When I sat down at the dining table in Chef Tell’s house in 2004, I did not know what his cooking would taste like. He had insisted upon making me breakfast, even though it was only about six in the morning.
He told me, “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 didn’t want to trouble him with making you breakfast, seeped into my foggy brain, so I shut up and waited.
“Do you like ‘frittata‘,” he asked. Not waiting for my answer, he had the fresh ingredients selected and cooking in the pan before I could change my mind.
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.
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 his marriage to my sister, business matters, living on the road, food (of course) and selling (what I did) — 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 went on than met the eye. A rapport and communion of souls emerged over those eggs and vegetables; some kind of spiritual connection that just never departed.
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, which 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 the things they did.
Chef Tell was more than a sponge for knowledge. He gave back to the communities and circles that he moved in, often delivering new versions of what he had encountered earlier; that was his style. His outside-the-box renditions played more like anecdotes, and he let you take or leave his words as you chose.
What he took in, he 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 the many road shows where he appeared over several 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 more correctly a “confidence.” Chef Tell instilled confidence. He put a little bounce in your step, which, though you might not have expected it, might come in handy one day in a crisis. Kind of like the Pied Piper, he left bits of information gleaned from harvested relationships he gathered along his pathway through his lifetime on this earth.
Reflecting back on the last 30 months of my life devoted almost solely to research 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 each of our lives, which is making me feel closer to this man.
While Chef Tell’s 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 same kind of public scrutiny that I know he never became accustomed to, yet endured. In ways I have yet to understand, my connection with Chef Tell will draw more deeply from the wells of the different emotions we plumbed together as the book progressed from concept to hard-won words published on paper.
Unfortunately, whatever comes to me from that union might make me miss him even more than I do now. Or at least, miss the opportunities to sit down more than once with Tell and converse with him.
I guess those who read his biography, and I, will just have to make do with what’s left for us in the pantry of our lifetimes before we shove off for new shores. I guess that also leaves us to fashion our own ingredients into our “Chef’s Specials of the Day,” much the way Chef Tell did: one day at a time.
I wonder what we will make of them, you and I?
© 2014 by Ronald Joseph Kule. Reserved.