At first glance, I like to think that my food career started with bagging groceries for Vons Grocery Company during my senior year of high school. My best friend’s mother helped me secure an interview with “Martin” (a family member) who lovingly referred to me as “Box Boy” from that point forward. I LOVED the grocery business… Going to work 4-5 times a week with a pressed shirt, a black tie, shined shoes, a crisp apron and a freshly minted box cutter was like winning the lottery for me. The money was great and so too were my fellow team members. In retrospect, it was a wonderful environment to learn a life lesson or two while working night crew and or receiving the dairy load in the rain…stack by stack. I had little idea that the simple act or acts of the above silently held hands with my past while significantly shaping my future as it relates to all things “food.”
The grocery business was indeed my formal introduction into the world of “professionalized food” vs. the informal immersion that took place eight years earlier when my parents divorced. As with all things divorce, change and adaptation was the rule of the day. My mother immediately started working 60-70 hours a week to pay the bills while my sister and I took care of the household chores. (Ages 10 & 7) It was at this time I learned how to cook as a survival mechanism vs. enjoying a heartfelt hobby. I did however love the escapism and creativity of cooking though. A beautifully braised porkchop with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes was simply a few quality ingredients away. My sister often joked that I knew a thousand different ways to cook a porkchop by the time I started 6th grade. (The “Shrimp Scene” from Forrest Gump comes to mind) Don’t ask me why my Mother purchased porkchops every week. Cost-effective protein perhaps? In any event, it was at this time we also learned the significance of being without food, particularly on the day or days headed into weekly grocery shopping. It was like flipping a switch… Empty cupboards one moment, bursting at the seams the next. An extremely significant caveat in this case involves my grandparents who lived just a few short blocks away. At no time did we go hungry as children. Instead, we simply had to walk uphill in the snow without shoes in sub-zero temperatures to get a PeanutButter sandwich on toast from the world’s GREATEST toaster. Attempted humor, I grew up in Southern California. The toaster was crazy-legit though…
My grandparents were amazingly giving, mid-western transplants who packed up the family car and headed west in 1947. How and why they chose the orange groves of Glendora, CA. is beyond me, but it was a wonderful place to grow up decades later. I recall that my grandmother was occasionally pressed off-center with a heart of gold and a work ethic of ten people. My grandfather, an open-heart surgery recipient of the 1970’s, was the unofficial town mayor having retired far too soon as a result of the above. He too had a heart of gold while being giving to a fault. “Hey, Grandpa, do you feel like having chili dogs for lunch?” Boom, it was done. “Hey Grandpa, can we have spaghetti for dinner tonight?” (an escape from the highly dreaded rabbit or lamb) Boom, it was done. When both passed away quite a few years ago I asked for a lone item from their collection of belongings… The family spaghetti bowl where less than drained ground beef, Ragu Spaghetti Sauce and pulverized pasta harmoniously met in advance of serving. By the time that we finished saying Grace an ominous layer of fat would routinely rise to the surface and coagulate like a giant opaque potato chip. My sister and I would sneak a look at one another from across the table as if to say… “I am sooooo not touching that bowl, you first.” Good times…
I mention bagging groceries, pork chops and THE spaghetti bowl because it formed the very foundation for my love of food as did the likes of Julia Childs, Jacque Pepin, Jeff Smith and Emeril Lagasse throughout my late 20’s and into my early 30’s. My cookbook collection continuously grew where my ex-wife and I would routinely spend weekends and perhaps far too much of our disposable income replicating that which we had just watched on PBS. Eventually, we started to host Sunday meals with the family where GG disliked spicy foods, Grandma refused to eat butter, Uncle Lance was a dine & dash expert and our boys couldn’t be bothered with the expectation that one must physically sit at the table to eat with family. That said, the immediacy of culinary creativity struck at the very core of my passion for food. It wasn’t about the physical act of eating itself… Instead, “food” is about family, fun and in my case, a sense of creative hospitality.
In 2007, having just completed my MBA, I reluctantly applied for a Buyer position with The Cheesecake Factory after a friend recommended that I speak with the highly charismatic, Mr. Ron McArthur. He was and remains an eccentric sweetheart of a man with whom I learned a great deal. Mind you, The Cheesecake Factory is FULL of wonderful personalities, all of whom I respect and admire as professionals. The corporate Kool-Aid is quite strong in this case with an emphasis on teamwork where a serious desire to deliver hospitality remains constant. Again, it isn’t about eating food… Any pseudo restauranteur with a stove and two tables can slap together a space and call it a restaurant, right? God knows that we’ve seen a few. That said, it was here, at The Cheesecake Factory as Director of Global Procurement where I traveled the world to secure great products from every possible corner of the earth. (Chile, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Sweden, etc.) My experiences remain invaluable having been exposed to the world from every conceivable angle. I remain grateful to have served in this case.
My food foundation is incredibly atypical while lacking polish and refinement, God knows. I can however point to a porkchop or two mixed with a dash of “paper or plastic” as early influencers. From there, a nostalgic spaghetti bowl supported by PBS, Julia Childs and others provided the inspiration to establish Summit Supply Chain Solutions. To this extent, “Simmer on this…” (our blog) will make every effort to remain food-focused while being a whimsical voice to all things “FOOD.”
“My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people.”