The countless dishes served, plates of beautifully cut fruit, the walls covered in whimsical drawings, the warm thank-yous that sparkled like stars overhead as I slept… All those helping hands who believed in our Sun, with their dreams and hopes joining forces with my own. The children, my grandson, my heart and soul – all this living raw material waiting to be shaped into an incredible future whose outline we were only beginning to sense yet dared not imagine possible.
At the end of 1992, we had 8 restaurants. With each new opening, the cooks from the previous location would teach the new team the ropes, and so on. I went from one restaurant to the next with my case of markers, erasers and scissors to illustrate the attractive boards with the names of the dishes that would decorate the walls. The work was so effortless and enjoyable that it was as if a celestial hand was in fact moving the markers over the large white paper.
When a colourful drawing appeared, the waitresses in training would jostle for a chance to cut it out. These moments of raw creativity took place during a long day when we would also hold the first staff meeting.
After all the hard work preparing, opening day was an occasion for the team to celebrate. For me, it was akin to a double-yolk egg cooking away in the same pot: a delicious joy mixed with nagging fear.
With each new opening, with each step forward, a shard of anxiety would pierce my mental peace, throwing it off balance.
I was talented and highly creative in the kitchen and especially passionate about pleasing people with exceptional food. And yet, the monster that haunted me grew more menacing as the number of restaurants increased. I was afraid I would fall short. Afraid I didn’t know enough about business to lead what was gradually becoming a chain of restaurants.
I was thrown back to the time when I was eight and had to cross the field that separated my house from my girlfriend’s at night. I was terrified of encountering a snake, which my young mind imagined to be bigger than a crocodile.
I remember my father in Caplan’s kitchen, when hearing that so-and-so wanted to open a store or buy a fishing boat, cautioning each time that “people like us are just small potatoes” and mustn’t think we could invent the 5-hole button.
I remember later, when I mentioned I wanted to study the classics and become a writer, my father advised me instead to “learn shorthand and English, because maybe then you’ll become a good bilingual secretary and earn a living.”
His words slithered like snakes through my mind, hemming in my entrepreneur’s enthusiasm at the start of our expansion. I was 47 and no longer a child, and yet this insidious fear threw a shadow across each new success. I was afraid of defying my parents by pursuing my desire to succeed in business, and most of all, afraid of what I might become as my earning power grew.
And then there was the terrible fear that our success would be extinguished.
The fear that after the sixth, seventh and eighth successful restaurant, the excitement would vanish.
Even if I read dozens and dozens of business books as I kept step with the increasing complexity of running the company, I was fearful that I was simply not up to the challenge, unschooled in business and regretting that my studies had been for nothing. I didn’t realize then that “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed,” as the celebrated Lavoisier said in the 18th century.
All throughout our adventures in the early days, I was afraid of disappointing my children, of not being capable of offering them a good life with the usual comforts.
As I described in an earlier letter, when I realized that I could be creative with food, concoct little morning masterpieces, my heart was seized with joy…and dreadful fear. Delighting my customers with beautiful dishes came so effortlessly to me that I was afraid it wouldn’t last; the inspiration would wither up. Afraid that customers would become bored and we would eventually be forgotten.
Some mornings the fear was so intense in my head that I mistook it for being real. It was there in the kitchen with me, stirring the lunch’s vegetable cream soup with me. Both of us being careful not to let it stick to the pot. Would there be enough customers to cover our bills? Enough appetites big enough to grow our ambitions? Enough light in my cave to make sense of the great rules governing the Universe?
Turning on the gas in the early hours of the morning or washing the last cup at the end of the day, I obsessed about our future.
By nature, I am a thinker with an analytical and skeptical bent, which meant I offered Doubt the perfect conditions to thrive. Fortunately, I managed to stay upright, secured by the long strings of my white apron. Legs and arms went back and forth on auto-pilot between hot and cold, with red lips smiling despite the turmoil taking place within me as the for and against sides took turns making their case.
How many plates of food did I have to prepare before I finally understood that the victor is fed the biggest portions? As long as I focused on the fear, it’s what grew inside me. And when I finally allowed my heart to trust life fully, life itself began to nourish my aspirations.
I suppose all those years living with fear at my side were necessary before I could humbly accept the assistance offered freely by a Force much greater than me.
Because I had never had the time to make the chaotic trip between my head and my heart, I fed the apprehension that was nearest at hand. I did not trust the Universe and needed to understand at all costs. By doing so, I shut myself off from grace.
Eventually it did find me, like a little bird tapping on my window to enter; a magnificent sentence emerging from a cloud and gliding through my fingers; a sudden joy leaping in my heart; my head increasingly gratified with knowledge and sated with adventures.
Today, I include myself among those who are learning to embrace whatever happens. I am content to let divine hands knit together a tailored covering of well-being.