What are these stainless steel pots to me, these copper pans? This cast-iron, this aluminum? What is the whisk to me, the wooden spoon, the knife? What are they to the artist, the craftsman, the athletic young men who work alongside me, and the crippled old men who found no other trade, and the skilled women with swollen hands and knees who have gathered here, in the kitchen?
Some of these men and women were born in America, but many of them are from other countries: Tibet, Bosnia, Vietnam. Philippines, France, Iran, Micronesia, Argentina.
Some of the men work hard, but some of them would rather talk, joke, negotiate and feel cheated.
Some of the women work with the steady current of a river making its way down from the mountains to the sea. They do not puff their chests or try to find ways to be lazy. They accept the work as it is and partake of its enriching quality, the way a disciple drinks holy wine and is purified, the way a farmer eats bone marrow and is nourished. These women smell cooked rice in their sleep, at home in their beds, their hair pulled back from their necks, scattered across their pillows like pasta.
These women dream of cornmeal, chicken thighs, fresh wet cheese, thyme and sherry vinegar. Their hands know the texture of breadcrumbs and basil. The glands in their throats know the metallic quality of raw oysters, the sharp point of mignonette in the mouth, encouraging salivation. They know fish and Portuguese sausage, anchovy butter and olives, grilled bread and braised greens. Their ears know the high-pitched whine of dying lobsters, the wailing of blenders.
So we work, and we are hardened, and when we are done we soften again. This goes on day after day. It seems I am always returning to the kitchen, and the kitchen is always returning me to the plain honesty and broad silence of my life: book and bottle, solitude and companionship, and other contrary winds of discipline and desire.