When you have a passion in life it is important to understand what drives it. So if you ever get discouraged you can return to the root for inspiration. My love for cooking began as a small child. Even as a kid I realized how much joy a warm meal, delicious cookie, or even frozen treat could bring a person. Even with all the chaos family time can bring no one was ever angry while eating. The bedrock of my confidence was built by the reactions of my family members to my creations. My Grandfather Alfred O’Brien, affectionately known as Grandpal, took the cake (literally). He was an extreme lover of everything food; there was no slice of cake or piece of pie too big. Matter of fact they were nearly always too small. Everything I gave him was always the “best he ever had.” This love got him into a lot of health issues throughout life. Luckily he had my Grandmother Laurie O’Brien, Grannie Annie, to help him control himself.
Grandpal was a vibrant, intelligent, and most importantly an Irish man. His brain was like an encyclopedia, constantly spitting off facts that no child even cared to know. He was an Irish orphan and the true definition of the rags to riches story. He and my grandmother made me proud to be Irish and always let me know how special I am. When I first chose my career path, everyone was a bit weary but my grandparents were extremely supportive. I actually was able to pay for the extensive costs of culinary school because
of a large lump of money they gave me from selling their quaint La Jolla home. (I’m still sad about this, ‘twas my favorite house ever) This allowed me to leave school with no debt and no worries. My Grandfather once told me I have an important skill because everyone has to eat.
My Grandfather seemed to be an immortal superhero surpassing cancer, heart attack, and a stroke all after his 50’s. Again, thanks Grannie Annie for keeping him alive. This past September he began the only battle he would not win. St. Patrick’s Day Eve I had the opportunity to see him one more time in this life. It was very hard to see him laid in bed, every smile, every movement looking like so much work. His life was literally being sucked from him and yet he still managed to tell me how proud of me he was and how beautiful I am. Knowing my Grandfather’s love of food and all things Irish I had brought Irish soda bread to celebrate the following day. Since I live over 3000 miles away I had yet to understand the gravity of his illness; he hadn’t really eaten in a week. We placed some by his bedside so he could feel like he was included in our tea party, figuring he wouldn’t eat it. When he saw it his eyes lit up with the same spark I’ve seen my whole life. His shaking hand gently moved the bread to his mouth, took the smallest bite, and declared, “This is the best soda bread I have ever had,” with a tiny, wearisome, smile.
It was hard to believe my Grandfather with his grandiose exaggeration, obviously everything can’t be the best you ever had. But I feel like that is how he lived his life to the fullest by proclaiming everything he had was the best. His over the top remarks about my food in a way pushed me keep pursuing my dreams and helped to instill the intrepidity I have today. I doubt he could even taste the soda bread in his mouth but I will forever remember that moment; food connects and brings joy. This is the reason I cook and love what I do.
Grandpal’s energy flowed into the universe just five days later. Even in facing death he fought but I think he understood his own morality and came to peace with it before he passed into the great eternalness of space. He lived an amazing 86 years and left behind five thriving children and fourteen grandchildren, all of whom will graduate from top universities, a fact he would want me to let you know. I’ve never experienced losing a loved one before; it is hard to accept the concept that they are really just gone. Even when you don’t talk often there is something comforting in the fact knowing they are physically there. It is true his memory will live on forever through us and his words of wisdom with always echo in our minds. My love of food, wild imagination, and tendency for fabrication are definitely traits straight from him. And but of course he is the reason there is no piece of cake too large.
Thank you for being a piece of the foundation that has brought me to where I am today. Life is much better when everything you receive is the “best you ever had.”
Love you Grandpal.