Hutchmoot has been described more than once as a feast — and people are not talking about the food, although the food is amazing.
But each night our chef, John Cal, would introduce the evening meal with a story that related to the food. On the first night he talked about showing his father around New York City. For dinner each night as they ate at a nice restaurant his father would order the same thing — steak, burnt and grey. One night while dining out, he saw a plate pass by their table that looked amazing. Upon inquiry, he learned that it was cassoulet and decided to be adventurous and order it. When he asked about getting rice on the side and the waiter offered rice pilaf, John’s father got flustered and switched his order to steak, burnt and grey.
In Cooperstown, fine dining at its finest takes place at the Otesaga. Years ago, when I was still in high school, my parents took our family there for Easter brunch, which was usually the best of the best, table after table of delicious food. My youngest brother, after perusing all the food, sat down with a single piece of Key lime pie.
“There’s nothing good to eat,” he announced, which translated meant — I couldn’t recognize all the fruit in the fruit salad. I worried that they had added sour cream to the mashed potatoes. The seasonings looked weird on the vegetables. There were olives in the tossed salad.
All that food, and he ate Key lime pie. I think he ended up eating 4 or 5 pieces of it. That was his burnt steak, his comfort food that he knew he could trust and enjoy.
At Hutchmoot, I watched plates of cassoulet pass by in the form of conversations between people who hadn’t known each other until that day and they were saying to each other, “What! You, too?” The delight of finding new friends. The delight of meaningful conversation. The delight of laughing and crying together over joys and sorrows and longings.
At Hutchmoot this year I chose the familiar over the adventurous. I didn’t meet many new people. On Sunday, I sat at a Cracker Barrel (can you get any more predictable than that?) in Franklin and ate lunch with two dear Hutchmoot friends. I reveled in sinking roots a little bit deeper and strengthening already existing bonds rather than forming new ones.
I am John Cal’s father. Okay — not literally. Obviously, not literally.
But often I choose the familiar over the adventurous, especially days when I am weary.
I think sometimes that’s what we need.
I know sometimes that’s what I need.
Burnt steak and Key lime pie.
Already, though, the conversations have begun with new people. The conversations that happen over the internet from the comfort of my home, when I have time and place to relax into forming a new friendship.
I’m looking forward to the next Hutchmoot when the old and familiar may include some of them.