Jeff Keys

 eff Keys

It’s 12:30 AM at Vintage Restaurant and my work day is finally over. The restaurant is dead quiet and sparkly clean and I’m the last one to leave. The imprint of the day is hard wired into my bones and the echoes of the wild night still hum in the walls and whether it was a good day or a bad day it is my job to forget about it now. That is just self-preservation. Thirteen straight hours of total intensity leaves its mark.

 So I step out and lock the back door and walk directly across the alley into the rear entrance of another planet, The Casino Bar. It’s so close to my restaurant but it could be a million miles away. The Casino Bar is an ancient place and it feels like the old days in a mountain town. Real characters are hanging out and it’s wild and loud and smelly. Crazy fun and it reeks of freedom. Of course other restaurant folk are hanging here, winding down in their own personal way. But I don’t linger. Just knowing this scene still exists is good enough for me. The drive home, 22 miles and about 35 minutes south to my family farm is what I crave. 

Like passing through time zones my tail lights leave Ketchum behind. Decompression, late night radio, a fox in the headlights, 2 small towns, Hailey and Bellevue and then  the last 5 miles to the farm just off highway 75. Now turning into my home drive to a sleeping family, the hayfield with fresh cut windrows of grass, the tiny horse herd, the vast night sky and a half moon await. I park and as is my usual habit check on the sleeping wife and kids and go out to have a little visit with the natural world. An anticipation of cool air and the euphoria of a sparkling sky, the quiet of horses on pasture, the stillness of a wonderful summer night. My eyes adjust. One horse looks at me. “You’re back,” I imagine him thinking. Then he returns to his horse business.

I’m just a very small part of the scene. No big deal to him. He knows me. I like that as I dissolve into the lateness. Only, in the back of my mind there’s a low drumbeat of the new day coming. I know that soon I will feel the pressure of morning approaching too fast. But not now. It’s just the now, the present and painless. 

And for me that is the answer. Being in the moment. That is where cooking under heavy pressure puts me. The kitchen, the obsession of preparing great food, searching out the best ingredients, dealing with all kinds of people and the challenge of doing it all on time. A day in the life of the chef. Is there time for anything else? Not really. It doesn’t matter. The payoff comes in freedom and spontaneity and the opportunity to focus a hot light. The perfect food. 

Now it’s time to rest. The moon has moved across the sky and I’m turning away and walking back to the house in the moonlight. Sleep, maybe, and the cycle beginning all over again.

Jeff Keys is the author of 3 cookbooks – his latest is Well Dressed: Salad Dressings

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