Several years ago, I stood in my client’s kitchen and prepared a Mexican Chopped Salad with Spicy Avocado Dressing. Although, the Mexican Chopped Salad I made that day did not contain bell peppers. My client was adamant he did not like bell peppers. Stuffed jalapenos and possibly Chile Rellenos yes, but bell peppers, no.
So, I rummaged around the refrigerator and the pantry to find additional tasty ingredients to add to this Mexican Chopped Salad. My client had some significant dietary restrictions, but at that moment I was willing to fudge those restrictions just to make him happy. This was usually the case when I was cooking for Bruce.
He was often a difficult person. An older man with a fiery personality that bordered somewhere between cantankerous and entertaining. However, as difficult as he could be at times, he could also be kind-hearted and thoughtful.
It would take an entire book to tell you his story and all the stories about the years I cooked for him. My days with Bruce often felt like a Lifetime Movie of the week. I thought to myself many times, Mitch Albom had Tuesdays with Morrie, but I had Monday’s and Thursdays with Bruce.
I left his kitchen in 2013 when I moved to Oregon. But we kept in touch through mail and phone calls.
In June 2017, I heard my cell phone ring and the caller ID said “Bruce’s Home”. My heart leaped because Bruce rarely called me. I usually called him.
I was worried that something had happened and he needed to talk. I didn’t work for him any longer but we were still friends and kept in touch several times a year. He adored the written word, so I found myself sending cards and letters most of the time. When we spoke over the phone, it was to say happy birthday or happy holidays and catch up on the last few months.
A tiny bit alarmed, because I knew he wasn’t in the best of health, I answered the call and heard his deep, gruff voice say, “Is this Chef Karista of Karista’s Kitchen? I laughed and said, why yes it is! He replied, I’d like to order a Pasta Cortona for dinner delivery please”. This made me smile.
I realized Bruce must have seen the Portland television segment where I prepared my recipe called, Pasta Cortona. I laughed again and said, “one order of Pasta Cortona coming right up”. I could hear him smiling on the other end of the phone as he told me how much he loved watching me make the pasta dish on television.
Because Bruce wasn’t one to hand out accolades, he quickly changed the subject and said, “wow, the tv host is tall! I chuckled and replied, well yes, she is very tall but it doesn’t help that I’m short”. We both laughed again and continued to talk for another ten minutes about my new work and life after cooking for Bruce.
Bruce was jovial that day, entertaining as always, slightly cantankerous and had a few more stories to tell me. Amongst the stories and banter, I could hear pride in his voice when he continued to talk about my smidgen of success. He wasn’t one to dole out compliments or give a pat on the back. However, I knew at that moment, he was proud of me. It felt like a gift. A gift I never expected to receive.
Over the years, Bruce and I became more like friends than just a client and chef. He knew as much about me as I knew about him. He knew how much I admired his success. Now, he was admiring mine.
We said our goodbyes and I heard him say, “I love you”.
“I love you too Bruce, I said”.
That was the last time I heard his voice.
Every time I make this Mexican Chopped Salad with Spicy Avocado Dressing, along with many other recipes, I think of Bruce. I think of all our kitchen conversations while I cooked and he washed the dishes. None of my clients ever washed the dishes. Except for Bruce. Which always warmed my heart. It was a tiny glimpse into a kind soul that was wrapped in a tough and rugged exterior.
Today I celebrate all those unexpected friendships, the many life lessons, all the delicious food and of course, friends who will wash your dishes.
Thank you for following this blog. I don’t say it often enough but I appreciate your support, your feedback, comments, and shares. You are why I write and post recipes. Hopefully, these recipes and stories will give you joy in the kitchen as you prepare delicious and beautiful meals.
Loads of Love!