So, many of you have been wondering what I have been doing over the past three months as I have obviously not been in Umbria! Well, the definitive answer is that no, I have not moved back to the US.
Basically, during our (trying to be) annual winter trip to the states, I found myself at my friends Bill & Suzy's Via Umbria in DC when they were transitioning between chefs. Those who have been, know that Via Umbria has a lot of moving parts: a breakfast & lunch cafe, retail shop, wine store, butcher counter, cheese monger, private dinner space, art gallery, catering, events... I could go on..., but the point is that it is not easy to find a chef to take care of everything that needs to happen, and take care of it with an Umbrian flair. It was a moment when they were without a chef and I was wondering around with nothing to do in my off season, and so they asked me to step in and take over. This was not a decision to take lightly - I had my kids with me and our world was about to turn upside down... but, as I have always done in my relatively nomadic life, I took a leap of faith and temporarily jumped back into the pool (the pool being working at a restaurant in the states).
As we had already been out of our 'structured' life for about a month or so, my kids were starting to go a little stir crazy so we enrolled them in DC schools - a decision I will never regret. Although it was stressful (mostly for me as a mother), I had the unique opportunity to witness how truly social, intelligent and 'flexible' my children could be. They loved every minute of being in an American school, meeting new friends, and basically living and learning in a new language - their first language has always been Italian, but after this trip I can definitely say that they are fluent in English as well... maybe too fluent as their temper tantrums have a decidedly American teenager slant to them (my children are 4 and 6).... ;-) Unfortunately, however, after about a month, I realized that my work schedule was too heavy for them, and that my daughter, being in first grade, was about to miss too many days of school in Italy, so I made the difficult decision to send them back to Italy and continue on in DC.
Meanwhile, back at Via Umbria, I got more than a taste of what it is like to be a working executive chef again in the States! The place was definitely in need of an overhaul, so I worked on menus with my friend Simone Proietti Pesci from Le Delizie del Borgo in Bevagna to reorganize the lunch cafe and Italian Dinner Parties and began to put Via Umbria back on track. A couple of weeks turned into a couple of months of long 12-15 hour work days and endless Uber rides... and those who follow me on Instagram and other social media know that a #FreeJennifer movement was even started by the staff to get me home to Italy! ;-)
Eventually we found a new chef to take over the reigns. It is hard to walk away from a project that you worked so hard on: from sorting recipes and employees to organizing the walk-in (every day) to schmoozing with customers... but timing is everything and even though the thought did cross my mind to stay.... because I was good at running that place... I've done the standing in the kitchen all day thing for 20 odd years and it is just not what I want to be doing right now... so I had to walk away and put my trust in the new kitchen staff. But I am not gone forever! I'll be back this winter to do dinner events and see all of the new friends and clients that I have made over these past few months... and I will definitely try to get video access to make sure the walk-in is in check...
A big thank you to the entire Menard clan - it was not easy, but it was a great experience... keep the Veuve Cliquot chilled for me!