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Dished Out - Understanding and Helping our Culinary Community

Featured in The Inlander 9/23

During a conversation I had yesterday with a consulting client who works at a local restaurant, I had a moment of uncommon clarity about the nature of the service industry. She spoke about how often people ask her how she’s doing with masking up, wearing gloves, and the unrelenting sanitation routines that have powerfully impacted every restauranteur, and she had a simple refrain. “If I had to figure out how to crawl on my hands and knees if that was what was required to serve other people, I’d do it.” I put my hand on my heart and sighed sharply. She gets it. It’s a truth that is as essential as its role in our society.

That level of dedication is rare in the average workplace, but in my experience, seems to have a common thread within those who are passionate about the culinary arts. The vast majority of new restaurants shutter within the first year of opening, and it takes a special kind of person to take on a risk of that magnitude. The beaming smile they share when I ask them questions about the menu, where they developed a love for cooking, and even what led them to open a restaurant often makes me lose myself in their words. It’s a joy that is difficult to duplicate.

I began working as a food blogger four years ago as a hobby, and it was purely out of love for the hardworking professionals that I’d come to know as friends. I had unique access to the chefs, front of the house, back of the house, managers, and support staff at restaurants throughout our region. I’ve witnessed the highs of opening the doors to their first place, all the way to the lows of having to close because they can’t pay their vendors. The kitchen can be a cruel taskmaster. The rigors of preparing food from being on your feet for hours on end, near open flames, being screamed at by customers, sweating through a mask in the current pandemic, and cutting yourself with impossibly sharp knives aren’t for the weak. The more time I spend with industry professionals, the more deeply I respect them - and that says a lot. I am often moved by the sincere devotion they have to their art, and to giving the people who walk through their doors an hour or two where they stop worrying, start connecting and finally relax into the experience of being cared for.

When what they make is done with skill and intention, is an edible art form. I’ve had some seriously transcendent experiences at a table, whether it’s a wipe-off vinyl number or the finest white linen at a three Michelin Star establishment. It’s also a complex cultural commentary on a plate. Diversity can be uniquely seen, understood, and respected through food. The nuances of life experience, travel, upbringing, and personal style can all be shared through ingredients, unusual preparations, or the serve ware. Chefs have become rockstars of the edible and keep people coming back for more with their dynamic personalities and individual approach to what they serve and how they present it. They develop devoted followings and rise and fade according to public opinion, and in some cases, due to practical limitations like our economy and lives coming to a grinding halt.

Read more at The Inlander's website here.

by Erin Peterson

Erin is a professional educator by day and a food blogger by night. She is a devoted wife, loving mother of three boys, and enjoys traveling around the region she calls home. Her hobbies include tending her cut flower garden, playing with her pet Corgi, drinking Washington wine, and thrifting for treasured vintage goods. You can follow her on Instagram here.