The idea that had struck me during that afternoon in the kitchen, was that if I was going to cook, and cook well, I may as well do it in a way that is more productive than just keeping the family alive. I decided to start with my own little stand outside of the factory my dad worked in, this led to a food truck that I would bring all over town with the help of my brother, and through their successes, became the realization that I should open my own restaurant. In my mid twenties, I had a sit down with my folks and pitched them the idea. They thankfully thought that it was an idea worth pursuing, and through their earnings and a hefty loan from the bank, we found a good spot that could get a fair bit of traffic. Being the people we were, we didn’t hire a whole lot of professionals. My family and extended family did a lot of the work and repairs needed, but of course we still hired professional roofing companies in Louisville KY to ensure that the most vital part of the building would be up to code. With a turn around time of about six months, we took a dilapidated old building, and turned it into a cute little cantina. I began getting to work on menus and recipes, and specials, and of course, training other family members on how to do what they needed to do to help out. A lot of us had no idea how it would operate, but we gutted it out, and essentially taught ourselves everything that had to do with restaurant ownership. Thankfully, everyone worked really hard, and it took us a bit to grow a solid customer base, but it came eventually. I needed to bring in a couple other professionals such as an accountant to help us with the more important and legal aspects of keeping our business afloat, but through the perseverance of everyone involved, we eventually got to the point of being able to run every aspect of the business ourselves. It has been five years since we opened the restaurant at the time I write this, with six approaching over the horizon, but it was a decision that I have never regret. With owning the place, one of the benefits is that I get to make the food for our family throughout the day, and when the restaurant closes after a long day at work, we all sit down together and eat. It allows me to keep carrying on my grandmother’s legacy, whose picture rests on a wall in the main seating area as well as in the kitchen, reminding me to remember where I came from, and why I do what I do. We keep one foot firmly in the past while taking another step into the future, and though eventually that back foot needs to step forward, at least I get to have the satisfaction in knowing that I did it on my own terms.
With my grandmother moved on, and my family relying on me to be the main cook in the house, I admit, it left me with very little time to be social in life. While my friends were going to movies, and having sleep overs, I was cooking, baking and frying my evenings and weekends away. I found myself wondering if there ever came a part in my grandmother’s life where she felt like just telling everyone to order a pizza and heading out for the night, and knowing how stubborn and stern my grandmother could be at times, I’m pretty sure it had happened at least once. This affectation to my life though also seeped into how I was planning out my future. Though I loved cooking, there was other passions I had as well, and wondered which of those I would pursue into college or further education. But the thoughts always turned back around to thinking about how I was providing for my family. It was more than cooking, I would sort out the grocery lists, go over budgets with my mother, and a myriad of other things that all centered around this one vital aspect of our family life. I felt that if I uprooted from that position, then I would ostensibly be leaving my family in a tough spot. I remember bringing this up to my mom one evening, and the conversation we had. She stated that her and the family always appreciated all the hard work and time I put into everything, but that maybe grandma’s position in the family was a touch outdate. That they should be able to make their own different meals, and even order in at times. I’m sure my mom meant this as a means to get me to feel less bad about thinking of abandoning my post, but instead it upset me. Thinking that grandma’s position in our family, her duties as being the main cook, should be left behind. It sounded like saying that we shouldn’t remember her anymore. It put me in a really tough spot for a while, and I’m sure my parents noticed, as more than once they would suggest we go out to eat here and there, but the stubbornness borne from my grandmother flowed in me as well, and I refused to allow my family to do that. I would dive even more headlong into cooking, and eventually begin straying away from the purely traditional foods she taught me, and more into recent recipes and dining trends. It was a hit with my family, but always felt like a little bit of a betrayal to me. It was a few years later, and I was into my college age, yet still at home cooking. It was during one of these cooking sessions that I decided to do something else entirely, to completely change my life, though having no idea where to start or how I was going to accomplish this idea.
Learning how to cook was all that’s to my grandmother. I remember spending many afternoons in her kitchen, learning traditional Spanish recipes that she has brought up from Mexico when they made their move many years ago. My mom and I were the generations born inside the US, and though we loved our place of birth, we always maintained a strong tie to where our family had come from. One of the strongest ties was through food. She would spend entire weekend afternoons cooking all of our favorite dishes, the items we grew up on, and ensure that we always felt every bit of love that went into every recipe. It was there, in that kitchen that I learned all I know today. I don’t know why food was always such an attraction for me, and why I was so interested in learning all I could about it, but that’s the way it was for me, and my grandmother was more than willing to allow me to soak up all of the skills and tricks she had learned over many years of being the family cook. My grandfather couldn’t cook for the life of him, and I’m pretty sure he would have started a fire trying to boil a pot of water, but my grandmother could work magic with a few simple ingredients. I especially grew to love learning all the Mexican pastries, baking and frying and learning how to use just the right amount of spices, it was my favorite part of any time we would get together and cook. It all started when I was a toddler, and just learning how to turn a spoon in a bowl, but progressed as I grew, and turned into helping add ingredients, learning to measure things out, and eventually, when I was just into high school, starting to make dishes completely on my own. I’m sure it was something that took a bit of restraint on her part, because cooking was her thing, but as the years went on, and her muscles started to grow a little weaker, she allowed me to take over the preparation of certain dishes. I remember when I was in my final year of high school, she wasn’t feeling so well one weekend, so I took over the weeks cooking. It was the first time I had done anything of that size before, and I was worried I would mess things up. But sitting at the dinner table that night, my grandmother taking bites of the food I made, she looked at me and smiled. The kind of smile that’s born of appreciation and pride. It was one of the happiest moments in my life. She passed away the next year, and though it was heartbreaking, I took over her role as the family cook, and every time I was in that kitchen, I couldn’t help but feel her with me, the overlapping memories of so many years in that space, guiding my hands.