Friday, April 22, 2016

The Spice Guys

A few weeks ago Justin, our lead cook, and I found ourselves sitting in the business office discussing a few of the projects currently under development at Twin Rocks Cafe. One of my favorites is Eggs Atsidi, which is like Eggs Benedict, but with a distinctively different composition and flavor. The name comes from Atsidi Sani, or “Old Smith”, the individual most often cited as the first Navajo silversmith. Legend has it that Old Smith learned from a Mexican metalworker during the early 1850s and passed his skills down to the next generation, who passed them down to the next and the next and so on until the present day. One can hardly consider Navajo art without imagining silver and turquoise jewelry, so the dish is a tribute to Atsidi's artistry and his contribution to Navajo culture.

As we talked about related issues, I noticed Justin, like our general manager Marc, is deeply interested in food generally, and spices specifically. When Justin mentioned habanero, harissa or sriracha, his eyes lit up like it was Christmas at the parochial school. The more time I spend at the cafe, the more I realize how little I understand what motivates people to choose one entree over another. For me, eating is mostly about putting fuel in the tank. Eat, wait six or eight hours, repeat; that’s my personal strategy. Marc and Justin, however, are fascinated by different tastes, textures and aromas, and are obsessed with creating new recipes. They study trade magazines and scour the Internet in search of new trends to incorporate into our menu.

In an effort to understand the psychology of Twin Rocks I read a lot, and lately I have been reviewing a book written by Simon Sinek entitled Start with Why. The book’s premise is that asking yourself why you do certain things, and being able to articulate your vision once you know, inspires those around you. Sinek argues that all too often we explain what we do rather than voicing why we do it. With that in mind, I began asking Barry and Priscilla why we are here. While they were perplexed by my probing questions, with inspiration from Justin, I have begun to hone in on the answer. My conversation with Justin proved enlightening, because he helped me understand people are the spice that flavors my main course. Just as Justin loves food, I hunger for visitors with a good story.

One day we might get to see Jeri, who teaches English at the University of Oxford and stops by a couple times a year on her way to visit mum. Jeri's specialities are James Joyce and issues facing contemporary women. The next day we might see an artist with a novel narrative, someone like Debbie the kachina maker. At the trading post stories arrive and depart in an unending tide. We take them in, process the basic elements and pass the tales on to the next group that happens to drop by. Sometimes we perk up the experience with a few details of our own, and at times we even run them together in a huge mashup, collapsing space, time and events. As Barry is inclined to say, “We don’t let the facts get in our way.”

Jeri found her way to Oxford by way of Meadview, Arizona. Meadview is, like Bluff, an extremely small town in rural America, U.S.A. We therefore see Jeri as convincing evidence that with hard work and a little luck even those of us raised in the sticks can hit the big time. In drawing our conclusions, we have decided to overlook the fact that a higher I.Q. might be helpful in our quest to break out. Barry and I finally had to admit to Jeri we have tried without success to comprehend Ulysses. Even CliffsNotes, which was all we could actually muster, didn’t help. And, when it comes to women and their issues . . . well, you know. In an effort to improve our intellectual standing and comprehend the complexities of the opposite sex, Barry suggested we get James Joyce for Dummies and Women for Real Dummies. It didn’t help.

Yesterday Toni, our gift shop manager, called me over to meet Debbie. While we realize Navajo people do not traditionally make kachinas, Debbie does a nice job carving affordable dolls for the travelers to carry home, and Toni sells them like, well, hotcakes. When we gave Debbie her check, she was so happy you might think she had won the Power Ball. At times like that, I wish we could give the artists enough cash to truly change their lives. I am, however, acutely aware of the financial realities of running a business like this, so we pay as much as we can without sinking our economic canoe (It can’t reasonably be described as a ship). This policy hopefully ensures the items sell so we can support the artist when they next arrive, and the next time after that too.

And so, our trading post tarts are spiced with many different people who have many different tales to tell. Leaven that with a pinch of patience from Priscilla, and you have a flavorful recipe that sates our appetite for adventure. That is, I believe, why we do what we do. And that, as they say, is our story and we’re stickin’ to it.

With regards Steve Simposn.

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