When I traveled up to Woodstock, Vermont, to join Justin at Pane e Salute in 2006 — I was spending a few days helping out during the end of his apprenticeship — I met him in the beautiful public library and we walked just outside and sat on a bench in the village Green. I will always remember the trepidation in his voice as he told me that he was thinking of not going to law school after all. It seemed pretty self-evident to me. His passion for agriculture, and then for cooking, was always a driving force in his life and was always, at its heart, about a search for the best way to live, the good life, the way we searched for it together at St. John’s College, a place “that teaches you nothing about how to farm, but everything about why you might want to be a farmer,” in the words of one alumnus. He’s come far from leading the Gardening Club and teaching me and our College Librarian how to roll out pizza dough, but he was always working away, unselfconsciously, at what seemed to be most worthy thing calling him. No doubt, law would have been worthy in many ways. But it would not have been best suited to the way of life that was calling us. With my parents’ home business in my past, that path was pretty familiar to me.
My memories of my days at Pane are swept up in dim, romantic restaurant lighting and the fast pace of the kitchen; music of Laura Pausini and Nek and Zucchero that would become iconic to us; Deirdre’s impeccable sense of style and true sweetness and gentility; Caleb’s “rock star” quality tempered by his humble, kind nature and sense of humor. Memories of helping during the evenings do swirl together, but one thing always comes into focus when I think back on those days: after the last table had cleared, around 10 PM, Caleb and Erle in the kitchen would take orders from us all, including Olga who was serving and Victoria who was washing dishes, and they would cook a meal for us, a different dish for every person in some cases. We would all sit down in the dining room and eat together. There was a beautiful feeling of abundance in this. They made the time for it, as late as it was. They cooked for us and for themselves. No grabbing a bite on the side during the evening, no cooks going without food. We would serve customers, and then we would serve each other. On our recent trip, I asked Caleb and Deirdre if they still sit down with their staff at the end of the evening, and they said yes. That’s the way to run a restaurant.