I love to eat. I don’t really like cooking all that much, with the ADHD and all, but I have always loved to eat. Cooking was always too much time and patience and concentration; I would burn everything, time-blindness made me completely unable to have things come out done at the same time, and because I cook the way I do everything (idiosyncratically), I get tremendously anxious. I can, however, follow directions expertly on pre-prepared dishes that basically are about assembling and heating rather than cooking. For whatever reason, I also make a mean roasted chicken, apparently the hardest thing these is to cook well, but basically I don’t get why because the directions are: season, put in staub pot, cover, bake, enjoy.
Kinda sounds like the bread I’ve “mastered.”
I grew up with a brother who has food allergies and thus was a picky eater. Everything we ate was bland. Also, I am of Anglo-decent, which means food was also bland, anyway. Our dinners consisted of standard fare, literally meat and potatoes. Everything was well-done. There are some dishes I am nostalgic for: my grandmother’s stuffing at Christmas and Thanksgiving, my dad’s ribs (but mostly the sauce it was slathered in which was basically brown sugar), roast beef, shepherd’s pie.
I also always ate with the appetite and zealousness of a swimmer – starving and fast. I would come home from practice at almost 8pm, after having worked out and swam for two and a half hours, famished, but also not allowed to watch TV until I had eaten dinner. We would literally be done eating in less than five minutes. I still eat quickly, unsure as how to eat otherwise.
My husband loves to cook. He grew up cooking alongside his father and worked in kitchens when he got older. We have tools and gadgets and ingredients that I had never even heard of or dreamed of growing up. He also is a foodie, something that I have discovered I am too. I am omnivorous in my love of food, willing to try anything once, ready to eat everything that looks delicious. My son is as picky as his uncle, but in weird ways, and has clearly inherited our now-expensive tastes in food. If we put truffles on it, for example, he’ll eat it.
One year, we were going to go to NYC for a conference, together as a family, our second such visit in early January. The year prior, we had gone at my son’s request for his birthday present, and we had such a good time, we had to go again. That year, that second time, heading there for a conference, there was a massive snow storm moving in. We were supposed to hit the road early the next morning, but instead we called the hotel, got an extra night, and hit the road that evening, safely beating out the storm.
We had the pleasure of being in NYC when it temporarily shut down due to weather. It was a strange and surreal experience, as we wandered the streets, looking for something that was open, but also marveling at the quiet(er) streets and the feeling of being in one of those NYC snow globes. The conference kept on with whoever had managed to beat out the storm, and we kept on, enjoying a unique NYC experience.
The snow had finally stopped, and we marveled at how much had accumulated. Canadians to the core, even we were impressed. But we were also impressed by the infrastructure that was in place, with waves and waves of workers passing through, clearing streets and sidewalks. We were looking for a place to eat close to our hotel, within short walking distance, as our previous dinner plans had fallen through.
Turns out, we were a mere handful of blocks from Prune. We had watched the episode of Mind of a Chef that featured the chef and the origin story of her beloved restaurant. We called and got an early reservation, unaware that we got the first reservation of the night, and when we showed up, it wasn’t even open yet, with employees clearing out the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, and a parked car with two or more feet of snow on it.
We were the first ones in there, and had the small space to ourselves for the first fifteen or twenty minutes we were there. Someone who we assumed was a neighborhood regular saddled up to the bar, and then the restaurant slowly filled. Almost everything in NYC had been closed or canceled that day, but Prune was open, serving food, providing everything the chef and owner wanted. We sat next to a couple who was also visiting out of state, restaurant owners themselves, and we sampled off each other’s plates. Everything was affordable, accessible. My son could even order their famous omelette for dinner, keeping him happy and uncomplaining while everyone else was free to experiment.
At a certain point during the meal, the owner did make an appearance, asking why the awning outside wasn’t open. She opened it herself, despite the snow, and smiled and said hello in passing to everyone who was dining. It must be a surreal experience, having been featured so publicly in a TV show, as well as writing a best-selling memoir, to have diners in your restaurant know some of the most intimate details about your life, including knowing that you live just upstairs. It’s one thing to know your regulars, but it’s another to have those diners who are strangers know you.
There was a restaurant like that in Sherbrooke. It was the restaurant above the bar we all frequented, shared most of the same staff. The bartenders and servers typically worked both upstairs and downstairs, and the head chef was the long-time DJ at the bar. We were regulars, and my best friend and I would sometimes go there for lunch and talk so much that it shifted into dinner service and we would shrug our shoulders and just stay.
If the bar downstairs was a classic rock-alternative bar, dark and a little dingy, the restaurant upstairs was warm and welcoming and slightly upscale, especially for a college town. It fused Québécois cooking with French cooking and we loved it. One day, there was fois gras on the menu, and we ordered it, but the shipment from Quebec City hadn’t shown up. It eventually did show up on the last bus of the night, right before closing, and we and the rest of the staff feasted on fois gras dishes late into the night because we couldn’t let it go to waste.
I got that feeling again from Prune. And then I read that it had closed because of COVID-19, and I was absolutely gutted. Does the world need it anymore, she asked. Yes, please, yes the world needs it more than ever. My husband and I order out at least twice a week from our favorite local restaurants because we want them to still be open once this is all over. We tip generously, order liberally, because we can afford to, and we value local restaurants. He worked in kitchens, he knows how thin the margins are, he knows how hard the work is, but also how delicious the results are, how comforting the food, but also the restaurant itself, can be.
I miss my old restaurant in Sherbrooke. It wasn’t until writing this that I made the connection between Prune and the restaurant where I spent so much time and yet can’t remember the name. That’s how memory works, I guess. But the feeling…the feeling remains. The bar itself closed (RIP Café de Palais aka Les Marches), but has finally reopened, just in time for COVID-19. The restaurant no longer exists either, and the closest I can fine to remind me is a blurry old image from a “for rent” ad that no long exists but that Google remembers.
I hope…I hope Prune has a better fate.
Update: A friend (who also didn’t remember) was better at Google than I was and found the name of the restaurant: Antiquarius.