When someone asks, “Who are you?” what do YOU say? I’m first and foremost a small town Minnesota girl, and a classic example of the melting pot of America. I am Northern Russian Gypsy, with a mixture of German, Irish, Polish, and French Canadian thrown in. In other words, I’m a mutt.
I have always been an adventurous kid, my mother stated at a very early age that I had absolutely no fear of the unknown. In many ways she’s right. I started my culinary education at my grandmother’s knee, and continued with both my mom and my grandmother, as my beloved mentors, up until we bought a restaurant and resort in rural Cleveland, Minnesota. There, I was cunningly persuaded to take a sanitation management course required by the health department for all restaurants in our region. I am and have always been a hard headed young woman. I decided that if no one else could spare the time for this class, (really I’m the youngest in the family and volunteered often for the not-so-fun jobs) that I was taking it a step further and going to complete the entire culinary arts program.
I love food, I always have, and this gave me the forum I was desperately seeking; the answers to why and how. You didn’t ask why you cooked the roux, you just did. There was always a dining room full of people to feed whether at the house or at the restaurant. The decision to go to back to school changed my life in many ways. There were a few teachers in my life that made an impact. After all it takes a special person to be a teacher. An extraordinary human being is almost a prerequisite, to exercise enough patience to impart knowledge to a bunch of unruly teens and adults. It is no small commitment.
At South Central College, in North Mankato, MN, my instructors, Jim Hanson, and Kirstin Cronn- Mills are just such people. They re-defined my idea of art and literature. They taught me that it comes in many forms, and taught me that the possibilities in a kitchen and in life were only limited to my imagination. In the last decade, Jim has been my mentor, cheerleader, walking culinary encyclopedia; and most of all a good listener and friend. I’m still amazed after all these years, and all the souls that have trooped through his office, that he always knows it’s me on the other end of the phone. I was fortunate to have him teach me what he knows and show me that the world isn’t flat. He opened my eyes and my horizons, and helped shape the person I am today.
Kirstin reminded me that I could love the written word for what it was. Meaning I didn’t have to take a class solely for the credit, but because I enjoyed it. It was the turning point in my education. It spurred me during and after college to continue learning just to learn! She was always there for a question, or to help solve a problem. Even years later I know I’ll always get the answer I’m looking for if I shoot her an e-mail. The greatest asset that comes from having a teacher take a genuine interest in any student, is that no matter where they go in life, they will always carry that warmth with them.
So, “Who am I?” To some, I’m a chef, owner operator/truck driver, blogger, freelance writer, artist, food stylist, and amateur photographer. To others, I’m a grand-daughter, daughter, sister, cousin, puppy mama, lover, next-door-neighbor, friend, and above all, patriotic American.
I’m the girl next-door with a few more tattoos than is yet socially acceptable, an old school metal head, a lover of the written word, a softie for animals of every shape and size, and a coffee snob. I don’t drink, I do smoke, and I like dark chocolate. I make no apologies, or excuses for who I am, and thanks to our brave soldiers and the First Amendment, I am Free.
I know who I am; who are you?