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(Re-) Opening Night

By Deirdre Heekin, co-author with Caleb Barber of In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love and author of Libation: A Bitter Alchemy

From her blog

You would think opening a restaurant again after a month of being closed might be a herculean effort—like opening a summer house after a long winter. Remove the white sheets from the furniture. Throw out the camphor moth balls. Open all the windows. A month in a restaurant’s life is very long, kind of like dog years. A month can make or break a place. But we have been lucky in where we set up shop. Our village of Woodstock is somewhat seasonal in nature. While we are a real town with real people who live, work, eat, and sleep full time there is a natural cycle to our year with the months of November and April being extremely quiet. Not only do visitors tend to skip these more homely months, but our locals tend to hunker down in November, staying at home to nest for winter, and depart for sunnier climes during school breaks or long weekends in April just to stop from going crazy from the long, Persephone months.

 

From the get-go, we have taken two breaks a year during these two still months. Owning and working a restaurant is tough and constant business, and while we love what we do, we need to break the hard rhythm of being on our feet a good portion of our days, provisioning, cooking, pouring, serving, washing, sweeping, talking, and smiling. When we are in full swing, there are no sick or personal days, there are no long weekends. For thirteen years now we have broken twice a year to rest and rejuvenate. For thirteen years, we have re-opened our restaurant twice a year.

In those early years, re-opening took almost a week. There was spring cleaning, even in winter: dining room, refrigerators and freezers, wine inventory, washing walls, waxing floors, purging. Then there would be several days of cooking to prepare the menu for opening night. In the early years, we also had a much larger space. Now, since we’ve moved upstairs into a tiny room in the building, a space that looks like it couldn’t physically exist when you look at the façade from the street, re-opening takes about three days. We are also older, and I hope at least a little wiser and efficient.

 

Since we were home a good portion of this past November, and we didn’t fully shut down the restaurant, re-opening took about two days—a record set. Two days to wax the floor, two days to inventory wine, two days to mix and age dough for bread, two days to make a soup, two days to sort the mail, two days to organize reservations, two days to decorate for the holidays (including a late night hike to cut pine boughs for the entrance to the restaurant, buffeted by a cold north wind and several falls in the snow as we haven’t gotten out our snow shoes yet). On the night before we re-open, we bring home the makings for gelato because we’ve forgotten the ingredients in our own refrigerator. It’s midnight, and we are lighting the fire and the house is redolent of warm dark chocolate and heavy cream simmering on the stove.

Two hours before opening, we are finishing arranging the fragrant white roses ordered for the occasion, stringing the white holiday lights around the door, inventorying the four cases of new wines arrived at mid-day—a bright, fizzy Reisling from Lombardia that I set to chill; an obscure Lacrima di Morro, heavy with the red scents of roses, bitter orange and peach; finalizing and printing menus. The soup is made from cabbage culled from our garden and our orchard’s apples, elegant and brothy. The little hand-rolled polpettine, or meatballs, are made from local ground pork, lamb, and venison. We have forgotten the stash of dried currants in our home kitchen, so Caleb improvises with a sauce of wine and raisins. We rejuvenate the cured white matsutake mushrooms brought to us by the wild-gatherers Les and Nova for a special pizza. Sometimes we cannot help but be seduced by the exotic or childhood memories, and we have gotten a bowl full of persimmons to slice like tomato and serve on a soft local chevre and season with salt and pepper and a pungent and green olive oil. I used to eat persimmons as a child: we had a tree over our driveway and they would fall mercilessly in the late autumn. There is the chocolate gelato, and a puree made from our apples served with fresh yogurt and honey.

At six o’clock, the candles on the tables and bar are lighted, the soup is simmering, and the door opens…

–Deirdre


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