everything has meaning

I've been working since I was 14, unless you count household chores. Then we set the clock back to age nine. My allowance back then was $2.50 a week, and anyone who's ever hired a cleaning person knows that was a deal, even by 1982 standards.

The summer of 1987 I made things official and got my working papers through the NYC summer youth program. I don't know if they still issue them, but back then it was the youngest age you could legally work, and it came with restrictions on hours, times of day and limited working on electronics until you turned 16. I imagine they've tweaked those guidelines a bit, if so.

Since that first summer job working as a mail clerk for my aunt at Pratt Institute, I've since pushed a popcorn cart at a now shuttered movie theater, bagged groceries for tips, been a nanny, bank teller, IT tech person (hilarious, considering WordPress baffles me now), an English tutor to foreign language students, and post-production video producer.

Many of those jobs were juggled day and night to help put myself through college. The first and only one in my family to hit that milestone.

Then my dad died when I was 23.

He was only 49.

That whole "life is short" saying suddenly had a significant relevance in my life. Spurred by a Newsweek clipping from the future Mr. about personal cheffing, I starting sowing the seeds for Act Two. A year later, I gave notice and decided to jump in head first and follow something I'd wanted to do since graduating high school.

I've been on that journey for 12 years now. It has taken me in the homes of hungry professionals who craved homecooking, through the kitchens of Gramercy Tavern and the dining rooms of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, and now into homes of many of you through this blog and the magazines for which I write. Along the way I became a mother, got married, and became a mommy again.

When I look at all this way, today's birthday is especially meaningful. There's no boo hoo for getting another year older. It's my personal New Year celebration. A time to be thankful for the chance to keep pursuing my dreams. Don't wait to start chasing yours—the only day guaranteed is the one to which you wake up.


  • Liana @ femme fraiche

    Wow, you are truly an inspiration. Your story is so touching and hear alot of me in you. I started working early (14 as well), I worked 6 days a week while being a full-time undergrad student, my dad passed away when I was 20. His love of life, despite the many hardships it presented him, has made me take a new outlook. I think of him every time I want to slack off or give up. HAPPY BIRTHDAY…have an amazing and selfish day! You deserve it.

  • HoneyBNutrition

    Beautiful post! I think most of us can make our dreams come true if we take the risk and follow our passion. So inspiring. And yes birthdays are to be celebrated!! I have too many friends who try to forget them. Such a great day to think about your life and be thankful. Much better attitude!

  • Liza deGuia

    It’s the only way to live…following dreams inspired by others… Happy birthday to you Jennifer, I’m so glad to have met you and I can’t wait to get to know you more too.
    Anytime you need a partner in crime to rally behind an idea or new goal, I’m here for ya!

  • Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle

    What a great positive approach; I’ve got a number of years on you but I believe we share some commonalities and certainly seeing the glass half full is one of them.
    Have a wonderful day and Happy, Happy Birthday to you!

  • Gina

    Oh, Jennifer, this brought goosebumps to my arms. Thank you for sharing this meaningful story on such a special day. Each birthday is a reminder of where we’ve been and an opportunity to reflect on where we’re going. Hopefully, that’s a place closer to our dreams.
    I’m glad that you’ve influenced my kitchen – you’re welcome there anytime.
    Cheers to you and the new year ahead!

  • Denise-EPL

    Happy Birthday! I also started working on the books at 14, but babysitting years earlier. Hope you enjoy your day, thanks for sharing your kitchen and cooking inspiration with us!

  • EatLiveRun

    Beautiful story and happy birthday! My little brother passed away last year suddenly, and it really gives you a whole new outlook on life…it’s so precious and so, so short.

  • mommy

    I lov u more today than yesterday but not as much as i’ll lov u tomorrow & always!
    Happy B-DAY I like that no more b-days for me from now on its Happy New Year!

  • Jennie

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the sweet birthday wishes. Most of all, thank you for taking the journey with me too. I feel blessed and lucky to have all of you stop by and give these recipes new life in your own homes.