Having, until this last year, spent the entirety of my adult life immersed in the hospitality industry, I have had the opportunity to indulge in some spectacular meals in all sorts of amazing settings. I will be the first to admit that I had been spoiled by being surround by talented chefs who could turn something as mundane as lunchtime into nothing less than an event. On those rare occasions, they would get that twinkle in their eye and ask if I could sample something they were working on for an upcoming menu. I knew I was in for an extra special treat.
Being in the hospitality industry also made me aware of what was going on within the restaurant scene, and wherever there was any sort of buzz, rest assured you’d be able to find me waiting in line shortly thereafter. When trips to Las Vegas were scheduled, while others where hitting the hottest clubs, my wife and I would map-out an itinerary based on every celebrity chef in town. And no four words—none—caught my attention quite like, “James Beard Award Nominee.”
With that said, however, few of those experiences are the ones I recall when asked about the best meals I’ve ever had. Sure, I know more than most the dedication and craftsmanship required behind the scenes to make an unforgettable meal possible, but I have also witnessed time and time again that food alone does not make a great dining experience. More often than not, the secret is who you share that experience with.
Earlier this summer, while my family was on vacation in California, we took a day and made a spontaneous trip to its central coast. Around noon we found ourselves strolling the streets of Morro Bay, and both my wife and son kept pointing to the overpriced restaurants along the way that focused more on their claim of having the best ocean views than having the best food in town.
I would have none of it, and after recalling a seafood market on our drive in, I convinced my family to go and secure us a spot on the pier where I would meet them in just a few minutes.
Upon my return, I carried a brown bag with a deli container of fresh Dungeness crab meat and another of house made seafood salad. Clanking around the bottom were three cans of ice-cold soda, while sticking out of the top was an over-sized baguette, along with a bag of locally-produced kettle chips.
Assembled with my pocket knife and bare hands, the resulting sandwich was anything but photogenic. But being able to pass it around and share it with the two most important people in my life while the wind blew in from the Pacific seemed to calm, and time around us began to slow. Those are ingredients that you cannot put in a recipe or teach in culinary school.