Over the past couple weeks I've been thinking a lot about Staff for the upcoming issue (No 6) of Communal Table- the online publication I'm collaborating on with my friend Adrian and a band of talented designers, artists and writers she has recruited over the years. The issue will have stories about staff as in staff of life, staff as in a team of people who support a project or business, and possibly staff as a physical support. For me- the word always makes me think of the people who have floated in and out of employment at Cyril's- likely because I've spent more time with them in the past four years than anyone else in my life.
One of the most enriching aspects of working in a kitchen has nothing to do with food. Nothing to do with service. Nothing to do with the seasons, the lore, or the tattoos. It’s a specific kind of conversation that happens between the people in kitchen; one that has the potential to access every nook and cranny of the human experience without intending to do anything but pass the time. I have come to think of these conversations as incidental in that they are “accompanying but not a major part of” the work that happens in our kitchen. They remind me of the epic, meandering talks I used to have with friends when we spent a lot of time just hanging out with no goal or desired resolution on the horizon.
The lack of urgency or need to cover any specific ground in a conversation makes room for spontaneity and deep exploration of places and topics that stick with you for days. Curiosity takes over and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but curiosity is generally not in a huge rush to get anywhere—curiosity is fulfilled simply by bearing witness to the unfurling.
Most of us don’t have much unstructured time as adults. We’re running a logistics race with people to see, places to get to, and lists of things to complete—my god, the lists right? Maybe that’s why I feel so sweet about these incidental kitchen conversations I have with our staff; they’re rangy and roomy, allowing indirect glimpses at who a person is, how they actually show up in their life and what matters to them. These conversations feel good to me partly because they are in perfect contrast to the curated quips we interact in via text, instagram, twitter, etc.
I am an incredibly curious person. I am also an introvert. Around other people, especially ones that I find interesting, I can get shy. I’m always more comfortable when I have a job to do. Having a task calms my mind, and this frees it up to wander more interesting neighborhoods than the familiar haunts of worry and judgment. Kitchens are not the only place where this type of incidental interaction is possible; it can happen anywhere that there is a loosely shared goal and a couple people willing to meander. I'm grateful that I managed to recruit a team that's up for the journey.