~ (POTJS Note: This is part two of a four-part series I am doing this week on Mary’s Place by the Sea, Ocean Grove, a respite home for women who are being treated for cancer. Since 2009, when they first opened their doors, almost 8,000 women with cancer have been guests. Thanks to ongoing donations, there is no cost to the guests who stay. The stories this week are based on interviews conducted over the past weekend.)
“About two and a half years ago, the place I had worked as a chef for 20 years decided to make changes, and I was let go. My father had just passed away, and my mom had passed away two years before. There were so many changes in my life all at once, and I wanted to find something meaningful to do with my life. My husband was very generous and let me take a year off to find what I wanted to do next. But I didn’t want to work in a kitchen again unless it meant something special to me. He was really sweet, and he told me to take my time.
“A friend of mine announced on Facebook that she just got her dream job, which was here, Mary’s Place by the Sea. Then I told my husband, ‘If you were to ask me what my dream place to work at was, it would be a place like Mary’s Place by the Sea, where I could do what I love and help other people. So I came here and did a tour, and I volunteered to help. They knew that I knew people that worked here, and so I had good references. They told me that they were looking for the right person to be a chef here, and they offered me a full-time position. It was an incredible moment.
“My dishes are completely vegan—no meat, no dairy, and because of the cancer aspect, we are completely soy-free, so I do not serve tofu. We also are gluten-free, because that can cause issues, and we are all organic. We only get the best ingredients money can buy. So as the chef, as long as I follow those guidelines, I get to be creative. I try to make my food accessible, so that it is not so ‘off-the-beaten-path’ that people cannot enjoy it. Kind of like Vegan 101.
“Working here, you see that what you do for others matters. Life is so precious. Some of the women I serve my food to, I know I will not get to see them again, and how important it is what I serve them for a meal. And what makes it so incredibly special is that the kitchen is so close to the dining room they eat in, and I can see how much they like the food, and I can watch a lot of the interactions going on. And I can see the women bonding with each other, and it is magical to watch.
“My mom was my biggest fan with my cooking. She got cancer of the bile duct, so it really affected her ability to eat, and she eventually died. This was 5 years ago. I didn’t know then what I know now with the whole connection between food and cancer, so I wrote a little blurb I have in my published cookbook, where I honor her. And my mom and dad loved Ocean Grove, so for me to be here, it is such an increased feeling of being guided here. I actually get choked up working here. Everyone is always thanking me, and I just feel so blessed that this is what I get to do.”
POTJS Note: For chef Cathy’s cookbook, please click link. Proceeds go to Mary’s Place by the Sea:https://