natural, and they are kept intact to remind myself of where I started, the laughter, tears, dreams and ideas spoken into existence, memorable foods inhaled and eaten.  Over brunch weeks back, I joked with three of my long time colleagues and friends on how I’ve grown from the bratty and bold-faced twenty-four-year old.  Okay, okay I was bratty and rude partly because my day job at the time was not challenging enough. Is that excuse acceptable? 🙂 Happy to report that has changed for the better.  Funny what growing older does, because I can now agree with my friends – I was full of shit with lots to learn, even my cooking tried too hard.

My phone is filled with food pictures.  The greater percentage is of home cooking and plated dishes taken from crazy angles under not-so-good lighting.  Oh! And the one prized picture I have of the dinner hall from the James Beard Awards years ago when I stood in the same kitchen space with Carla Hall and other awarded chefs for 30 minutes before heading back to the restaurant to work service.  I chuckle as I swipe my phone’s screen at pictures that date back to 2011.  Snaps of plated time that ooze of over-ambition and cockiness—overpowered with unnecessary thought.  It was not about knowing everything or walking in such confident shoes back then.  I knew I had much to learn.  For real, I was hiding my fears. Fears of change, rejection, being wrong, living up to my father’s expectations, being able to cook as well as my Ma and was I ready to leave my comfort zone.  I crippled the pace of my growth and questioned my talent and skills.

I remember visiting friends in Georgia for a summer’s weekend that promised copious amounts of food, liquor and a trip down a less fashionable memory lane.  My friends, I’m sure, were looking forward to those plans, while I took over the entire planning, creation and serving of the meals.  I gave orders, ran my friends out of the kitchen and had the nerve to demand times we should eat.  We had a fun time, everyone raved about the food and I added another recipe to my arsenal: Jalapeño and Shrimp Mac n Cheese.  In the end, I was left unexcited with the food I cooked and was viewed as bossy and not able to work well with others.  Thoughts of not being liked or accepted entered my brain constantly and I automatically got defensive – put up my ‘I’m good, don’t need help, thanks but no thank you’ wall.  It was time to speak to myself.  Reassure myself that it’s okay; I’m okay.  “I am amazing so stop hiding and trying so damn hard.” My quest for greatness can’t be travelled without the help of others.  Friends, family, mentors and the nice folks I come into contact regularly to help steer, to cheer, to point out oversights or to just give a compliment.  I could not flourish, write my story and tell of memories on my own—no one can.  A village raised me right.

Hahahaaa, I’m still a little bossy but boy I’ve grown as a chef and a woman.  Six years forward and am I aware and comfortable with the woman I am – a meat and potatoes girl. A plus-sized loner that proudly sashays through the lines of the green market and leans in in the conference room.  A Trini ooman who appreciates a warm cup of tea, a compliment on my femininity, collaboration with my peers and food enthusiasts, and presentation and details still excite me.  I’ve also found my voice and style as a black female chef.  My cooking style?  A Trini flare to real effortless home cooking. Simple techniques and eye pleasing plating all from my apartment kitchen.  Still trying to navigate through my thirties, living a simple life with some theatrics.  That’s only because I want you to remember me!

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Meat and Potatoes

I LOVE potatoes and pork together.  Any pork dish, with loads of thick gravy to bathe the potatoes.  I braised pork chunks marinated in green seasoning.  With rum I deglazed the pan and added the usual suspects of onions, garlic, thyme, green onions and bay leaves to a sea of warm stock, ground nutmeg, cloves, paprika and cayenne pepper to name a few of the ingredients.  I felt less guilty to use vegetable stock instead of milk, a touch of butter and minced garlic to mash the potatoes.  This diet life is a struggle.  To the earth toned colors of the dish I added radishes tossed in champagne vinegar, olive oil, salt and black pepper for a needed pop of color.

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