For a kid, there are fewer moments of pure bliss than when you arrive at the entrance of the great industrialized entertainment megalopolis that is the Disneyland resort in Orlando, Florida. You have heard the stories on the playground. You have gazed longingly at the brochures. But that moment when your car turns into the parking lot and you get your first glimpse of the famous castle and all your anticipation is transformed into glorious reality – that’s a moment that sticks with you for a long, long time. So is the moment a young woman, raised on processed food bought with food stamps, finds herself on her first solo business trip to Orlando, with an expense account with no limit (other than her kind manager’s admonishment to not go too crazy), standing at the front door of Emeril’s.
Culinary naif that I was at the tine, I had the temerity to walk in on a Sunday at 7 without a reservation. I was suitably “punished” for my ignorance by being ushered fairly curtly to a seat at the counter overlooking the kitchen, otherwise known as restaurant Siberia. But ignorance is bliss, and all I back then was that I had been given a front row seat to the ultimate in dinner theater, and at the restaurant of Mr. Bam! himself, Emeril Lagasse.
Ironically, I can’t remember what I actually ordered to eat that night. What I do remember was letting the book I’d brought to read lay next to my plate unopened, as I watched an amazing flame- and steam-fuelled drama unfold in front of me. Young men in aprons and toques shouted cryptic things about “firing one risotto” (what did the risotto do to deserve that?) and “ three rib -eye all day” (why were they saying this at 7:30 at night?). The cook directly in front of me was running the appetizer line, focusing intently on the small plates and garnishes in front of him. But at one point, he reached his spoon out of sight, and then brought it back with what looked like a donut hole resting on it and then reached up to the counter and placed it on my bread plate. “Try dat,” he said brusquely, in an unmistakable New York accent. “I been workin’ on’at.” Blinking in surprise (free food at Emerils!), I popped it in my mouth. It was what I now know to be a potato croquette – ingredient and method wise, not more than a glorified tater tot. But the texture, and the unrecognizable spices he’d added, made it the Platonic ideal to which all tater tots should aspire. It was, I also now know, way oversalted. Had this happened to me last week, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say something about “maybe a little aggressive with the salt” to broadcast my foodie fides and as an act of good faith (when chefs ask for feedback, they want the truth – unless they disagree with you, but that’s a thought for another day). But back then I was too shy, so I just smiled, nodded enthusiastically and mumbled “good!!” and I was thanked for my opinion with another croquette on my plate. Then the bill came, with a price that was, in hindsight, far from outrageous, but still more than I had ever paid out of my own tiny pockets. Whipping out my shiny new corporate credit card, I signed for the check as if I had been doing this kind of thing my whole life.
As I sat in what felt like the deafening silence of a taxi after being immersed for two hours in the glorious din produced by a restaurant kitchen’s dinner service, I rewound all the events of the evening in my mind. I had been given a wide open window through the fourth wall of the theater of fine dining into the kitchen. And I never wanted it to close again. Fifteen years of cooking and learning about food in one of the world’s culinary capitals, my love for the world of food and the people who cook it is as strong as ever, thanks to an evening that delivered so much beyond what I anticipated.
Because God is a giver of gifts that are perfect as well as good, tomorrow I get to travel back to that same city, and maybe even back to Emeril’s, if God grants the time. But the possibility that He won’t doesn’t bother me in the least, because of what I’m actually travelling there to do. I will be joining four thousand women from across America at The Gospel Coalition’s biennial conference for women. At the first conference, I can honestly say God gave me a taste of Himself, and of what He wanted me to be, that was as perspective- altering as that countertop meal was many years ago. In the months that followed, I went through some deep waters, but armed with a greater understanding of who He was from all of Scripture, God gave me the strength to tread water, instead of drown. It truly was a feast for my soul that I’ll remember until the day I’m sitting at the ultimate one.
Many attendees are second-timers like me, but many others are coming for the first time, and many, many more will be watching via the livestream. They are like I was so many years ago, on the brink of something that has the potential to transform entirely their understanding – of God, of His Word, and His purposes for us as His beloved daughters. I’m praying for that – for them and for me. I’m praying that this will be a time of such incredible feasting on God’s Word, of such nourishing fellowship with women of every age, ethnicity, and circumstance, that we will go home transformed, never wanting to go back to the way things were.
While I’m taking my laptop in hopes of getting some writing in while I’m there, a friend and I were noting that a likely sign of a truly life changing conference is that we don’t want t lose moments tweeting or blogging in realtime! So, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to write while I’m there.
But if you’re reading this and attending the conference, I’m staying through Monday, which means Sunday night I might be free for that trip back to Emerils after all. TGCW women are all spiritual food-ers for sure, but if you’re also a physical food-er like me and you think that one splurge dinner is worth the hit to the book budget, I’d love to meet up.