On Hospitality – Part I

_DSC0685Riding into Toronto, with the sun burning at the edges of the horizon, charring a silhouette impression of the skyline. Thinking of this: What is hospitality? To me it is feeling like you are part of something, even if only for a brief time. When you are being welcomed into a house or restaurant and you truly feel appreciated. Hospitality is someone creating comfort for you and showing that they have made every effort to do so.

The next question: Why do people pay for it?

For myself, I see a connection between hospitality and a lack of family connection. I have not had a family meal in 5-10 years, I have not had a dinner at either of my parent’s tables. I find myself craving this from the industry; just a moment of caring and connection. Even a cookie and a “have the best day ever!” at the coffee shop can warm my heart for the whole day. I am grateful to find a career where I can give this feeling to others, while doing what I love.

I have always found love in food, in the sizzling as my neighbour Baba pan fried her homemade pyrohy. In the pizza buns she would have us make – slathering tomato sauce on fresh buns, sprinkling cheese and baking it in the toaster oven. In the warm, sweet, salty soft pretzel she bought for me on a trip to the local farmer’s market, as a special treat. Whenever I wanted a snack, I would munch away on home canned peaches from Baba’s cellar, taking joy in the sweetness of summer contained in those jars.

Love was found in my own grandmother’s copper pots, boiling away porridge or eggs. I would greedily top each spoonful of egg with a pinch of salt and pepper. My grandmother used her cooking as one way to show that she cared – every breakfast, lunch and dinner. She would ensure that there were grapes and clementines in the fridge, whole walnuts and a nutcracker on the table.

These seem like simple things but eating this way meant a lot coming from a family where at times I only ate one meal per day. As a result of these childhood experiences, food has become symbolic, acute and reverent – deeply connected to satisfaction, appreciation, understanding compassion and feeling cared for.

I try to take all of this into my own service, whether I am catering as a cook or if I pick up the occasional front-of-house job. People are paying for your thoughtfulness, things as simple as noticing and changing a chipped plate. Wiping the grease left from a drop of sauce. I try to assume that people just need a little more love, a little more flavour, a little attention, maybe a new experience or a familiar comfort among a room full of people with the same desires. What would I want if I were out to dinner? I strive to achieve that and more.

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