Barriers to Entry

Late in January my best friend got married. And rather than choose from one of the many run-of-the-mill registry items, I offered to feed the families over the wedding weekend. I’m tech illiterate, couldn’t change a spare tire if my life depended on it, and I’m terrible with numbers (despite the finance degree) but I do know my way around the kitchen. For the past ten years I’ve made a living sautéing, roasting, and searing my way to picture perfect food. I can plan a menu that rivals the finest three-and-a-half star restaurant on Yelp. And I can roast a bomb-ass chicken. How’s that for a verbal power stance? And so instead of a new pepper mill or a new set of dish towels I offered the gift of my gift, planning a menu with care and roasting what is now affectionately known as wedding chicken.

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Being single in the city means that my love of cooking for others isn’t one that gets expressed very often. I’ve long lived under the narrative that because I live in a tiny space, hosting the vibrant and memorable dinner parties of my dreams is not an option. I’ve hesitated to host under the weight of the lavish, Insta-worthy gathering vision I’ve held in my head in which I sat at the helm of a table for twenty-some odd guests in a space so large I’m not sure it actually exists in San Francisco proper. Oh, and maybe add to that the fear that no one would actually come.

I once dated a guy with a brilliant mind and big dreams that he was more than capable of. He rarely expressed what those dreams were but oddly, when our soul is so twisted up, things often don’t need to be said with words to be heard loud and clear. Rather we say it in our tone, our body language, our facial expression, a seemingly unrelated passing comment, our distance. Driving one day we passed a billboard for a new tech start-up. He told me that he knew the founder and could have went to work for them in the launch phase, which likely would have meant a position of influence straight out of the gate and the high probability of cashing in on a seven figure IPO payout in the future. That’s tech in the city. Crazy, right? Just a bunch of twenty-something millionaires as far as the eye can see. Long story short, he didn’t go to work for the company. After we broke up I was walking home from the gym one day and I saw the same familiar ad for the company at a bus stop and it dawned on me. That something in his voice when he talked about it wasn’t jealousy. It was the deep-down knowledge that he was actively choosing not to live into the potential of that brilliant mind and into what he knew he was capable of. But people around him were. The billboard-sized reminders of this were his version of my Instagram posts, every single one a taunting reminder of the untapped potential kept at bay by fear. Fear that the dining room table was too small and fear that no one would show up. Fears that at the end of our lives will be exposed for the pathetic excuses for inaction they were all along, when it’s all just a little too late and we’re left regretting how we allowed them to call the shots. That is, unless we expose them now.

A few weeks ago, in the wake of a church workshop, I sent a dinner invitation to all fifty-some people that attended, to anyone that wanted to carry on the conversation over a series of dinners in the coming weeks. The importance of this conversation was such that I had no choice but to stand shoulder to shoulder with every single one of my fears and push them aside as I penned the email. I didn’t know how to solve the issue at hand but I did know how to create space for meaningful conversation about it. And I knew how to roast a bomb-ass chicken.

Twelve people responded, six were able to make the first date. I rolled up the rug and put my television in the closet, transforming my media console into a sparkling bar with flickering candles and glittering wine glasses. I turned my dining room table on its side, slid it through the kitchen door and into the living room and surrounded it with six chairs. Table runner, plates, glasses galore, silverware. At each setting I placed a printed menu of conversation, a series of thoughtful questions meant to guide the evening and honor our intention. What ensued was nearly four hours of rich conversation at a cheap table in the middle of my studio apartment with new friends, 80 percent of whom were total strangers before they walked through the door. It was better than the dream.

That night something in me came up for air and arrived in a new place of possibility. In one night, all of the lies I’d believed for nearly 10 years about my inability to use my heart for hospitality were proven wrong. Just like that. These silly logistical barriers - my tiny space, unrealistic expectations, and the fear of rejection - weren’t just barriers to simply hosting a dinner party. They were barriers to my truest self offering my best gifts to a community in a city where the act of being welcomed around a table and a meal can mean the difference between surviving and thriving. Now I know. Frederick Beuchner famously says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Praise be to God for a gift that serves the most transformative meeting place ever: the dinner table. And that all the barriers to it have been broken.


how to make wedding chicken

Divide six whole chicken legs between two - one gallon ziploc bags. To each bag add six cloves of peeled garlic, a large pinch of cinnamon, sweet paprika, grated fresh ginger, cumin and dried oregano, 1 tablespoon each of honey and kosher salt, and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Pour 1/3 cup of olive oil into each bag. Seal, shake to distribute the spices evenly and refrigerate for 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and dump the contents of both bags into one large roasting pan. Preheat a cast-iron skillet to medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons of avocado oil to the skillet and sear each chicken leg until well browned, transferring back to the roasting pan when you’re done. Arrange the chicken in a single layer and toss in one yellow onion sliced into 8 wedges and 2 cups of mixed dried tart fruit such as pineapple, cherries, prunes, and apricots, tucking the fruit near the bottom of the pan so that the liquids cover it. Sprinkle the entire dish with 1/2 cup each of sherry vinegar and white wine, and 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Transfer to the oven and roast until cooked through, about 35-40 minutes or until a thermometer reads 160 degrees. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley, a generous shower of Maldon salt, and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and serve.

Abby StolfoComment