It seems rather fitting that the final episode of Top Chef Masters was themed around letters. Not only have I been recording my experiences as a first-time restaurateur by writing “Letters from Incanto” over the past ten years; I have also had the privilege of a front-row seat from which I’ve watched you compose some of the most exquisitely soulful, delicious, and at times literary dishes to be found anywhere. Ask any of our regular guests. I’m sure they’d agree it feels like you’ve been writing letters to them in the form of dishes since we started in on this together so many years ago.
I remember the day we first met. You told me about your passions, which were many: Collecting cookbooks as a form of travel – a way to understand history, place, culture, techniques and tradition, all via food. Of time spent in your early youth on commercial fishing boats, laying bare the deep connection and responsibilities we have to our sources of food. We talked about ultra-endurance bicycle racing, a subject I understood to mean that you were tough and probably crazy too. We talked about growing up in southeast New England, eating quahogs, bluefish, local corn and tomatoes in the summer, and drinking real apple cider on chilly autumn days. We talked a great deal about people who’ve inspired us to become who we are today. Chefs who’ve influenced you: Jean-Louis, Marco, Mark, Bob, Traci, Fergus, and many others. We certainly talked about Rosalie and the many strange smells you experienced in her kitchen when you were a child.
You also told me about the biggest passion in your life: Tatiana. You described how she helped to complete you as a person. She still does to this day. Watching you become parents has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had, outside of the love I have for my own growing family. As much as anything, it’s a reason for Incanto to exist.
I’m writing this letter to tell you how incredibly proud I am of you.
Not for winning a grueling cooking competition against eleven extraordinarily talented chefs. And not just for securing more than $140,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which will go a long way towards the search for a cure to Parkinson’s disease. I know that your Uncle John died after fighting the disease for three decades. I also know that one of your most important personal mentors (and friend of both of ours) has Parkinson’s. We’ve both been so busy the past few months that I haven’t had a chance to tell you that I recently found out one of my most important and cherished childhood mentors was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It means so much that you get up every day wanting to make a difference in the world.
What I continue to be most proud of, though, is how you do it. That certainly includes last night’s victory on Top Chef Masters. But it doesn’t end there. What the public saw over the past several weeks only scratches the surface of the remarkable person I know in private.
Over the course of the show, you demonstrated so many of the qualities I have come to admire in you. Respect for ingredients, tradition, and most of all, people. Love of new adventures, tastes, and having fun. A strong competitive streak, fueled by your amazing work ethic, but governed by integrity. A gift for teaching, one of your greatest talents as a chef and a big part of the reason we are blessed with so many wonderful young cooks at Incanto. Above all, a willingness to bare your soul on the plate, never resting in your search for what is undoubtedly the most elusive part of our business: how to provide pleasure to our guests without compromising your ideals for what food can and should be. Winning is great; to succeed while living to your most personal aspirations is wondrous. For that, I am grateful to be able to call you a friend.
At the end of last night’s episode, you summed it up in two words, “Guts prevail.” Yes Chris, they do. You are living proof.
With friendship, admiration and love,