I used to be a restaurant chef. I hated it. Not because it wasn’t fulfilling…. It was. I actually thrived in it. It was hot, fast-paced, and loud. And I loved it. I was able to overcome the chaos and dive deep within myself to find clarity, peace, and creativity. I was nicknamed “ninja” because I could stealthily move throughout the busy kitchen faster and quieter than anyone else. But I wasn’t happy. The long hours and the low pay were hard to cope with. I wanted more. Mostly I wanted a “real” life. One that didn’t start at noon and end at 2am. But mostly I wanted the possibility of having a family.
Now I know it’s entirely possible to be a woman, a chef, and a mom. But I was never able to see how I could be 100% happy with that path. So I left. I left longgggg before my wife and daughter were even a blip on my radar. There are times I miss it. I miss not having a space to constantly create. I miss the camaraderie, especially with those that understand my
love borderline insane passion of food. You don’t come across people who can talk for hours about the origin and uses for lemongrass or benne or uni like you do in a professional kitchen. I suppose that’s one benefit I hope to gain by writing this blog. Are you out there, ready to dig deep into a culinary convo with me?
But what I don’t miss? The burns… the cuts… the exhaustion… the lack of contact with the outside world. Sure I may have taken a step others wouldn’t have. And that’s fine. I’m ok with that actually. I’m ok with not being “a real chef” in some eyes. Because I gained so much more. Yeah, I may never serve my pork cheek dish to a James Beard official… but seeing my daughter’s face light up when I pull a freshly baked loaf of bread out of the oven is more rewarding of a feeling than any culinary honor could bring. I’ll take her smile over a Michelin star any day.
So what does this used-to-be chef make for dinner now that she has all of this “free time”. Sometimes it’s an intricate, lengthy, exotic recipe. Other times (most times) it’s a dish like this- a few simple ingredients, prepared gently to coax out the innate flavors inside. Bonus: it’s a great week day side dish! Active prep time is only about 10 minutes. Toss it all together and serve it alongside a roasted chicken, seared steak, or slow-roasted salmon (like I did this week!).
Roasted Acorn Squash and Cauliflower with Preserved Lemon, Apricot, Chili Threads, and Basil
Yields 2 large portions
- 1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1 acorn squash, seeded and cut into cubes
- ¼ cup dried apricots, cut in half
- 6 Thai basil leaves, picked
- Olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- Specialty ingredients (click image below to can find online!):
- ¼ preserved lemon peel, cut into thin strips
- Pinch of chili threads (or red pepper flakes if threads are not available)
Preheat oven to 450ºF. Toss cauliflower and acorn squash in olive oil and season with salt. Place on separate roasting pans, sprinkle apricots evenly on both trays (mix to incorporate) and roast for 15-20 minutes, until slightly charred. Remove from oven and toss together with preserved lemon, basil, chili threads, and salt to taste. Finish with olive oil and a few more chili threads.