As many of you know, this blog grew out of my work as chef for the Monday Night Gourmet Vegetarian Dinners in Palo Alto. Eons ago, when I was asked to be chef for a new community group, I was skeptical that it would be a long-lasting gig, but it seemed like too interesting an opportunity to pass up. Twenty-five years later, I’m still cooking on Monday nights. But unless a miracle happens, this amazing event could soon end.
What precipitated this possibility was the announcement a couple of months ago by Ilona Pollak, our longtime dinner manager, that she didn’t wish to continue. Ilona has been manager for a decade and a half, and is one of the main reasons our dinners have been such an enduring success. She has given valiantly of her energy, time and financial resources, and it’s completely understandable that she needs to move on.
Perhaps I should say something about how crucial the dinner manager is. She (and so far, all the managers have been women) is the nexus which makes it all work. She takes reservations, greets the diners, makes take-outs, creates publicity, finds and supervises volunteers, and attends to the finances by collecting money, paying expenses (which include pay to the chef and sous chef, rent to the church and take out supplies). If income is greater than expenses, the manager keeps that as her pay, and as you can imagine, on nights when attendance is low, the manager makes little or nothing, and may even lose money. It’s true that during cycles of good times, when our hall is consistently full, the manager does reasonably well, but, largely it is a labor of love, a service to our community (one of the ongoing conundrums is that although food costs have tripled in 25 years, we’ve only dared to raise the price 50 per cent).
In the past when a manager needed to move on, someone else stepped forward to train for the role and we were able to make an almost seamless transition. This time, that hasn’t happened. So far, no one has come forward to say they will take on this necessary role. If you think you might be able to do so and you’d like to learn more about the dinner manager’s job, click here. If you wish to apply, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And so, that leaves us uncertain as to what is next. It seems to me there are three possibilities: 1) having run out of steam, the dinners will end (after all, that which has a beginning, has an end), 2) the dinners will take a break during August, and during that time our community will find a manager or a team of managers to somehow keep things going, 3) we’ll hurriedly put together a plan for the dinners to continue in August and beyond. I could make a logical case for any of these possibilities, but let me simply state that I hope the dinners continue.
James Holloway, Susanne Jensen (who substitutes frequently in the summer) and I all agree that we still enjoy cooking for the community, and we’d like to keep on doing so. I acknowledge that perhaps some of our board members and volunteers have been on the job a long time, and may want to make a change. My hope is that we’d welcome some new and younger volunteers to bring fresh energy to everything we do. Personally, I’d like to mentor younger cooks so that I can pass on what I’ve learned (both James and I are in our sixties and might retire someday –although likely not anytime soon). Finally, while there are far more opportunities to find high quality food (farm markets, vegan and vegetarian restaurants, Whole Foods, etc.) than there were when we began 25 years ago, I believe our dinners remain a unique resource, because we provide not only great food, but a place to learn, form friendships and to participate. I, for one, would miss working with all of you in our Monday night community. It’s been, and remains, a nourishing part of my life.
Having said that, if the dinners end, I’ll be fine. I have enough work to support me, and I might look for new projects to keep me engaged. Of course, I continue to work on getting my new home together, and plan to return to posting regularly on this blog.
Ultimately, of course, it is not my decision. Long ago someone proposed that I might want to take on the manager’s job. I thought about it briefly, but decided it wouldn’t be a good idea. For me, it seemed impossible to do both things well, and I decided to stay in the kitchen, where my experience, passion and, hopefully, my talent best expresses itself. My thought is, if people from the Palo Alto area community want the dinners to continue, they’ll find a way. If there isn’t enough interest and energy to do that, then it is right that they come to their proper conclusion.
And so, as of this posting, all we know for sure is that I will be cooking a dinner as usual this coming Monday, July 30th (see the menu below). Come and join us for what might be our final Monday night dinner. And, come and find out what is happening next. Also, I’ll post news on this blog, as soon as I know anything and no doubt Gerard will send updates to everyone on his email list. What do you think? Should the dinners end, or would you like them to continue? How would you like to see them change? How would you like to participate? Leave a comment, and let the community know your thoughts.
Menu for Monday, July 30th:
White Bean-Veggie Soup with Pesto
Corn-Leek-Red Onion Tofu Frittata
Saffron Rice and Veggie Salad
Summer Squash, Cauliflower and Roasted Tomato Salad
Mixed Green Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing
Summer Fruit Crunch with Rich Tofu Cream
Iced Grain Coffee
After dinner, Michael Bauce speaks on “Hara Hachi Bu, Eating Lightly for Long Life”
To make a reservation, call: 650 599-3320.
Photo: Diners enjoy our Thanksgiving-themed menu, November 2010. Photo by Gerard Lum