My wife and I had been on quite the roller coaster ride when she was asked to give a speech to Metropolitan Community College’s graduation class of 2009, a year later she would be gone. When I was asked to write our story and the inspiration behind “Harvest” for this article, the first thought I had was to use her own words to tell it.
October 13, 2009
“My name is Tricia Sawyer and I’m a 2005 graduate of Metro’s culinary program. I wasn’t born into the culinary world. I found it much later in life. I spent most of my career helping run my husband’s road construction business. Every morning I would wake up and think: “There’s got to be something other than this.” Twelve years of hard, dirty construction work I found my answer. I knew the minute I walked into the kitchen that I had finally found what I was looking for. It screamed chaos, structure, creativity, and discipline all at the same time. Stainless steel comforts me.
After graduation I went to work at Omaha Country Club and was in my second year there when I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Believe it or not sitting in the doctor’s office, one of the first thoughts I had was; ‘But I haven’t eaten at the French Laundry yet.’ I know, I am sick, I wish I could say I thought of something more profound, it was just a quick thought, then the expected thoughts quickly followed. Luckily, I have a great husband who is used to my insanity, so when I expressed it out loud to him he rolled his eyes and said we will get there.
After a year of treatments, they found it in my lungs, it quickly spread to my liver, spine and hip. I worked until 2007 at the country club and decided it was time to venture out. Time was running out and I felt a strong urge to eat at all the places I hadn’t eaten at.
My culinary adventures began at Per Se, in New York and then led me to Susur in Canada, Blackbirds in Chicago and of course the French Laundry in California. As time ticked and my cancer spread I became fevered in my desire to hit all the restaurants. Michael Mina’s and the Salt House in San Francisco, Tru and Avec in Chicago. Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and Mustard’s in Yountville. My friends and family thought I had lost it but were still supportive and even enjoyed being dragged along.
My culinary adventures taught me a very important lesson that I hope you take with you. As I reflect over the last two years of travel, one important thing comes to mind whether I was eating a hamburger at Taylor’s or the rabbit course at the French Laundry. As a chef you bring an experience to people like no other profession can. It’s not just food. You give memories that will stay with them forever.
I have had some of the deepest, most meaningful conversations in these restaurants. Because of chefs like you, my friends and family have become closer and have shared memories that will live on long after I’m gone. As my cancer begins to win I can look back and know my friends and family will have lasting memories. They will be able to look back and remember the time we ate here or the conversations we shared over a certain dinner.
As you venture out into your own culinary adventure remember that you are creating an experience, a memory, not just a dish. Every plate that goes out is someone’s chance for an everlasting impression, good or bad that plate creates a memory. Statistically I may not be able to beat cancer but I can look back in peace with the fact that because of chefs, my friends and family will never forget me.”
The inspiration behind Harvest is my wife Tricia. Along with having an immense passion for food, she was also a dedicated Christian and participated in three triathlons while fighting her disease. We had planned on opening Harvest in the spring of 2007 before her cancer had spread to her lungs, at which time we had to give up the dream. It allowed us to travel, eat at all the places she dreamed about, and spend a lot of quality time together. Now the dream lives on through the current Harvest Cafe & Wine Bar.