Monday afternoon I got word that my friend Eunice lost her battle with cancer. It got me thinking about how certain events and people in your life – like a post-college restaurant job I had when I was twenty one could turn out to be extraordinary.
Frog restaurant was part of Philadelphia’s restaurant renaissance in the early 1970s, it opened in 1973 by Steve Poses on a shoestring budget of $35,000 on 16th and Spruce. Seven years later, it moved to a grander space at 1524 Locust Street. I had graduated from college and ran into Alem, a hostess I worked with one summer, she suggested I apply for a job there.
The next thing I knew, I was working on the line at Frog under executive chef Moh Azzizi. God only knows how I got hired there, I was a culinary hick. Platters of vegetables were called crudites, asparagus was white, calf’s liver was delicious, and I discovered that you could eat ice cream with chopsticks if there were no spoons. Moh was a sweetheart, I learned a tremendous amount about good food from him. He sensed that I was culinarily gun shy and would bring a small plate of some sort of meat over to my station. I would ask what it was, and he’d say, “It’s food, EAT IT!” I did what I was told, only to find out that I’d just ingested rattlesnake, eel, or the thymus gland of a calf, but I also discovered that I kind of liked it! Although my time in the kitchen at Frog was short lived, this is where my interest in cooking and love of food began.
Working forty hours a week in the kitchen left little time to pursue what I went to college for – illustration. I made the jump from the kitchen to the floor as a waiter – more money, less hours, and time to work as a freelance illustrator. But there was another bonus – the people I worked with. It was The Island of Misfit Toys – actors, painters, Penn dental students, musicians, people working their way through grad school, a house renovation, and those who weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do – somehow it was a good fit. Everyone was so different, and talented, and smart, and funny.
We wore pink oxford shirts with bow ties, piped butter into ramekins, changed tablecloths without exposing the padded table underneath, managed to get a handle on an extensive menu, wine list, and daily specials. Arms laden with entrees, we dodged unruly children on Mother’s Day, juggled large parties on Penn grad weekends, hauled cases of wine from the basement to a private party room on the third floor, and pulled each other out of the weeds.
Those of us in our twenties referred to our co-workers in their *gasp* thirties as the “old hags” or “hags” for short . “Sign up to work the second floor dining room – all the hags are working on the first.” *rolls eyes* All joking aside – we worked hard, waited on the good, the bad, and the quirky, and we laughed – a lot! Thanks to Ma Bell, email, and Facebook, we’ve managed to keep in touch over the years.
Eunice was one of those people that with a turn of phrase or a look would have you cracking up at the most inopportune times; as we all know – everything is funnier when you’re not supposed to laugh. To say that I will miss her is an understatement. The message on Monday from Pat read,“…sorry to be the bearer but that was such a fine time we all got to spend together back then…”
Indeed Pat. It was extraordinary.