Years ago, a few friends and I decided to move to Colorado to go snowboarding. Most of them lined up jobs, but I was a bit full of myself, and didn’t.
I had been working as a back waiter at Antoine’s as well as working in the wine cellar during the summer. Consequently, I knew a good bit about wine and was a pretty damn good waiter. Being young and naive, I figured that restaurants would be falling over each other to offer me gainful employment. After all, I was coming from New Orleans where I worked in the oldest family run restaurant in the country, in a fine dining, Creole mecca. This was Durango, Colorado, a small tourist town in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.
Upon my arrival, I went to the swankiest restaurant in town, which happened to be the only one that wasn’t a bar or a diner, to apply for a job. That being said, it was much nicer than I expected.
Unfortunately, the busy season there for the town itself had just ended. The summer season is a boom for the town proper, but winter is for the resort on the mountain. Needless to say, I did not get a job.
My friends who had actually done some preparation and lined up jobs for their arrival, assured me that they could get me something at the resort. I, however, needed money sooner, rather than later.
After looking for a job, any kind of job, I finally found work at a pewter figurine factory by convincing the poor woman that hired me that since I had done graffiti in my checkered past that airbrushing pewter fairies and dragons was the next logical step in my career as an artist. It was the most boring job I had ever had. It didn’t help that I had to walk to the factory from my apartment at some ungodly hour before the sun was even up through giant snow drifts (any snow drift would be giant, I was from New Orleans) and take my lunch breaks across the highway in the Little Caesar’s which was located in a K-Mart. To this day, I can’t stand the smell of that particular brand of “pizza” and cringe whenever I see a pewter figurine mounted on a geode invariably holding a crystal ball.
Weeks passed and finally my friends came through. I had a job! Dishwashing. At least it was a foot in the door and I had a free pass to snowboard. After a few days I was promoted to prep cook, and a week or two later, line cook. I had never cooked professionally before, but it came naturally. By the end of the season, I was tasked with overseeing the closing down procedures of the restaurants on the mountain, which consisted of me riding my snowboard all day and checking in with the people doing the actual closing of the restaurants and making sure they were working.
The season over, I decided to move to Atlanta to continue cooking. I had family there and a few friends, so it seemed like a good idea. I cooked at a few restaurants and learned a lot more about the back of the house.
I was staying with a good friend at his brother’s condo in the city, couchsurfing. I was making decent money, but nothing like I had made as a waiter. I was in the process of looking for a place of my own and with the money I was making, pickings were slim. Since I was staying for free at my friend’s place, I would cook dinner as they wouldn’t accept money for my intruding presence.
I would try out new things that I had learned or researched on my unsuspecting hosts. More often than not, my offerings were a rousing success.
One day, on a tight budget (payday had come and gone, and a few too many nights out as well), I decided to cook red beans and rice. I figured it would be an easy, cheap, crowd pleaser. My hosts were from New Orleans, as well as most of our friends, so how could it go wrong?
I soaked the beans, cut the trinity, cooked rice, and started on the beans. I started to brown the sausage and the smell was intoxicating. Adding the trinity and garlic, the smell amplified along with the memories that accompanied it. All of a sudden, I was homesick. There was a hold on me that my hometown was asserting with a vengeance. I knew right then and there that I had to leave.
We sat down to eat and I broke the news to my friends. I was going home. The next morning I got a plane ticket, went to work and put in my notice. My boss was disappointed. I had been steadily moving up and he thought it was a bad decision. He wasn’t from New Orleans. He didn’t, couldn’t understand. Three weeks later I was home.
Damn, those were some good red beans.