What could be better than working alongside a well-put together team of chefs and cooks, amidst all the glorious chaos of a bumbling kitchen, turning out orders left and right in a beautifully orchestrated manner? Knowing that no matter what loops may be thrown at you at any time, you and your team will make it happen with a little extra elbow grease. To me, this high energy, focused work environment that I adore couldn’t be replaced by any other “job” or activity of any sort. Cooking is the very passion for which I wish to structure my life on, and it has always been this way.
See, ever since I was “little Will” I couldn’t stay out of the kitchen. My mom caught me once trying to make my own tomato soup… I was standing on my power rangers chair, so that I could reach the counter top, mixing up ketchup and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. I guess I figured soup + tomatoes = tomato soup. The logic was sound, but the method was a little off. She graciously explained that my concoction would be yucky and tossed it in the trash; no harm no foul. But there was still a yearning inside of me to make my very own tomato soup, almost as good as the stuff that came out of the white and red cans.
This was all going down around the time I was four or five and I spent almost every day at my Nana and Bop-bop’s house while my mom was at work. Bop-bop is my great uncle Danny’s nick name, and Nana is just my sweet ol’ Nana; never thought of her as anything but my Nana. Bop-bop was huge into the new TV station, “food network,” and if we weren’t out in the yard shooting our bb gun, we were laying on the couch watching Iron chef or Emeril Lagasse. Eventually hunger set in and we were in the kitchen trying to replicate what we saw on the tube. We would mix different herbs with our olive oil and dip our fancy-dancy Wonderbread in it, or try our hand in roasting a crispy skin chicken; it didn’t matter, it wasn’t like at home where my soup was quickly discarded. ANYTHING we wanted was ours to create in Bop-bop’s kitchen.
So years went by and our creativity and skills grew as we dabbled in home-cooking together. When I was about 12 he taught me how to make the best steaks in the world on the charcoal grill; mh-m-mhhh those things were on point! Eventually though, I grew too old and too “cool” to spend all my time at Nana and Bop-bop’s. I started hanging out with the neighborhood kids and turning down offers to come spend the night in Garner. I would still go visit from time to time, but after I had been there for any longer than a day I would make excuses to get a ride home. What a little brat I had become.
Then one day when I was about fourteen I found out my Bop-bop was diagnosed with leukemia. I called him at the hospital and he insisted I didn’t come see him while he was sick, and that everything would be okay. So I didn’t. Instead of going to see him after his first chemo treatment I decided to go to the mountains with my cousins. While I was playing at the river my mom pulled me over to the side and told me that Bop-bop had a complication at his first treatment and that he probably wasn’t going to make it past the day. We tried to get back to town to say goodbye but when we got to the hospital he had already passed… I was devastated.
He passed on August 17th 2008, exactly 4 years ago from today. Since then I have healed and I am able to look back on his memories and smile rather than cry. I think nothing would have made my Bop-bop more happy than to see me go to culinary school and transform the hobby we used to love doing together into my own career. Ultimately it was his enthusiasm that helped me become comfortable in the kitchen from a young age; and with his comfort always with me, I aspire to become one of the great chefs of the 21st century and have my name printed in these textbooks just as Escoffier has.
-William (Flozell) Hamilton