January 27, 2017 | Frank Bonanno
I cook a lot. I mean a whole lot. Forget that it’s my livelihood, and that on any given night I might be cooking on one of nine professional lines or in the DaVita kitchen, or for Chef Driven. I cook for my family, too–maybe three breakfasts a week for my sons, and a couple of dinners at home. I cook for the people I work with to test out potential menu items, or because I know Liza likes quiche or it will make Nick’s day if I bring up a round of cheese steaks. I cook when I’m on vacation, because it’s the best way I know to thank hosts and to solidify new friendships. I cook when I want to hide from social situations, and I cook when I want to compose my thoughts. When it’s dark and my mind is racing, I meditate on food, and if that doesn’t work, I calm myself by writing recipes and drawing things I’d like to cook later, things I think maybe you’d like to eat. My journal entries look like this:
Hi. Jacqueline here. I’m Frank’s partner. I like to write. My writing has taken different shapes over the years, from small, creative pieces for abstract magazines, to political speeches, to enthusiastically scrawling in the margins of high school compositions. For the past decade, I’ve mostly written menus, food descriptions, recipes, and training manuals. From time to time I write these journal entries with Frank. When I wake in the middle of the night, I distract myself from politics and business with writing. Sometime I reckon my writing is beautiful and poetic, and I keep it to myself, partially out of embarrassment, and partially because I have this fantasy that my sons will one day discover these reams of profundity when I’m dead. Gosh, they’ll say. She was really deep. All of this is recorded in the hollows of my computer, but when I write in a journal it often devolves to this:
Frank again. I’d like to talk a little about my cooking process. Sunday is a sacred space in our household–not because of any particular religious bent, but because it’s the only day we can pretty much guarantee our family will be together. Whatever we may have going on in the restaurants, we carve out Sundays for us, and Sunday nights, I cook. I have a whole ritual built around it, that starts with a kind of mood that’s been building up through the course of the day, a mood that was formed maybe the night before with that journal and a platescape, or a meal that’s been kicking around in my head for a week, a month, more. Sundays are my way to exorcise creative demons, get them out on canvas, explore their flavors. I go to the grocery store Sunday afternoons, and mill around for a bit with my food thoughts, looking for ripe or interesting or downright beautiful. Last week, I was taken by an Ethiopian mood, which for me means a certain spice set, a kind of bread, lentils. So I walk around the produce section for a bit, see if there’s a vibrancy in those bins to build the meal around. Okra’s not my favorite vegetable, but on this Ethiopian night, there happens to be a whole slew of really beautiful green (and by green I mean green–freckled with green that dips into dark, deep green as green as a sea monster green, shimmery and unwaxed green) okra. The meal started from there.
Jacqueline again. I’d like to talk a little about Frank’s writing process. Sundays, Frank tends to disappear in the middle of the day. It’s his alone time, and sometimes it’s the only time he has to himself during the entirety of the week, other than driving. Once we realize he’s slipped away, my sons and I do something creative together. This creativity can leak into Monday and trickle into the rest of the week, the rest of the month even–like the snowy day we decided to make a paper mâché dragon that wasn’t complete until summer. Sometimes it’s just planting nasturtiums or baking sugar cookies, and sometimes, we write together, together but alone, each facing a separate vessel on the dining room table, Luca with his electric typewriter, Marco on his Corona, me on my iPad. I might take this moment at the dining room table to consider what Frank could discuss in his journal and how I could guide that process. I might start to flesh out a piece for him. I might continue to write while the smell of Ethiopian food floats into the dining room and the boys slip into the kitchen to dip spongy bread into incomplete sauces.
F: I get home from the grocery store and I organize. I clean the kitchen so I can have a blank surface, a nice backdrop for the hours ahead. I chop and peel and seed and begin to build the meal, all the while wiping and organizing and providing latitude for flavors and smells and spices and seasoning. I slip into the zen of this ritual, nose down, slowly, methodically, teasing the family into our kitchen with the rapid fire of knife on wood, the crackling of grease, the concord of aroma that permeates the Sunday evening like nap. The first one to come into the kitchen is always Marco. He washes his hands over a sink full of skins and seeds. Luca next, putting on an apron.
J: I can’t just stay in the dining room alone, typing while there’s laughter and food going on in the next room. I bring my iPad into the kitchen. Frank, I say, I think for Valentine’s Day we should talk about collaboration. There’s sauce on my screen and the keypad is steamy, and Frank talks and stirs and pours me a wine while I type what he says into what I’ve already written. He tells me that it’s easy to set personal goals and achieve them, but when you bring another person into the process, you get better results. He elaborates. These are his exact words (he’s speaking; I’m typing): “People have other views and perspectives that you can’t always see. Other skillsets. Like with you, you’re more abstract, Jacqueline, and I’m very linear. I take the most direct path to get from a to b but you’re more thoughtful, more sensitive,” and this is utter nonsense because in our rhythm of writing together it always takes him a moment to step away from talking to me, his wife, and get to sincerely expressing his ideas. Frank is abstract. He is, in fact, abstract to the degree that as he is cooking right now, he’s talking to me, helping Marco with his math homework, and organizing our glassware. The thing is though, he types with his index fingers, he doesn’t understand punctuation or capitilization, and if he wrote this for you, now, himself, it would be three pages of a single sentence that started with the concept of collaboration and ended with, say, how awesome Ethiopian food is. (Ethiopian food really is awesome, and I’m hungry typing this). I filter through Frank’s rambling love for me and his love for all things food and his thoughts on collaboration. These thoughts and filters and collaborations have fashioned the way we do business, and to no small degree have shaped the current dining scene in Denver. Frank collaborates. He’s intense, and that intensity can lead outsiders to see him a shouter. He isn’t. He gently, passionately give chefs, servers, event planners, managers, room to express their creativity and he reigns them in when they digress. The professionals we work with go on to open their own venues–eleven as of the opening of Amy Pham’s noodle bar. It’s an amazing thing to be part of. In this particular pinpoint of an instance, in my roll as collaborator, I listen. I type. I pull out the sentiments he brandishes and polish them up a bit. “Sometimes collaboration’s not great,” he tells me, “you butt heads. But no matter who you’re working with, that person has something to offer that you’re lacking. Every person you collaborate with brings nuance and skill where it didn’t exist before. Collaborating is more difficult than dictating, because you have to set aside your ego–but the results are usually better.”
That’s funny, Frank, actually funny, and I’m smiling because you are literally dictating to me now. I know, he says. That’s different.
He’s right. It is.
We’re all in the throes of some sort of collaboration, in our lives and livelihoods. Frank and I have been business partners for 15 years. It’s a significant time of year for us. We create restaurants in Februarys and celebrate the birth of our son. We toast to my birthday tonight, and as we sat at the kitchen table to discuss a journal post, it seems just the time to insert myself into Frank’s writing publicly, for the transparency of our collaboration, and, now that I’m typing, to say that no thing that he does, that we do, that you do, is a solitary process. We each hunker into moments of isolation, into the quiet where revelations occur and the personal pathways of our minds, but ultimately, we face the world, our partners, our associates, our friends. Our successes–yours, mine–are built primarily in one of two ways: climbing over backs or working shoulder to shoulder. Which construction will you select?
F: Did you just call me a dictator?
J: No. I’ll show you in a minute, I just need to proof this. Can you top my wine please?