Sunday, March 4, 2007

Who is Debbie?

I met Debbie in cooking school. We were in a few classes together but we bonded and became friends in the wine course. She is allergic to alcohol so after one or two sips (out of a minimum of 12 each class) she was bright red and chatty. It turned out our lives had many parallels. She was recently married, as was I . She had been with her guy for lots of years, so had I. She worked for a large university in a posh position that paid the bills but not her soul, so did I. We took the professional cooking program courses at UCLA in hopes of changing careers into the food world. We quickly became friends.
She helped me cater a pizza party lunch, creating a fabulous antipasti display for a five year old's birthday. I remember hosting a fancy dinner party for a few frieneds at my home. Debbie created a three layered cake piece with pistachio mousse and nuts and whipped cream. Anyway... Debbie and I shared paths in cooking school for a while and she did what I was afraid to do. She jumped into an internship at Patina. She just showed up in her whites and clogs ready to go and they put her to work. They quickly started paying her, minimum wage. She began moonlighting on her fancy golden handcuff university job. It changed her life. It stressed her marriage. Her husband accepted a research grant in the desert somewhere and she let him go. It was just her, her cats and her two jobs. Eventually she jumped out of student housing into the full-time restaurant culture. She worked under Joachim Spilchal at Patina for a few years. It was back when he was just creating the network of restaurants he eventually sold off to make his fortune.
My most memorable meal is a dinner for 10 at Patina. Debbie ate with us and it was her first and only time to do so as a guest. All at the table were up for an everything tasting and that is what we had. Each of 6 courses were 2 or 3 dishes and we would swap around until we had tasted everything. We basically ate our way through the menu. In addition, there was wine paired with each course. The sommelier was at our beck and call. To top it off, the chef , Joachim himself that night, comped us an enormous amount as we were there with Debbie. It was a rainy night, we had rented a limo so we could all relax, even Debbie, who was quite red!
Eventually she left Patina to work under Nancy Silverton at La Brea Bakery when it was simply the little tiny store front bakery attached to the Campanile restaurant. In addition to the breads for which Nancy is famous, they were in charge of the desserts for Campanile. When my oldest son was just born we had breakfast at Campanile with Debbie and a few other friends. Mark Peel came over and greeted us warmly and had good wishes for my little baby, little Miles had slept through the whole meal.
So then things speed up because I can't get out to see her now that I'm a parent. And she is working her butt off at Four Season's. It's a HUGE operation and she's learning things she didn't think she wanted to even know. She wants to do FINE dining.
So she moves to Napa and gets a job at French Laundry. No, really. She was one of the few females to work for him back then. She stayed for a long time. Learned a lot. Has great respect for chef Keller.
The rest of the list is there. She's bounced around from there. I visit her as often as I can. We have similarly strong food ethics and I know where ever Debbie is working, there's a great meal nearby.

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