Growing up, I always knew that I inherited my love of food and cooking from my Grandma Rachael. A consummate hostess, she had a way of making the most ordinary holiday gatherings into truly special parties, punctuated with food-centric traditions that the family looked forward to all year.
For the longest time, I took for granted the pleasure of attending these events that she had planned down to the smallest detail. As a child, I’d plant myself next to the platter of perfectly blanched crudités, never wondering how it kept getting replenished. The wet bar mini-fridge held bottles of my favorite Henry Weinhard’s root beer, of course. Dinner always promised a well-dressed salad, a roasted joint of lamb or a beautifully burnished bird, and side dishes the likes of which I’ve never been able to recreate at home.
All of that was just the baseline for a visit to grandma’s house. After all, in addition to being a fantastic cook, my grandma was truly in her wheelhouse when hosting a party. It had been her profession in her 40s and 50s, the better part of which were spent working alongside restauranteur Narsai David planning his Kensington restaurant’s catered events.
A few months ago, my mother unearthed a newspaper feature about my grandma, printed in the San Francisco Examiner Chronicle in 1976. Written by pioneering female journalist Caroline Drewes, the piece was the first in a series of profiles of people who started over in life. Outlining Rachael’s transition from stay-at-home mom to working woman, the story framed my grandma’s divorce as the “personal tragedy” that propelled her into an event-planning career.
I had never really put these pieces together until reading the article. The timeline of events in Rachael’s life before my existence was fuzzy in my mind, at best. I knew she’d gotten divorced when my mother was in her teens, remarried my wonderful Grandpa Philip a few years later, and somewhere in the midst of all that, had worked in catering. What I didn’t realize was that, after her divorce, she suddenly found herself needing to work full-time after years as a stay-at-home mother. Having been married since the age of 18, she’d spent most of her life devoted to raising her three children. And then there she was at age 40, without professional work experience and tasked with supporting her family.
After a short, unhappy stint in banking, Rachael quickly decided she’d be better off doing what she “already knew.” After all, she’d taken gourmet cooking classes, loved to plan parties, and had volunteer experience managing benefit parties. It was a natural fit, and something she took great joy in doing already. Her skills as a domestic goddess and dinner-party hostess translated well to a career as an “entertainment design specialist,” as was her title when working with Narsai. She planned events for Bill Graham, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and many other high-profile clients, even serving the Queen of England at a party at Davies Symphony Hall.
I hope that I’ve been granted at least an iota of my grandmother’s resourcefulness, perseverance, and social grace. I do my best to channel her whenever I plan a get-together at my house, whether it’s a few friends for tea or a full-blown housewarming soirée. At the very least, there will always be a crudité platter and plenty more sliced vegetables tucked away in the fridge, ready to refill at a moment’s notice.