Unlike most cooks, for me it doesn't begin with a menu plan. That comes later, after I've arrived and taken stock of what's on hand in the soup kitchen-the food that's been donated for the day, the pull-dated items collected that morning from the supermarkets, the staples in the storeroom-and who's shown up that morning for crew. After months of struggling with the uncertainty, I now arrive at the kitchen comfortable with the fact that I don't know what to do. It's the opposite of what repeated experience usually teaches us.
For the next four hours, as I and a volunteer crew plan and prepare lunch for 150 homeless customers, I practice being open to what comes, and, hopefully, responding accordingly. It's an approach my cooking teacher, Zen chef Ed Brown, calls "feeling your way along in the dark, not knowing what you will meet." This is the place, Brown says, that most learning occurs-where you are your most open, attentive, and sensitive.