The pandemic over the last two months has been a life altering experience. Being laid off then going straight into an extended lock down has not only tested my mental resolve, but how I handle living in a three hundred and fifty square foot converted garage with my wife, cat and caring for her eighty eight year old mother in the other section of the house. We’ve painstakingly ensured that we are sanitizing, cleaning and disinfecting everything to protect her mother from this virus. It’s been rough at times. It’s been frustrating. It’s also revealed things that were passively overlooked.

I’ve been a chef for over twenty five years. I’ve been cooking since I was fifteen years old. This is one of those professions that can be considered a vocation. Who else would subject ones body to twelve hour work days, sometimes weeks in a row without a day off, in an environment where you could easily cut, burn or sear essential body parts if there wasn’t a higher calling to do so? I’ve had to give this up for months now. But it’s also given me time to reflect on my career, my life, relationship with my wife and where we live.

One byproduct of our living arrangement is that I haven’t gained access to her mothers kitchen. I may have prepared meals for them twice in almost four years. She is very particular about who uses her kitchen, so I have stayed away. The result of her mother’s proclivities was that we ended up eating out. A lot. This all came screeching to a halt in March because of Covid-19. We were left with a dilemma. How to meal plan with three people, one who had a palette that was trapped in 1955? Here is where my wife’s visionary talents really shined.

Living in rural Pennsylvania, you still have businesses that haven’t been gobbled up by big box corporate outlets. You can still find local grocers, butchers and farms that offer local product not found in places like Costco or Whole Foods. She meal planned for the next month. I had no idea what was in store.

She was given fresh Spring Ramps which she converted into a Pesto. She pickled the rest. The flavors were sublime. I’ve pickled professionally and only gave her minimal input on vinegar, but her sensibility to herbs, spices and supporting flavor ingredients blew my mind. Complex, not overpowering and subtle. I was floored.

She prepared oven roasted local pork chops with a homemade Apple compote that I would have served in one of my restaurants. Homemade quiche, hand formed flat breads with fresh local Asparagus, Ricotta and that amazing Ramp Pesto. Holy shit I thought! She could make a bologna sandwich sumptuous.

She came up with a Thai Chicken soup with fresh Ginger and Galangal root that rivaled any soup that we’ve ever had at a Thai restaurant. The balance of flavors, her attention to seasoning. She always had this in her. I just needed to get out of the way. Gladly. She also was able to prepare meals that her mother enjoyed as well. Nothing fancy, nothing really special but to her mom’s credit, she did try the Ramp Pesto flat bread and loved it!

The quarantine has also given her the ability to plant. Fresh Lettuces, Tomatoes, Jalapenos and fresh herbs. This is where I was getting excited. I worked with local organic farmers in California for years. I might have to push my way into the kitchen when these start to become available.

I’m not saying I don’t miss cooking in a home setting. I really do. There is a certain bonding we had when we both prepared our meals together and I miss that. It’s been a long time and I want that connection again. I do not believe we would have grown as a family if these challenges were not put in front of us. I believe it’s made us stronger. I do not think there will be a “normal” again. The world is a different place than it was a few months ago. In the meantime, I am more than happy to enjoy any creations my wife comes up with. She is an amazing cook.