Spurgeon’s words continue to resonate as I divvy up pounds of cold butter, tossing the cubes into the Hobart commercial mixer with all-purpose flour, a little sugar, a little salt. Pouring in just enough ice-cold water, I gather the pate brisée into discs, rolling them thin and easing them into aluminum pie plates. As I crimp the edges, I remember working in a Philadelphia restaurant kitchen in September of 2001.
For several days following the September 11th attacks, the restaurant was closed while everyone tried to regain their footing. When the owners decided to re-open, assuring each other and the staff that we needed to return to the new normal, it was a surreal experience.
What I vividly remember was the way we practically tiptoed around the kitchen, setting stockpots and whisks and slotted spoons into the three-compartment sink instead of casually tossing them. I remember the deafening silence of the kitchen radio, normally cranked up to POWER99, offering not a single note. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who had been deeply touched by tragedy. With the re-telling of the stories, the floodgates would open, and perfectly stoic line cooks would be crying puddles of Kosher salt tears, dabbing at the corner of their eyes with a frayed linen service apron. Standing on a commercial rubber floor mat, I continued to fill hotel pans with layers of espresso-soaked Savoiardi biscuits and mascarpone mousse. I lined springform pans with amaretti crumbs and ricotta cheesecake, poured panna cotta into ramekins. Customers ordered dessert hoping to fill the cavernous void of sadness. The dining room, normally buoyant with laughter was as still and flat as yesterday’s bottle of Prosecco. We were broken like end-of-the–night pizzelles and biscotti stacked in over-filled bus trays.
Seventeen years later, I am reminded by my classical music station not to take things for granted. In the kitchen above the din of the Hobart, Frank is singing New York, New York. Stacking the pie shells in the freezer, I reach for a bag of recently seasonal rhubarb. Ella’s velvety smooth rendition of I’ll Take Manhattan is next in the queue. Occasionally, when words fail, Sonos speaks.