The Seasons of Life’s Journey
By Chef Stephanie Michalak/Turner Farm Chef and Culinary Manager
Spring was never my favorite season. I hated mucking through mud and dashing through bone-chilling rain as a kid. I longed for the deep green of the summer and the steaming scent of asphalt in the air as a quick surge of summer rain hit the pavement. To me, that smell has marked the change of one season to the next and creates intense nostalgia. But as I’ve gotten older, I appreciate the seasons not just for the fact that they mean one step closer to my more favorited seasons of summer and fall, but that they have a life and beauty of their own. This is certainly pronounced here at the farm. Each day continues the gentle turn of the earth and a sense of new for everyone and everything.
Most of you who have come to any of my culinary classes know that I grew up in Connecticut, but what I don’t tell most people is that I spent a lot of my childhood helping my grandfather and grandmother garden, harvest, sell, and cook. At that time, I rarely thought of picking gooseberries and raspberries as a thing that I was willingly doing, except to steal a few off the bushes and relish in their bright flavors before anyone noticed. Harvesting had to be done and someone had to be the one to sell them on the side of the road. Honestly, this experience wasn’t meaningful to me as an eight-year-old beyond spending time with my grandparents and eating.
However, as an adolescent I longed for independence and sought a greater purpose. I chose to leave my boarding school to attend a semester away program at the Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki. Most of the classes focused on experiential learning with intense community involvement, including rotations on their organic farm and volunteer opportunities in the kitchen. Trust me, picking thistle, rotating broiler chicken coops, and harvesting sweet potatoes are character-building and potentially life altering for anyone. This was the first place I truly felt at home and honestly could feel the palpable energy of both the earth and those around me. I was a part of something much bigger.
Having a sense of community and feeling like I could actively care for and nourish others through food guided me to my career path and aided me in finding the most tangible way that I could positively impact the lives of others. From my experience, I think we all in either big or little ways want to leave an impression or some sort of mark before we move on from this existence. The way I see it is, the best way to make someone’s day is through sharing a meal with them that is nourishing to mind, body, and soul. Nowadays, this also encompasses teaching others how they can do that for themselves and their loved ones.
Ultimately, the role of a chef is varied, but here at the farm, much of my daily life focuses on a practical, but rather existential question of how I can best translate and transfer the energy of what is thriving here on the land into the dishes I create for events and classes. I think about how I can best thank the team we have here and their labor, as well as do justice to the land we borrow from the earth. I think about how we at the farm can best support you through your own journey. That is why I am here.