Our office receives odd requests on a weekly basis. The most frequent inquiry we receive is about cooking demos or dual demos. The dual demos are my favorite. My friend and collaborator, watercolorist Wyatt Waters, and I have done over 100 dual demos over the past 13 years all over the country. I cook, he paints, and we feed a group of people for a fundraiser or special event.
A month ago we received a call from a sweet lady with a request. She had asked her mother, “If you could have anything you want for your 50th anniversary with Dad, what would it be?”
“I would like for Robert St. John to come to my house and cook for our family,” was her reply. Upon hearing this, my initial thought was, your mother should aim higher. But they made an offer we couldn’t refuse and I was booked in Columbus on a Saturday night in August.
I was a little skeptical. There are a lot of things that can make for an awkward night in that situation. One never knows what one is walking into when it comes to dealing with family dynamics. Was this going to be a formal, stuffy dinner? Was family politics going to lead to awkward situations and conversations? Would some of the siblings be unhappy about their mom not aiming higher?
To be honest, I wasn’t fired up about the gig. I had finished an unusually busy week, I was short a sous chef, I was driving up and back in one night, and my kids had just started back to school.
What you should know today is that I am ashamed to have even written the previous two sentences. From the minute I stepped out of my truck in the driveway of the Bigelow family home, I had a blast. I was greeted by the kindest, friendliest, most convivial and hospitable family I have ever met. I spent the next five hours with the most fun, laid-back, and devoted family I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Jean and Jim Bigelow married 50 years ago. They raised four children and now have 10 grandchildren. I was told to cook for 20 people at dinner. They said I could just serve chicken tenders to the kids, but I am a firm believer in kids eating what the adults eat. I tweaked my original menu and offered something I hoped would appeal to the entire group.
When I walked into the house, I was surprised to see my buddy, Wyatt Waters stepping out of the guest bathroom where he had been drawing on the wall. I learned they ask all guests in their home to sign the wall. Wyatt being Wyatt, he drew a landscape scene.
I moved to the kitchen where I began to prepare dinner with my sous chef and server. The family members who weren’t visiting with Wyatt in the other room gathered around the kitchen island and we all visited while I cooked.
I love the Bigelow family and their longstanding traditions. This was a family who loved each other. This was a family who loved life. This was a family who loved their parents.
It speaks volumes about the children and in-law children of a couple who would go to this much trouble to make their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary a special event. Though it probably speaks more about the parents who did such a good job raising those children.
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.