It’s been quite a year. When I think of my life last December—the beginning of that month, the end and all that followed, it’s hard even for me to believe where I’ve wound up. I’ll tell you in a moment, I swear.
About a month ago, I did something crazy: I quit my job at a fantastic restaurant and chef-focused PR firm, to go on an adventure and recalibrate my compass. Funnily enough, the itch for change brought me to the most unexpected of places: Uruguay, a country from which I know exactly four people. Sisters Francesca and Isabella—whom I have loved since high school, Marcelo—the man who loves Isabella, and a man whom I once loved are my only connection to the place. For years our pals have been jetting down for winter visits to Belle here and I’ve always wanted to go, but life has never been such that I could just jaunt to South America for a winter hols. This year my life was no more conducive, yet that’s nearly just what I did.
Last summer, when I met Belle’s fiancé Marcelo at a boozy dinner, we got along like butter and jam. He oversees five restaurants in José Ignacio and its environs, and when he told me to get my ass down here, I countered that I would need more than just an invitation—I would need a job…and so he said:
“You’e hired. All I do is battle with finding people to hire for the season. One less person to find.”
“Great,” I said. “Put me to work in the kitchen; let me brood on peeling potatoes and chopping onions.”
He left for Uruguay the next day and I went back to my life: waking up every morning on 17th Street, going to my job, trying to do well at it; getting happier; drinking wine. Changing incrementally and knowing something was building inside me. The seasons began to shift. With the scent of winter I recalled the brutal one that had come before. All New Yorkers will shudder when they think of last winter’s unending cold, but in my case, it was worse than that: my mother was ill; I was heartsick. So when Marcelo emailed in November to confirm that I was showing up on December 15th, I realized that the seed of the idea, which I hadn’t taken all that seriously, could grow into the exact experience I needed. What had been nothing more than a pipedream suddenly appeared as the panacea.
I longed for the meditative lull of repetitive motion, of doing something until it’s done. Starting with a stainless steel bowl of giant carrots and making them all into matchsticks, that sort of thing. Scrubbing radishes under water so cold it almost burns your hands. Rolling dough: pushing and pulling and kneading separate elements together. That’s what I wanted. Promoting food and chefs in any capacity is a dream job, but I’ve so missed getting my hands dirty and the quick satisfaction of making something that is eventually, if not immediately, delicious. And writing, I missed that most. So I said yes—yes to whatever it was this job would entail, knowing that an adventure with sea, sand and sun would accompany it.
A few days later Marcelo and I spoke to go over logistics and expectations. “Well,” he told me. “I’ve come up with a slightly different plan for you.”
“Tell me,” I said.
“There’s this shack out past the main dining room at La Susana, closer to the ocean. Last year it was a bar and this year, I want it to be a raw bar. So you’re going to be the ceviche girl.”
“Oh,” I said.
“We couldn’t have you come all this way, to what is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and keep you in the kitchen peeling potatoes. This way you are out in nature, talking to people, making something immediately delicious.”
He’d more or less read my mind in terms of what I was craving. I’d never actually made ceviche, the stuff New Yorkers eat at cocktail parties out of martini glasses? I don’t really speak Spanish, so I had to picture myself out at this bar past the main dining room at La Susana, the restaurant he’d opened last year, with the ocean lapping or banging over my shoulder, me miming and flailing, looking stupid, sounding worse and no doubt burnt to a crisp with my hands deep in raw fish.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I’m in.”
You see, I needed nature. I’ve been on an upswing for a while now, but I needed to be in nature to fully restore my faith in the world and I needed to go as far out of my comfort zone as possible to fully restore my faith in myself.
Isabella has a southern hemisphere outpost of The Shack Yoga down here in José Ignacio, so there’s that too. After not exercising for the last 6 months, I can realign and do yoga everyday here with Belle as my instructor.
As soon as I committed, the universe provided everything I needed to make it work (there it is, that faith thing—regenerating like the lost arm of a starfish). And so I quit my job, bought a plane ticket and here I am: Ceviche Girl at La Susana. The adventure starts here.
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