December. While the rest of America amps up their social calendars, I purposefully downshift, easing into the new year. For me, it's a time for reflection, a bit of self-flagellation ("I could have done more!"), and plotting the road ahead.
I kicked off the year managing PR for chef Jeffrey Weiss' first book. Two countries and four cities later, it was a whirlwind of scheduling including live TV, media interviews, and meeting with the casting director of the Food Network. ("Do you mind seeing me on the set of Chopped? We're filming 72 episodes and I can't leave the set.") In the end, his book, Charcuteria the Soul of Spain, garnered some terrific press and was on the short list for the industry's most coveted awards. (Finalist for Art of Eating's Book of the Year, Gourmand World Cookbook award finalist for Best Foreign-International Cuisine, and a James Beard Award nomination for Best Single-Subject Cookbook.) Not a bad way to kick off the year, eh?
Next up, I indulged my love of documentary film, spearheading a Master Class series. Over the course of the year, we hosted Emmy Award-winning composer Hummie Mann, interviewing legend Warren Etheredge, director Ward Serrill (who sold his first film to Miramax for $1 million), producer Basil Shadid, content marketing and branding guru Ron Dawson, and photojournalist turned director, Tim Matsui whose first documentary won the Picture of the Year International award and the World Press Photo Award. Tapping into the wealth of their experience marks a lifetime highlight, and I hope to do more of that in the future.
Can a book change your life? I think so. I stumbled on an article about the art of questions in Fast Company. It's an excerpt from Brian Grazer's book, "A Curious Mind" and I immediately bought the book, highlighting and annotating it to death! I carried this book around with me for months, talking about it every chance I got. The basic premise is this: Brian Grazer is a producer in Hollywood. As a pet project, he made it a lifelong goal to interview someone outside his field every two weeks--for 35 years. In the back of the book is a list spanning everyone from the curator of olfactory art to Princess Diana. But the book is about more than that. It's about the power of curiosity, and how to leverage it. Curiosity takes many different forms. Used well, it can disrupt your point of view, bring clarity, and imbue everything with a sense of possibility.
I was already curious, but "A Curious Mind" tipped that into overdrive. I started having Humans of New York-style conversations with random strangers. No limits. I spoke with everyone from CEOs to Jonathan, a chef on a 10 year journey around the world. The guy at my local grocery store is a Lost Boy of Sudan survivor. Impossibly handsome Patrick is 6'3", of Spanish (Ashkenazi-Jewish) and Mexican descent, is studying International Relations. Victoria was 40 years old when she took up rowing (a la "Boys in the Boat"-style.) She passed her fitness test, and weeks later, received an invitation to try out for the Olympic team. They never asked about her age. By this point in life, she had a kid in college, and dyed her hair to hide the fact that she was nearly twice the age of others on the team. It's been an adventure, unearthing stories in the random encounter. I'm in the process of collecting these stories, which hopefully, will be the basis of my first book.
And while there are a million other things that happened this year, a game changer happened quite randomly. I want to be a better cook, but as a home cook, I had limited opportunity. Yes, I'm single, and leftovers last for days. To cook and experiment at the volume I wanted, something needed to change, but what? One day I expressed my frustration and a friend said, "Why don't you cook for us?" She was deep in nursing school studies and her husband has a demanding job in IT. She also has a laundry list of foods that were off the table. Originally I was daunted by the list, but those limitations opened up a world of possibilities I'm not sure I would have discovered on my own. Several months into our arrangement, I can honestly say, I'm living my dream. I spend days pouring over recipes, using each week to push my boundaries--whether it's a new-to-me technique, ingredient, or cuisine. Gluten-free? No problem. I use gluten-free flour to make bechamel for moussaka, savory gluten-free crepes become the basis of manicotti. I've taken a deep dive into Mexican, Indian, Vietnamese, and Moroccan cuisines, never repeating a dish. Skill building has come in many different forms: mastering the budget, menu planning, shopping, execution, delivery, and leaving a clean kitchen. I'm much more efficient now. My "Year of Meat" goal has shown up here too. If I've never made it, eventually it shows up on a menu. What was once a matter of serious frustration, turned into the opportunity of a lifetime.
Looking back on the past year, the biggest thing I've learned....is to ask for what you want. And say it out loud. Unexpected resources show up in the most surprising ways. I could never imagine this year would unfold like it has, and yet at every turn, I just kept saying YES.
2016? I've got some big plans for you!