I arrive at JFK exhausted yet somehow invigorated. I am back in New York where I am greeted by brilliant sunshine and a cool breeze whipping my hair. “Wake up!” the city seems to be crying, “There is so much to do! No rest for the weary, no time to waste! Excitement awaits!” Dragging my heavy bags behind me I slide through the large glass panes and out into a bustling, noisy, galvanizing city. The taxi glides along roads that I know so well; sights, neighborhoods stream by that I have seen dozens of times. Yet I am headed into a New York that is completely new to me, one seen through my eyes as a writer and not as a sister or mother. I left New York three years ago in tears having hugged my brother goodbye for the last time. I left New York three years ago feeling lost and empty, helpless in the face of a tragedy that would haunt me every single day since. I now had to pull myself together and move ahead, gather my forces and become someone that I longed to be, confident and strong, able to move around the City That Never Sleeps on my own. I had to quickly replace this overpowering feeling of loneliness and self doubt with one of enthusiasm and determination. A forty-minute cab ride and the transformation is complete: cool self-reliance steps out of that yellow cab and into a new world.
I had two full days in front of me before my true destination, the IACP – International Association of Culinary Professionals – conference exploded in a fury of activity, demanding my full attention, fiery, non-stop energy and every single minute of the following four days. I had time to catch my breath and relax a bit, recharge and realign both body and mind to New York City time. I needed to shake out my stiff limbs and abandon myself to the whims and frivolity that I rarely allow myself the time and luxury to enjoy. Happily, I had others to organize these two days for me and all I needed to do was smile and follow in their wake. Jackie and Ken, Robin, Abby and Gail, Dianne had all arranged meals and adventures and I was now raring to go!
Two days filled with excitement, laughter, great food (and not so great food) and excellent friends. A lovely morning at Petrossian in the company of Jackie, Ken and Jessica and shared with Alexandre Petrossian, his wife Hélène and Cynthia Brody, PR for Petrossian, a dynamic, informative, engaging woman. A beautiful breakfast laid out for us in a private dining room, sharing fabulous baked goods, Petrossian Café’s latest yet-to-be-unveiled treats: Lemon Thyme Muffins (delicate yet striking savory-sweet flavor and the perfect delicate, light yet moist crumb), savory Parmesan and Rosemary Biscuits and gorgeous Parmesan, Black Pepper and Fennel cookies, another savory treat with a slight sweetness. Tasting each delicacy as an expert, snapping pictures and discovering, much to my delight, a selection of jams created for Petrossian by my lovely friend Wendy of Sunchowder's Emporia, a proud and delightful sponsor of our own Plate to Page workshops!
Weaving in and out of the city, across town, in and out of shops and food boutiques, nibbling on Chinese dumplings and donuts, ogling baking supplies and feminine paper muffin cups, the thrill of spotting friends’ cookbooks for sale in this store or that, the day passed in a bustle and a flutter, ending with a lovely, relaxed dinner with friends old and new, adding in Mitch and Margaret and finally, finally meeting David Leite and The One. My pleasure!
Day two began calm and cool sipping perfect café au lait and sharing oatmeal in a tiny Chelsea café with Robin. So New York! Ah, I understood then and there that I could so easily live in this city, popping out for breakfast in one’s quaint neighborhood café where the waiters know you, your table is always waiting and the sun shines warmly against your skin as you spoon up creamy, soothing porridge with just the right amount of sugar and plump sweet raisins, just the way you made for yourself when you were a kid. Breakfast metamorphosed into lunch with my girls Abby and Gail, laughter and gossip resonated wildly throughout Co. Pane as we scooped up slices of perfect pizza pie and dug into salads that brought back memories of the freshest vegetables in my Italian market in Milan, homemade ricotta and chilled glasses of white all making for one of the most perfect meals had. We shared our own stories, traded the latest news and the hottest gossip and wished we lived close enough together to meet once a week for a girl’s day out.
Popping by the hotel to register for the conference, focusing my mind and preparing mentally to be all businesslike and serious, I spied Domenica hiding behind dark glasses in the bar like in some mysterious old film noir, chin down, collar pulled up around her ears. I hesitated but briefly and called her name. Her head snapped up and she recognized me with something of relief as if afraid to be seen before having had the chance to, yes, indeed, gussy herself up after her long train voyage. Well, I shrugged, it’s only me. Long chat and far-away, long-distance friends now have fitted a face, a personality, a being to the name and the words left helter skelter across Twitter and Facebook pages, long sometimes rambling comments left after blog posts.
Dianne and I have been lucky enough to see each other twice in one year and it already seems to be our own tradition to slip away and grab a few hours together discovering a city and getting to know each other just a bit better. Dinner out – a disco-like ambiance the only drawback of an otherwise delicious meal, a quick Mr. Softee soft serve ice cream eaten with all the joy and exuberance of kids following the tinny music down the street, coins clutched in their hands, tongues snatching at the cold chocolate sweetness. And finally, the cherry on top, an electric evening on Broadway! The perfect ending to two perfect days.
So much activity, so much eating, savoring, enjoying, friendship wrapped in laughter and knowing glances, building up the excitement to a conference that might have otherwise been started on a footing of shyness and uncertainty. It says something…no, it says quite a lot about this community that we have formed, individuals brought together by their passionate, obsessive love of food. We write, we style, we photograph, we taste and try, we comment and critique, we create and invent and inspire. And at the base of it all, at the end of the day, whatever magic spark brought us to internet has ignited a truly phenomenal alliance, a society of like-minded souls. These first two days in New York have washed the sadness from my heart; laughter dances on my lips as I snuggle down between clean, cool sheets and snap off the light. I belong here, I think, these are my people.
And the conference was about to begin….