I Shouldn’t Be Here

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“I shouldn’t be here.”

That was all I kept thinking on Friday, from sitting at dinner, to the first bar, and the second. Having received a spur-of-the-moment invitation, I spent the evening surrounded by people from the food industry who were all connected by the common thread of their craft. Purveyors, consultants, cooks and chefs filled the evening with stories of life in the kitchen, inside jokes, and memories of past evenings awash in a sea of whiskey/wine/champagne/tequila.

“I shouldn’t be here.”

I haven’t spent one single day working in “the industry”. Not on the line, not as a server, not even as a barback. Yes, I’ve bartended some private events, but that doesn’t count in the least. I felt like an interloper, a voyeur into this world of talented and passionate people. At dinner when the inevitable question of “so…how did you become wrapped up in the culinary world” came up, I stammered my way through my usual answer: not learning to cook anything substantial on my own till I was about twenty, being inspired to learn more after the first season of Top Chef, and how Anthony Bourdain’s writings kept me out of a professional kitchen and inspired me to write instead. How I’ve worked in education, for crissake, yet have somehow had my stuff read (and enjoyed…I think) by Scott Conant, mentioned on Zagat (still processing that one), and complimented by Alan Richman (honored by his compliments, still scared of him).

“I shouldn’t be here.”

I’m not mentioning names of who was there throughout the evening, but at one point I looked around and commented that if where we were suddenly exploded, most of the young culinary talent in Philadelphia would be lost. Guy Fieri and Paula Deen would be able to swoop in and carve the city up as their own. No one disagreed.

Among the piling plates of food, the quickly disappearing Manhattans, beers, wine and whiskey, and the tasting flight of sherry (GM: “I’m going to talk to you like you know nothing about sherry…” Me: “Good, because I don’t“), there were some amazing conversations. Stories of what lured them into this lifestyle, how they got to where they are, and projections of where they are headed. Profanity-laced laughter over favorite and failed dishes, past bosses, past co-workers, and everything in between. To be honest, the night was dominated by laughter from beginning to end (or at least my end as I left while the gathering continued to grow larger).

I left enlightened, inspired, and motivated. While I swore to them that I wouldn’t write about the evening and everything was off the record (that promise I will keep), I had to at least write about the feeling. The feeling of being surrounded by those possessing such a creative brilliance that I have ever seen. They are artists who show that at the end of the day, it’s not just food; it is the medium through which they create wonders.