Notes: Some Food is Simply Unforgettable

Reflect on the most significant moments of your life. Many of them probably involved food.

We celebrate birthdays with meals. We mourn together at funeral dinners. We build lifelong relationships over food and drink.

Sometimes, those moments come at restaurants. At other times, they involve quiet meals at home.

We’ve been fortunate. Thanks to our son, we’ve experienced the best of both worlds.

Seth grew up cooking at his mother’s side. While his friends played video games, he watched Alton Brown on the Food Network. Some kids hung out at the mall. Seth read cookbooks.

It paid off.

One evening, when we lived in Hutchinson, Kansas, Seth and I grabbed dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant downtown. He was about 15. As we ate, he spoke about his hope to cook professionally.

Glancing out the window, I noticed a place that had just opened, the Blue Duck Bistro. I’d heard people talking about the place and its innovative menu.

“Let’s walk over there and talk to the chef,” I suggested.

I flagged down Chef Ben Murray, introduced Seth, and explained that he was interested in cooking.

“Sure, we need someone to chop potatoes and carrots,” Ben said. “He can start Monday.”

For a couple weeks, Seth worked as an unpaid intern. Quickly, however, Ben made him part of the Duck’s young cooking staff. By the time he turned 17, if Ben was out on the floor, it was Seth’s kitchen.

Patty and I celebrated our anniversaries and birthdays at the Duck for two or three years. Seth and his friends could cook, and the food somehow tasted better knowing they’d prepared our meals.

Which brings me to the finest meal I’ve ever eaten.

On my last night in Hutchinson, I stopped by the Duck for dinner. A handful of the journalists I’d worked alongside at The Hutchinson News showed up to say goodbye. Ben locked the doors. Midnight came and went.

About 3 a.m., Ben padded back to the kitchen, lighted the stove and started cooking. He brought each of us a bowl of simply seasoned scrambled eggs.

I’ve never eaten anything so perfect.

Seth cooked in every place we’ve lived. That’s true here, as well. He’s cooking here in Yakima, downtown.

But he also cooks at home.

We rented a house that came with a couple raised garden beds. They’d been neglected for years. I restored them this spring, devoting one mostly to herbs. Many nights this summer, as I played with my border collie, Ulla, in the backyard, Seth shambled out to the garden with a colander and a pair of scissors to gather herbs for dinner.

My herbs in Seth’s food. It always made me smile.

Last week he made spaghetti, but somehow it smelled different. Sharper.

I asked if the recipe included vinegar.

“Yeah,” he said. “Ben always used vinegar in his spaghetti sauce.”

Ben died about three years ago — far too early. Seth continues to feel his loss. So do Patty and I, but for Seth the pain is greater. He lost his mentor.

Using vinegar in a batch of spaghetti sauce may seem like a small thing. But for Seth, it was more than seasoning; it was an act of remembrance.

Some food is simply unforgettable. Especially when it evokes memories of families and friends.


Reach Greg Halling at Twitter @ghalling