You weren’t our biological grandfather, but that never occurred to me as being unusual. Our family wasn’t big on heritage anyway. I doubt you spent much time thinking about it either. You were too busy flipping blueberry pancakes in the shape of mickey mouse onto our plates- telling us silly stories about Gram in the den on Christmas Eve, claymation characters quietly dancing behind you in silence on the TV.
In your free time from the restaurant, you did the things that mattered most to you; spending time with your grandchildren, traveling to exotic new lands, making memories with your family.
You weren’t cooking for Michelin stars, food write-ups in the New York Times, or recognition from celebrity chefs. You cooked as a means to an end. You cooked to afford the small luxuries in life that meant the world to you: travel and togetherness.
But it was exactly this intention and love poured into your work that made your food absolutely, undeniably delicious. It was why there was hour and a half waits for tables, why the counter was stacked daily with regulars skimming newspapers, laughing boisterously over coffee and toast..
It would’ve been impossible for me to tell you how much this inspires me, since it was only after your passing that I sat down to reflect on why food was so important to me- and if I should pursue it professionally. But as I move forward and evolve in this industry, especially through the challenges that feel like they might break me, it is your simple yet extraordinary life that motivates me to lean in.
Because in that tiny seven table diner, nestled humbly in the woods of the Jersey coast, you were secretly frying up the most delicious sausage gravy and in the world. But great food wasn’t your pursuit. It was great memories, great friends, and a great love for your family.
It was this that made you a remarkable chef.
You did good, Pop. I miss you.