It’s something that we have thought about 100 times. The last dinner, the end of tour, the return
home (wherever that may be), and to a semblance of a normal life (whatever that may be). The
mere idea of leaving the life to which we have become accustomed, and the thought of leaving
one another, inspires feelings that oscillate between elation and sheer terror. And what chef do
you really want to subject to seven slightly emotionally unhinged individuals with the kind of
elevated expectations that can only come from doing eighty-some odd dinners? Well, normally, I
would pity the chef that had to cook the last dinner of tour. That is, unless it is not one, but two
chefs, and unless those two chefs happen to be two of your own…Caleb Coe and Katie Wyer.
Normally, we meet the chefs and see their menus on the day of the dinners. We have virtually
no idea how or why they chose to cook the dishes they did. We don’t know the process or
thought behind securing their ingredients or any difficulties experienced when planning the menu.
But when you live with the chefs, when you experience the process along with them, you quickly
learn that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye…or should I say, mouth.
Caleb and Katie began working weeks before the dinner, bouncing ideas off one another until a
tentative menu was formed. And after countless calls, numerous visits to markets and
surrounding farms, and a lengthy search for a goat, it was finalized. For those that do not see
the events leading up to the dinner, it may appear to be just another day in the kitchen: a chef
arrives at the dinner site the day of the event, knocks out a handful of passed appetizers and
four seated courses, packs up his/her knives, and does it again tomorrow (albeit inside at
his/her restaurant). Most of the time, they make it look easy. But let me tell you, easy is the last
word I would use to describe what goes into executing a dinner.
The crew met up with Caleb and Katie at their Ventura prep kitchen two days before their
November 9th dinner. For 48 hours, with the additional help of Katie’s mom Andi and boyfriend
Jamin, the crew prepped. We diced, we sautéed, we roasted, and we washed. We shelled
beans for the turkey stew and cut bread for the gingerbread pudding. We made tartar sauce for
the mako tacos and yogurt dressing for the mixed green salad. And best of all, we tested and
we tasted. We sampled Caleb’s bruléed delicata squash and Katie’s spaghetti squash with
avocado and cilantro.
Those two days were by far some of the best of the entire tour. Standing at the kitchen sink,
with hundreds of baby carrots left to peel, there was nowhere I would rather be and nothing else
I would rather be doing. The energy, the support that flowed through the kitchen was palpable.
And nothing against their respective (and inarguably noteworthy) bus driving and expediting
skills, but to see Caleb and Katie in the kitchen, preparing an inventive menu they were both so
proud of, was truly unparalleled.
Caleb and Katie do not play it safe. In fact, I’m not entirely sure they know the meaning of the
phrase. They are imaginative and impressive in everything they do, and this time was thankfully
no different. Case in point: the goat. Not only was the animal hard to find, but the preparations
taken to cook the goat were anything but effortless. Caleb and Katie modeled the spit after that
used for the lambs at our September 17th dinner at Spain’s Remelluri Estate, a roasting method
that uses radial coal heat to cook the suspended animal slowly and evenly. And on the night
before the dinner, Jamin and Jeremy successfully recreated the infamous spit. After a visit to
Home Depot, they arrived at McGrath Brothers Farm with a pallet of cinder blocks, sheet metal,
and gauge wire, and set to work. Hours of digging, leveling, stacking, and pounding later, the
smoker was ready for the goat.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Fenske
And true to form, Caleb and Katie’s dinner was colorful…literally. Instead of using the usual
white napkins, they opted for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Yes, they chose the
rainbow. Although I was initially quite hesitant about their color choice, I had to admit, set amid
an expansive patch of pumpkins, the napkins looked beautiful. And it was perfectly fitting that
the dinner was full of the personal touches of two people who had put their hearts and souls into
this dinner, and even more than that, into the past six months of tour.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Fenske
That dinner was not only particularly meaningful for Caleb and Katie, but it was for all of us as well. For the past six months, we have been a team. We have lived and worked together. We have packed and unpacked trailers. We have set tables and served over 13,000 people. We have been there for each other through injury, sickness, and personal hardships. We have spent every waking (and non-waking) moment together. So to finish the last dinner in the same way that we had lived and worked for so long, as a family…well, I can’t really imagine it any other way.