The insider's scoop on food, travel & southern culture
Everyone has that person who touched your life at an early age. The person who showed you what it meant to be passionate and helped you discover your own zest for life. For some, it may have been a teacher, a parent or a friend. For me, it was my older sister, Marguerite.
A few years ago, my sister was taken from me by a drunk driver. She was a chef in Palm Beach, walking home one night from work. This week was her birthday, and I always take some time to reflect. I no longer possess anger, just appreciation for the way she’s touched my life.
Marguerite was four years older than me, and anyone who has a sister knows the nature of that relationship. Younger sisters are among the most impressionable minds. They follow the older ones around like puppies, mimicking their every move.
What you do, I do.
What you say, I say.
What you love, I love.
And from the outset, my sister loved to cook.
Even at a young age, she was an incredible chef. I can remember growing up in New Orleans, where the Sunday brunch was just as much tradition as the church service. On those mornings, I remember Marguerite taking over the kitchen. She would go to work whipping up eggs benedict with hollandaise and an array of Cajun-southern specialties. I would observe closely, an eager pupil — just content that she let me into her world. Her techniques were so exacting, yet natural. She would explain to me about the tastes and the flavors. I was her guinea pig, and I was okay with that.
She attended culinary school in New Orleans, at a time when it was hard for women to be in the kitchen. She was a brilliant saucier, which is a chef particularly adept at creating sauces, soups and sautés. She began working at the famed Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street, and then at Maison de Ville, where Chef Susan Spicer took her under her wing.
Marguerite taught me more by example than anything else. She had a passion that brought her happiness, and she used her cooking to spread that joy to others. She didn’t care that the route she chose was uncommon, because it’s what she loved. A life without passion, she taught me, is really no life at all.
As I’ve described my sister, I’m sure you’ve had someone in your own life who came to mind. People tend to touch us in ways we don’t expect. Here I am forty years down the road, (married to a chef) and engulfed in the culinary world, for which I have a true passion and appreciation. Often times, the frenzy of life distracts us from these kinds of introspections. It usually takes time for us to appreciate the way others have imprinted us, and it’s all too often in retrospect.
My only regretful thought is that my boys never had a chance to meet her. I read them a storybook on her birthday each year. It’s about a flower named Marguerite, which means daisy in French. I tell them about her, and I know she’s smiling down on us.
I have to think that she’d be proud of me and what I’m doing now. I have a family that I love, and I’ve devoted my life to work that brings me joy — a joy I try to spread to those around me.
When I take to the kitchen, I know she’s probably laughing at me from above. Here I am, butchering all the culinary techniques she so carefully demonstrated over the years. Our passions may be slightly different — mine obviously in a different realm of the culinary world — but they’re really the same. All passions are the same. Because when you’re doing what you love, you’re living, and that’s one of the most important things to never forget. Thanks Sis, happy birthday.