My wife and I love authentic experiences. There is nothing we enjoy more than experiencing food together. It’s always more than the food itself. Like the time we were in Sheboygan, Wisconsin recently. We visited Field to Fork Café for brunch. What a bustling place on a Saturday morning. We opted for counter service. That’s where the fun began.
Picture a long counter and in front of you is where the magic happens. Off to the left, there’s a small four-burner stove top where a cook is tossing vegetables and meats for omelets in one pan, while in another pan he has eggs to order sizzling and near ready to pop onto a plate.
Behind him is the sous chef, prepping all the plates as he gets them. In a work area no larger than six feet by five feet, the two of them engage in a coordinated dance. One scoops the main dish on the plate while the other finishes it with potatoes, bread, or toppings. We catch the eye of the chef and give him a knowing wink, and he smiles back.
In front of us is Manuel. He is in charge of salads. He also tends the wood-burning fire and grill top. We start joking with him about cooking and customers. Before long, we’re bantering back and forth as he moves between the salad station and grill, flipping pancakes and French toast, and tossing Greek salads.
What you bring to the table, pun intended, makes your experience authentic. We love walking into a new place to discover not only the food, but the people who make the food, the waitstaff, and the owners.
We were in New York City last month and went to Fluffy’s, a café and pizzeria at 58th Street and 9th Avenue, about a block from Columbus Circle. We order our breakfast and the next thing we know, we’re talking with Spiros, the owner. He shares his story. He’s got ties to Greece. He’s been in the city over 25 years. He had to move his business because after 20 years in the same building across the street from Carnegie Hall, the owner doubled his rent.
“Why name the place Fluffy’s?” we ask. Spiros used to make the fluffiest doughnuts you ever tasted. You could smell them frying from four blocks away, he says. People used to beg him to open the store in the early morning hours because the doughnuts smelled so good. Before long, Spiros is giving us his point of view on the problems of government, world politics, and the profit margins on his restaurant.
As we dive into our breakfast sandwich (perfectly cooked egg on a hard roll – you can’t get a good hard roll in the Midwest like you can in NYC) and French toast, we relish how fortunate we are to make our experience more than the food in front of us. We follow what I call the E.A.T. philosophy.
Experience – Take in the whole experience: the food, the people who serve you, the people you’re with. Everything around you contributes to your experience. Tune in.
Atmosphere – Be present. That’s right, be present. Put down your phone, tune into your senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What does the place remind you of? Pay attention to what you’re feeling that very moment.
Time – Value time. I’ve heard it said that we can’t save or make time. All we can do is move through time. How are you moving through time?
The message is to create, value, and cherish your experiences. Make them authentic. Make them yours.