Can Food Change Your Life?
Yes, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that food has changed my life in many ways. Here is a story going back to my humble beginnings.
It was the summer of 1995, my friends and I decided we would spend the day in downtown (Chicago). This wasn’t something new, we’d do this almost every weekend while on break from school. We’d usually go to the theatre to catch the matinee. Then we’d get lunch from the Rock N Roll McDonalds and just spend all day walking up and down Michigan Avenue. We wouldn’t say much to each other aside from the random jokes and teasers but secretly, inside our own heads, we were day dreaming of what it would be like to actually be able to shop in these stores. One of the questions I asked myself would be “Man! I wonder what it would feel like to walk into the Salvatore Faragamo store and be welcomed instead of being told not to loiter”? As you can already tell, my friends and I are from very humble backgrounds. We’d walk by the Four Seasons and say things like “one day, the four of us should save up as much as we can and get a room there and just party like rich people”. In other words, we dreamt and dreamt. And that’s okay! Chicago is a beautiful city that inspires dreams and I believe that’s what places like Michigan Avenue, Beverly Hill’s Rodeo Drive and New York’s 5th Avenue are designed to do.
But this particular July Saturday morning was different. We were walking down Chicago Avenue and passed by what I thought was the epitome of luxury, the ultimate perk of success, the single most incredible thing that would let myself as well as others know that I had finally made it! We had come across the Ralph Lauren Restaurant. Now I know what you’re thinking? Ralph Lauren makes food? Grant it, I didn’t know anything about the restaurant, nothing about its awards or chefs or rankings. As I gazed through that front window watching the people who were sitting down enjoying their lunch, I knew I had to experience that one day. With my hands and face pressed against the glass I looked all around, catching every detail from the mink coats hanging on the coat rack to the tuxedo the maître D’ was wearing. I was in complete amazement. I can’t tell you if I was there for only a few seconds, several minutes or an hour. I spent the rest of the day dreaming about what it would be like to finally come up.
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The next day, my friends and I repeated our ritual. Raful, the leader of the group (by default because he was oldest) wanted to go by the lake. I insisted we needed to walk back by the Ralph Lauren restaurant. “What for? It’s not like you’re going in?” said Raful. I told the group that I would and that I had questions that needed answers. So we went. “Excuse me sir” I said to maître d’ to which he replied “Welcome to the Ralph Lauren Restaurant, how can I serve you today sir?” I was shocked! He hadn’t thrown me out, ignored me, or asked if I was lost –I didn’t know what to say next. I began to stutter and mustered up what little courage I had and asked to see the menu. I couldn’t tell you what it said because it could’ve been Hebrew to me. A brunch of French phrases and Italian names maybe… I was 12 –gimme a break. A server came by and asked if my friends and I would like something to drink at no charge while we looked at the menu to which we all jumped at the chance and gave a resounding “Yes please!” The prices were out of this world (or so it seemed like at the time). “$15 for dessert?!?” it must be made of gold is what I remember thinking. As I’m standing there, I noticed the servers passing by with their trays filled with food and it was hypnotic. Every time a server passed by, they had a new plate and the aromas instantly put me into a trance. The presentation was so perfect, I couldn’t imagine eating it. This was completely different than the polish sausages we’re used to getting from Maxwell Street. The smells and the appearance were so exquisite… I could only imagine what it tasted like. A manager came out and offered to show us around. Told us a bit about the history of the place and some of their policies like men must wear a jacket when dining. Little did I know it would be this experience that would propel me into the culinary world in the years to come. It was this moment that would help define the rest of my life and shape who I am today. The curiosity of what finer food was would drive almost every decision from this moment on. This is how food changed my life. The entire time I was there I had never felt so welcomed yet so out of place. I remember thinking, I don’t belong here –these people are way above my class, yet, I felt so welcomed, more than any other place I had been to in my entire life. I didn’t want to leave but we had to. Every day for the rest of that summer I kept saying to myself “I have to eat there! I’m going to eat there one day!” This would require more than just money to cover the tab. I’d have to invest in a suit and probably get a decent haircut.
That summer I didn’t get to go but I swore to myself I would go the next summer but the money was never there. As I was going to through high school, one of my motivations for doing well in life was so that I could partake in restaurants like that. I knew and constantly told myself “I need to do well in high school! I need to get into a good college so that I could get a good job and be able to afford to eat at the Ralph Lauren Restaurant!” Summers passed by, got into a great university. Same message resonated in my head “I have to do well in college! I have to be able to get a great job so that I could afford to eat at the Ralph Lauren Restaurant.” Years passed, landed a great job. Many more years passed by. I’ve since moved all over the country… far from Chicago and I have yet to step foot into the Ralph Lauren Restaurant.
It’s now January 2019, that day in the summer of 1995 was the last time I had ever been inside that restaurant. I have no idea what the food is like or what the chairs feel like. Yet, that restaurant has made a greater impression on my life than any other place. I have cooked in some of the most incredible places in this country; I’ve had the privilege of being a chef and managing some awesome restaurants, but my unicorn will always be the Ralph Lauren Restaurant. That place was my muse, part of my inspiration to strive for something greater, to do better in school, to get out of the hood and make something of myself. I will always be eternally grateful to the people of that beautiful place. I do plan to go there one day, it’s not a money issue now thank God. My first experience in this place would be such an emotional one that it’s something I would want to share with my wife and my two daughters. So perhaps on our next visit to Chicago.Enjoying this so far? Check out our Exclusive Recipe Library, Incredible Blog and other Awesome Features by Signing Up – It’s FREE! Just Click This Link to Start.