Through my indulged, peripatetic lifestyle, I saw the huge gulf that had grown between me and my parents. I was salaried, desk-bound and lax while they toiled in their factory, pulling parts, pouring chemicals and overseeing two long exhausting shifts per day. My mother’s hands were cracked and raw while mine were smooth and rosy. I felt shame at the ease and comfort of my life, and humbled by the pride and austerity of theirs. After 5 years, I knew that my desk time was up; that I wanted to find a more honest and satisfying way to earn a living.. I was lost. I needed a change. So I did what any girl would do – I went home to my mother.
At first I thought to open a chain of modern lunchtime takeaways – feeding superfood nori rolls and Balinese soups to the monied city workers I was leaving behind. My mom, chomping pensively on a millet muffin – a trial batch from my menu testing – had different ideas. “Why don’t you start a cooking school?” she said. “Your new apartment is so cool, you know so much about food and you are such an approachable, down to earth girl. People would love it!” I was nearly 28, hardly a girl, but she had a point. I’d recently moved into a loft in an old shoe factory and it had space, huge windows, and a large open kitchen. But still I was unsure. “Who would want to spend the evening cooking in MY apartment?” I asked. “What could I possibly teach people about cooking?” “For heaven’s sake” she said losing patience. “Just try it. Write a list of 2 or 3 classes you would teach and see how it goes.”
Five days later I landed back at Heathrow with my first 15 classes all sketched out and planned. A week later my website was up and running. Six weeks later I had my first class. Suddenly… XXXXXX was born.
After four months of business, I flew home again to my mother. It was Christmas and I’d been working flat out for months. The sixty hour weeks, the long days on my feet, the lugging of heavy groceries home from the market each day had been tough but satisfying and I was looking forward to a well-earned rest. For our first evening we drank champagne and ate a nourishing soup of chicken and dumplings. Rubbing my eyes from the flight I felt my Mom reach for one of my hands. She rubbed it with her fingers – it was raw and cracked from hours spent scrubbing pots and pans and wiping surfaces with rags soaked in bleach. Studying it carefully, she looked back at me and I saw that she had tears in her eyes. “Jen,” she said tenderly, raising my hand and kissing it. “You have labourers hands. Just like your father and me.”