When I sat down at the dining table in Chef Tell’s house in 2004, I never knew what his food was going to taste like. He had insisted upon making me breakfast, even though it was only about six in the morning. I acquiesced at his persistent “I will cook you breakfast; it’s no trouble,” despite my attempts to decline his initial offer. Eventually the futility of telling a master chef that you did not want him to trouble him with making you breakfast seeped into my foggy brain, so I shut up and sat down.
“Do you like ‘frittata‘,” he asked. Not waiting for my answer, he had the fresh ingredients cooking in the pan before I could change my mind.
Only vaguely guessing that I knew what a frittata was — some kind of a quiche, I thought — I replied, “Sure” and let it be. I would find out soon enough not only if I liked frittata, but if I liked Chef Tell’s rendition of the dish.
Within seconds, the aroma of fresh garden vegetables mixed with eggs and fresh herbs of his choice filled the adjoining kitchen and our nostrils. Within minutes, two plates of the finished dish were placed before both of us.
Chef Tell was that fast in the kitchen.
“Bunny tells me you are on a business trip…” he steered the conversation. Over the course of about forty-five minutes we talked about business, road trips, food and sales — whatever easily came to mind for a world-class chef and a nationally recognized salesman.
If you had been there watching us, you would have seen two men talking over breakfast, but more was going on than met the eye. A rapport and communion of souls emerged over those eggs and vegetables; some kind of spiritual connection that would never depart.
I knew, for my part, that our conversation made me feel like he really cared about me. I had heard that he had a way of making his acquaintances feel important and found out it was true. He deflected the spotlight away from him and onto others because, as I discovered later in my research of the man’s life, he was intensely interested in learning as much as he could about people and what they did.
More than a sponge for knowledge, Tell gave back to the communities and circles that he moved in. He often delivered new versions of what he had encountered earlier. His outside-the-box renditions… he let you take or leave as you chose. What he took in, he also shared in the spirit of education and entertainment. His gift was to teach that way. Combining elements of show business with the tenets of basic cooking made for better television and interesting live food demonstrations at his many road-show appearances for years. They also made for a fascinating biographic story.
The thought occurs to me now that others who met him briefly, perhaps more briefly than my one breakfast with him, might also have walked away with that same feeling of importance. I guess you could call it a “confidence.” Chef Tell instilled confidence. He put a little bounce in your step that, though you might not have expected it, could come in handy one day in a crisis. Kind of like the Pied Piper, the bits of information he gleaned as he harvested relationships along his pathway on this earth, were his breadcrumbs leading you to a new place.
Reflecting back on the last 30 months of my life, which I devoted almost solely to researching and writing his biography, gives me a new jolt of that confidence he instilled in me. I sense a peaceful satisfaction at having accomplished a new level of exposure for our lives. While his story will reveal to his legions of Baby Boomer fans more about the man than they ever knew, it will also expose my professional and personal life to the public scrutiny that I know he never became accustomed to, yet endured. In a way, In ways I have yet to understand, my connection with Chef Tell will draw more deeply from the wells of different emotions, which we plumbed together in the making of his book.
I guess those who read his biography, and I, will just have to make do with what’s left in our pantries in the rest of our lifetimes before we shove off for new shores. I guess that also leaves us with ingredients we must fashion into our own “Chef’s Special of the Day” the way that Chef Tell did.
I wonder what we will make of them, you and I?
© 2013 by Ronald Joseph Kule. Reserved.