Got up early this morning, for my habitual Tuesday walk around the Mount with a friend, and as I drove home after our always wide ranging and supportive chat, I was hit with the realisation that the wonky feeling that had pervaded my world for the past few weeks and which seemed to have tilted me distinctly out of balance, had rectified itself, and I was again able to look forward with enthusiasm.
September was a very quiet month for the restaurant and that, combined with a number of other factors that I hadn't anticipated, meant that life just wasn't running as smoothly as I expected and wanted it too, and as a result had thrown me into a distinct funk..
Perhaps not too much of a coincidence then, that on one of the nights I headed over to the restaurant knowing that we weren't going to be doing good numbers, I grabbed a book out of the bookcase that I hadn't picked up in years, and proceeded to bury myself in that, later in the evening as I waited for customers to depart. "Eat Me, The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin". A truly unique and utterly entertaining take on life and running a restaurant from the perspective of a completely misogynous guy in New York, and one I had read during a previously miserable time when we were questioning our approach to the business.
His cafe is quite different to Somerset. His take on cooking and customers is quite different to the way that we do things, and yet, there is also lots of common ground. The things he held true in life ( he has recently died), struck many notes of authenticity with me, and there are many parts where I literally laughed out loud in recognition. He is grumpy, unforgiving and unsparing in his takedowns - all sentiments I needed to read over the last little while just to remind myself of what is important to us, and why we do what we do, and why we see ourselves continuing on for a few years yet.
To quote Kenny:
The Art of Staying Small. Restaurant philosophy according to Kenny Shopsin.
"The art of staying small more or less sums up my feelings about running a restaurant – and about life. I know it goes against our capitalist system, but I have never been interested in the normal symptoms of success, such as higher profit margins and expansion of income. I never had a goal to make more money so that I could retire or so that I could hire a low-wage employee to do the cooking for me. I have no desire to open a second restaurant, to oversee a restaurant empire with my name on it, or to endorse a line of pots and pans.
Running a restaurant for me is about running a restaurant. It is not a means to get someplace else. I wake up every morning, and I work for a living like a farmer. Running a restaurant is a condition of life for me. And I like everything about this life. I like waking up in the morning knowing I am going to the restaurant to cook, that something unexpected will happen to me in the kitchen, and that no matter what, I will learn something new. I like the actual process of cooking. I like working with my kids. It is a simple existence, but for me the beauty is in that simplicity. These are the things that bring me pleasure – and they bring me great pleasure on an extremely regular basis.
Living this way, pursuing your own happiness, is addictive and it’s the way I have tried to conduct my life. What this means is doing what it takes to make yourself feel good each day, not to make yourself feel less good today in the hope that your life will be good in ten years because you’re working really hard now or because your property will be worth more money then. The way I figure it, if you make every day of your life as happy as you can, nobody can take that away from you. It’s in the bank."
Rick and I are suddenly ( it seems!) of an age where we've started to question where we've been, and where we'd like to be, going forward, and sometimes, to be able to validate that what you are doing right now in the present happens to be exactly what you want to be doing, is a kind of healthy affirmation, and exactly what I seemed to need. So I put the book back in bookcase ( having experimented with a couple of recipes first) feeling that it had done it's job, and I'd be back next time I had a crisis of the spirit....
Coincidently Calvin Trillin, one of my favourite food writers, was a habitue of Shopsins and he wrote a typically eloquent article on the experience of eating there many years ago which is worth reading.
Maree leaves us next week - an event that is going to roll round regardless of whether I choose to put my head in the sand over it or not! She's been a part of our lives for a long, long time - in her first stint at Somerset she even ended up babysitting the girls when they were both under 5, so she matters to us alot, and we watch her go with mixed feelings - I'm going to miss her alot but putting that aside, very much want the best for her, and hope that this next step provides the creative challenge she's looking for.
And Roz is currently in Wellington, maximising time with her newly born grandchild - a very special time for her. This photo I felt, captured the awe of new life wonderfully:
And I will now head over, to get the restaurant ready for service tonight. Have one of our favourite regulars in - a group of 14 who come every 3 months, and who are a truly delightful group of guys - ridiculously easy and enjoyable to deal with, and a useful reminder of why we do what we do.It's lighter in the evenings now, so they'll probably turn up earlier after their meeting for a drink on the deck and I need to be organised. As you do!!
Hope sincerely there is lots of sunshine in your life, and we look forward to catching up soon.