(Roller) Skate or Die
January 10, 2017
Two years ago, my wife surprised me by taking me to a roller rink for my birthday.
It’s funny, because I started out irritated by it, and I was like, "What the hell are we doing here? I haven't been on roller skates since I was 12 years old. How is this going to be fun for everyone? We're all just going to be falling and hurting ourselves."
Afterward, the first thing I did was apologize to my wife for being such a dick. I just remember thinking to myself, I'm putting this into my life, in some way, shape, or form. I'm figuring this out. I grew up in Boston, and when I was a kid, on the weekends you either bowled or you roller skated — that was it. But I had forgotten how much fun roller skating is. From that day forward, we would bring our kids and go two or three times a month, on Sundays. Then, after a year of renting skates, we walked in, went straight to the pro shop and bought our own. Like: this is it, we're doing this.
We did a little research and started going to classes and figuring out what style we wanted to get into. I bought an eight by ten section of Pergo and put a little mini-rink in the kitchen so we could come home and practice routines. We started planning trips around skating, because once you start seeing that expanded roller skate world, you realize that it's not in San Francisco. I’m a person that likes to connect with people, and the roller skating world is a world based on connections — but [in San Francisco], it feels like we're the only ones doing it. None of our friends want to skate. To go somewhere where it means a ton to a lot of people feels like the first time you have a conversation with someone who thinks about food in the same way that you do.
We went to Atlanta for a weekend and did Cascade on a Sunday night. As a cook, it was the equivalent of sitting at Arpège and seeing Alain Passard running around the dining room. There's skating and then there’s skating. It's all about style. It's very competitive without being cold; competitive in a good-natured way. It's just this very wonderful sense of community.
One of the really fascinating things about roller skating that I've come to understand is that there are all these different regional pockets. They have a very specific style in Atlanta. There's Chicago style. There's Memphis. There's St. Louis. There's all these different routines and footwork that stem from those places. But the idea at first was: I just want to be able to skate. As we got more into it, we both figured out specific styles that we wanted to learn. I’m personally super attracted to what they call JB skating, which is a Chicago thing. My wife thought the dips we saw in Atlanta were the sexiest thing ever. She really figured them out, then I really figured them out. Now on slow jams, we just dip for fifteen minutes.
In the beginning, even the idea of skating backward to me was crazy. But you have to be able to do it, so you ask someone, "How do I skate backward?" Next thing you know, you're skating backward. All of a sudden it opens up everything else. I would watch all these videos of these Chicago dudes doing these crazy one-foot spins. Then I’d go home and, super slow, figure it out in our kitchen. Then the next week, you take it out and stay in the center of the rink and do it with a little bit more pace. Now, I'm whipping around the rink doing little one-foot helicopters.
My personality has always been that way: the second I’m exposed to something I find interesting, I just go completely nuts on it, obsess over it, get as much information as I can. The first time I was exposed to Japanese food, I wanted to know everything. I spent time talking to Japanese cooks, ate as much food as I could, read as many books. It was the same thing with skating: once I was comfortable and I could stand on my own two feet, it felt limitless.
And — you're going to fall. Anytime you're pushing yourself, you're going to fall, but you learn from those mistakes. The way I see it is, if I fall, it's because I'm trying something. It's like anything in life: if you make a dish that maybe doesn't go over so well, or doesn't sell well, at least you're trying, right? You're pushing yourself. You're not just falling into that comfort zone.
When I first started cooking — and up until very recently — if I wasn’t at work, I was home reading cookbooks. If I wasn’t reading, I was out eating and thinking about food. The idea was: if I'm not working on this, someone else is, and they’re getting better. Chefs are so brow-beaten with the idea that work should be the only thing that's important to you — but skating has really shown me that you have to have something outside of your work. You have to have a place where you shut it all down. It’s given me this peace in my life that I didn't really have before. It's like Footloose, right? "When I'm mad, I dance, when I'm sad, I dance, when I'm happy, I dance." At the end of a week, with all the ups and the downs, when I leave here on Saturday night, I go home and figure out what I'm going to listen to. Clean my bearings, put it all back together. Pack my bag, and wake up early the next day excited.
Until I had kids, I would never take a day off. I'm sick? I go to work. Someone died? I go to work. For the first time in my life, I would rather be doing something else than going to work. I love my job. I love food. I love cooking. I love the camaraderie of kitchens. But I would love to be at a rink every day.
Food people, restaurant people, cooks — we like to consider ourselves a little bit of an ambassador of culture. I went to France for a month, and for three months after that, all I was doing through my own work was deciphering all of the things that I had just eaten. Part of us really, really, really wants to be ambassadors to this roller skate culture, because it's amazing.
At least, we think it is.