Executive Chef Randy Evans, Brennan’s of Houston. Bananas Foster. April 28, 2007.

I love to cook. I am not necessarily good at it, but I love it. There are times when I will plan a dinner party at our house for a Saturday evening and I will spend all day Saturday going to farmer’s markets for fresh produce, deciding on a menu that will please the palate’s of our guests, prepping the food, setting up the table, and trying to make everything just so. It is one of the ways I enjoy spending a Saturday. But this past Saturday’s culinary experience was exponential by comparison.

Several weeks ago, I received the birthday gift of Chef-For-A-Day at this great restaurant. After a busy season of family events related to my niece’s birth and brother’s wedding, we were finally able to schedule a date. (Although I describe my experience below, there is a more succinct, professional synopsis on the Chef-For-A-Day program at restaurant’s website, here).

I arrived at the restaurant in my chef’s coat (emroidered with the restaurant’s and my name!) at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. I spent the next seven hours with the Executive Chef and his two Sous Chef’s learning cooking techniques, making their version of eggs benedict, a lamb dish, a red snapper dish, crabcakes, bread pudding, and molten chocolate cake. For REAL! After that, I was whisked away by the resident Wine Guy and we went and had a one-on-one Wine 101. In one hour, we traveled the world and time through the champagne’s, the whites, and the reds. Thirty of them. That’s one sip per bottle, as the Wine Guy taught me about regions, weather, and processing. Thirty.

The experience culminated in a six course dinner for me and six guests, set up smack in the middle of the kitchen, each course presented by the chef’s I had worked with earlier in the day. Each course was paired with a wine based on the palate I had discovered with the Wine Guy. I arrived to my guests, heavily buzzed, around 7:30 p.m. and we (two neighbors/great friends, Beloved, Mom, The Newlyweds, me) feasted and fellowshipped over the next four hours.

Everything about the day and night was great. The people in the kitchen were amazing. Their stories, their triumphs, their tribulations. To me, their life stories were just as important as learning about the tools of the trade. These people are passionate about what they do. They gave up futures in medicine and corporate management, etc to do something they love. Others have arrived as legal immigrants and are living their American dream. Many in the kitchen work here during the day and at other restaurants at night, just to make ends meet. And EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM gave 120% to their task. And with each bite, you could taste the pride. I’ll never eat at another fine dining establishment, no, ANY dining establishment, for that matter, without a greater appreciation for the people behind the scenes. It was an experience I will not soon forget.

Chocolate Molten Souffle, Made by Me! @ Brennan’s of Houston. April 28, 2007.