It was a rainy afternoon in Providence, late in my final semester of college. I had recently finished a trial night working in the kitchen of an innovative Boston restaurant and was set on pursuing a culinary career after graduation. I planned to work my way up the line of a restaurant kitchen, starting as a dishwasher. Many thought I was crazy. I would be spending my summer knee-deep in chicken stock and piles of potato peels; I would see more towers of dirty dishes and butchered lamb carcasses than friends and family. I wanted to make sense of my experience, to record it in a pubic forum. So I sat down, began to write, and this blog was born.
A lot has happened since.
There were long nights hauling dishes and scrubbing still-sizzling sauté pans. I perfected my onion-chopping technique and peeled enough garlic to fill multiple swimming pools. I gained fifteen pounds of muscle and, as my mom said, began to resemble a line backer. I set an official start date at the Culinary Institute of America.
Then, on a drizzly morning at the end of August, I was hit by a car. I lay immobile in bed for months with a broken pelvis, sacrum, skull, and torn knee ligaments. Slowly, however, they healed. More devastating was the severed olfactory neuron and resulting loss of my sense of smell.
"The olfactory neuron is the only one in the body that will regrow," said the doctors at UConn's Taste and Smell Center, where I was tested in December of 2005. "Perhaps someday it will return." But no one really knew. There was a monotone nothingness in the space where fresh cut grass or 'new car' once resided. And taste is 80% scent; I could not perform in a professional kitchen.
Six months later, when I could walk without pain, I moved to New York City and took a job at an art magazine. I fell in love with the rich culture and the frenetic movement of the city; I worked, wrote, partied, and cooked. I continued to heal.
Smells that meant something to me came back first: chocolate, rosemary, wine. More followed in tiny, almost-imperceptible steps. Cilantro. Garlic. Laundry and soap. A year ago I had a whiff of spring. I was startled by a pile of rotting garbage. The other day I walked through Chelsea Market and was almost bowled over by the noxious smell of lobster oozing out of their seafood store.
I've learned to cook and to enjoy food despite—and because of—my struggling olfactory sense. I have a new understanding of temperature, texture, and the visual aesthetics of food. I begin at graduate school for writing in August, still here in New York.
I read through the archives of my blog this morning. I'm happy to have this record of my experience; it has been quite a couple of years. I've put together some of my favorite posts below.
Decapitated Sardines and Flying Sauté Pans
A Sweetbreads Overkill
Salsa, Rosemary, and James Bond
The Unexpected Scent of Chocolate
New York City:
Tribute to Gaudi
On Returning to the Restaurant, One Year Later
Fear of Frying
And of course thank you, all, for reading.