Brownies; 1 cup melted chocolate, 2 eggs,one half cup milk, one quarter cup water one and a half cups sugar, 1 cup flour.

On Thursday, my granddaughter got off the school bus with a paper in her hand. Usually her hands are free to play and all papers are in her backpack. As we walked up the driveway, she showed me the paper and told me it was a recipe for brownies that she wrote. It looked simple yet pretty good and I asked where she’d gotten it. “I just made it up, Grampop. I want to make them.” I was willing to facilitate the project but we just didn’t have chocolate to melt.

The young lady proudly holding her plate of brownies. When Mom got home and I was about to leave, we talked about the recipe. We agreed that I could bring chocolate chips the next day-she said she didn’t want to use her Halloween candy. So right after school on Friday I showed her the chocolate I brought- dark chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips. She tasted them both and picked the milk chocolate. I figured as much.

So I let her run with it. I helped by melting the chocolate, suggesting a suitable pan and sliding the brownies into the oven. They were pretty soupy and took about 50 minutes to cook. But cook they did. When they’d cooled down, she cut them and arranged them on a plate for mom. Dang it.

I did eventually get to eat a finished brownie and they weren’t bad: mildly chocolatey, tender, and over all quite tasty.

The Vic

I was talking with an old friend over the holiday. We briefly compared notes about Thanksgiving at the Victorian Manor. Her restaurant. She’d done a web search for Maurice, the chef, and turned up this essay from my very old (early 2006) web space:

Cook in a kitchen, flirting with an older woman.

At one time, this link loaded the Victorian Manor’s Web page. Sadly, the Vic has closed. The image in the corner is me in the kitchen flirting with Sharon Gless. While wearing a hair net? Geez…what was I thinking?

The Best Job I Ever Had

The Exarchos family, the original head chef Maurice Philippet, and a few devoted employees, created what I thought was a model of excellence when they established the Victorian Manor. I never considered a time would come when they weren’t there. My infant daughter ate strawberries from Maurice’s hand; Chris and Diane gave us her first crib. Through births and deaths, accidents, blizzards, politics, bad water, and that endless array of personal problems that we all suffer, folks at the Manor stood together more as a family than a business. We had Thanksgiving dinner together after the customers had gone. We celebrated New Years Eve together. We had Fourth of July picnics together. On birthdays we were encouraged to come to dinner- cooks could see how waiters spoke when they were “on stage” and waiters could taste the results of all the motion and noise. It certainly was a time.

I was privileged to work in the Manor kitchen for just over eleven years. I stood shoulder to shoulder with people who were like minded in their dedication, vision, and skill. Nothing can beat it. Three sets of hands could work on the same eleven inch plate. A cook would run downstairs to the walk-in for an item I hadn’t yet realized I needed. Three people with sharp knives and hot pans wove around each other focused on separate tasks in a narrow aisle, without mishap. You can watch the Food Channel, you can take a class, but you can’t experience the team spirit and the vision of excellence without the fire, the noise, and the immediacy of a working kitchen. I cherish that experience.

On Saturday evening [December 31, 2005] I stood in the kitchen as the last dinners went out. I left the Manor ten years ago, but it still felt like home. Many faces had changed, but remarkably, many were the same. The big difference was that these were the last dinners. The very last. They weren’t followed by prep for the next days service, or prep for the holiday. There was no checking to see what fish needed to be ordered. No checking to see if potatoes were turned for the days ahead. Instead, there were tears.

Thanks to the entire Exarchos family for the friendship and opportunity that you gave me. Thank you Maurice for the memories that you’ve given my daughter. But more, thank you Linda, Jay, Michael, Brent, and all of the others who let me share in your excellence. Without your heart, it’ll just be a restaurant.