The Parkhurst in my Hometown in Virginia was one of the few restaurants to get a front page write-up in the Washington Post. Originally from San Francisco, Chef George Weddleton and his wife Nita had managed to turn an old 60’s road-side motel into a destination that served some of the most amazing meals I’d ever had, along with a wine list celebrated by the best in the business.
One of the traditions they held was “family meal,” which was served to the staff after everything was clean and set for the next day. Now before I go on, it begs mentioning that one of the “funny” things about George was his total hatred of mechanical dishwashers. At his insistence, every glass, every utensil, every dish, pot and pan—every thing in that restaurant that ever was graced by a morsel of food was washed by hand. So you can imagine that, as a result, family meal often ended well into the morning hours most nights.
One summer night, I think it was in 1981, everyone was gone except George and me, and we sat down for a breather after we finished cleaning up. I guess he must have noticed I was acting strangely and so he just blurted out “what the hell’s wrong with you?” And I was caught so off guard that I just started talking.
While it had its wonderful moments, growing up in the mountains of Virginia instills a certain set of expectations that puts pressure on you as a teen – pressure to be like everyone else, even when you know you’re not. When I realized that the person I was, wasn’t like most of my friends, the pressure to give in and be what they expected me to be started to really get to me.
“I don’t know who I am,” I told George.
I trusted him a lot and I told him that night that it seemed I needed to decide if I was gay, or bi, or maybe I just would decide to be straight, or maybe I just didn’t know what I was feeling – and the tears started to well up… when suddenly he just stopped me. “Why do you have to BE any of those things?” he said. “What’s wrong with just being David? Shut up and just be YOU!” You could have knocked me over with a feather. His words shook me to the core. I realized that I was trying to be what everyone thought David should be instead of just being David. George and I had our moments of bull-headedness throughout the years, but I love and am in debt to him for his many life lessons that got me to where I am today – especially the one that changed me forever.
The Secret Ingredient: Be you.