When Clark and Devon made the hard, but necessary, decision to reopen Hank’s as a takeout place and a store, the menu they released triggered a set of deep-seated memories to resurface. Instead of taking you back to the Land of the Crescent Moon, I’ll take you back in time. Unfortunately, without Marty, Doc, nor the DeLorean, but most disappointingly, nor Clark’s 1985 silver Fiero. A simpler time, one can say, especially when wearing the lens that we are wearing today.
A little background. You may have guessed that there are many upsides to being married to a chef. For example, the last meal I made on my own was in 2002. I made pork chops and pasta, and I burnt the water. How do you do burn water, you ask? It requires an uncanny ability to fall asleep while an appliance that can set your house on fire is on.
Many have told me how lucky I am, and I do consider myself lucky. I have eaten some weird and wonderful things. I’ve woken up to the smell of freshly made truffle omelet. Now, what person wouldn’t swoon with that kind of royal treatment, right?
(Below the Nut Farm/Below the Oak Farms are suppliers of local truffles)
However, true to the relational concept of yin and yang, there are also downsides. The schedule is a major one. Time together is the price you pay to be with someone who works in the restaurant industry; especially someone who loves their work. Work-life balance has no meaning as there is no separation in his definition. I’ve been told time is a high price and there are times, I must admit, that I agree. But then I remember a time before the restaurants. A time when Clark’s creative outlet wasn’t contained in an appropriate space. It was chaos.
I don’t want to start from the beginning, but there is something everyone needs to know about Clark. When Clark and I met, I was the better cook. That may be extremely hard to believe given my record of burning water, but it’s true. His food repertoire consisted of steaks, ham, cabbage rolls, and not much else. He was a true prairie boy! Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with steaks, ham, and cabbage rolls; but when I watch him make sea urchin mousse, I am utterly dumbfounded. This man didn’t eat vegetables, for goodness sake! Correction. He did eat mushrooms and potatoes. He made potatoes out of a box! Out of a box!
It was at the end of the summer of 2009 when I knew that he was going to open a restaurant someday. I didn’t know exactly when it was going to happen but it became abundantly clear to me that it was necessary. However, during that time Clark was still a bank manager in Ucluelet. I was a geologist working in Saskatchewan. My schedule was two weeks in and two weeks out. This is how I remember that summer.
The year 2009 was the beginning of the BBQ competition years. Clark took interest in smoking meat a couple of years before but he never competed. I can’t remember how he even found out about BBQ comps, but he took it very seriously.
After a long trip home consisting of several delayed flights, I woke up the next morning craving a simple breakfast. Eggs, bagel, and maybe a side of avocadoes (Hey, I live on the west coast!). I opened the fridge and found it empty except for 3 full briskets, 2 pork shoulders, 2 pork ribs, and 2 whole chickens marinating in different containers. I slowly closed the fridge door and opened it again thinking maybe I was dreaming. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
When I closed the door again standing behind it was Clark grinning apologetically. “I’m practicing for a competition in a couple of weeks. Get changed, I’ll take you out for breakfast!” he says still smiling. I gave him the ‘People’s Eyebrow’ (Reference to the Rock during his wrestling days), but I was too hungry to argue. Besides, he promised to pay for breakfast.
Before I came home in June, he warned me that he bought a homebrew kit. I did some research about homebrewing starter kits and thought it would be fine. I convinced myself that we had a large garage, so plenty of room, and besides, who wouldn’t want to have a constant beer supply in their house, right? It’s about convenience and economic viability. So, I agreed whole-heartedly, the math just made sense.
What I didn’t expect was to stumble upon his brewery when I went into our downstairs bathroom. He fully sanitized the bathroom and on the floor are 6 carboys with 6 different shades of brown liquid fermenting in them. It was a larger operation than he led me to believe.
“What the…?” I started to say right before Clark magically appeared behind me.
“This is temporary, I promise.” He assured me and continued with, “It’s easier here because I need a clean room with access to water. Don’t worry this won’t take long and I’ll fix up the bathroom afterward. Oh, and here, I just made an apple pie,” he added while handing me a plate with a large slice.
“Not too long?” I asked with a mouthful of cinnamon-apple pie goodness.
“No, not at all!” He replied.
It took 2 years before we were able to use that bathroom again.
By July Clark had competed in several BBQ comps and was losing every single time. I kept telling him that he can’t expect to win on his first few tries, but he respectfully disagreed. So, the briskets, pork shoulders, ribs, and chickens kept appearing in the fridge. Then copious amounts of bacon and sausages began to appear too.
As I said, he lost every BBQ comp that summer. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if he had won a few ribbons that year. Would he have been satisfied doing it as a hobby? Would he still be working at the bank? Would he have opened a brewery instead? I don’t know the answer to these questions, what I do know is that the losses determined the trajectory of our lives.
Losing only motivated him and he practiced excessively. The following year he started winning categories in every BBQ competition he entered. His pulled pork was beginning to make a name for itself. By the end of 2010, the other competitor considered him as a contender. I, on the other hand, became a vegetarian during this period and still to this day can’t look at a brisket, never mind eat it. The smell of smoked brisket just sticks on you and everything it touches: your clothes, your shoes, your hair, your skin. My dogs would lick my arm aggressively looking for the brisket. I smelled like brisket for 2 years!
When I came home in August, I found a new smoker and 2 new grills in our backyard. He already had 2 of each, but he needed them to practice several recipes at a time. A logical person would just cook them separately. A crazy person would need to cook them at the same time so that he can compare them as they were coming out of the smokers, like the judges would. The flavours will change with time and he won’t know which recipe is the best, said the same crazy person.
By the end of his competition days he would own a total of 13 smokers and grills. Most of them, he assured me, were used. He bought from older gentlemen who no longer have the patience to cook a piece of meat for 8 hours. At least that was the excuse they told Clark, but I think their wives just made them get rid of it; which is also what would eventually happen to Clark’s collection.
He bought every size available His reason was that they can be used for every different scenario. He had a small one, a large one, an exceptionally large one, and everything in between. While others were getting rid of their grills, they were multiplying in our backyard like a Webber family reunion.
By the end of the summer, I was on the edge of my sanity. I spent a summer camping beside smokers, eating the recommended amount of protein a person should consume in their lifetime, and cleaning up gunk on the bathroom ceiling after several carboys exploded. I wanted to restore our house to some sort of order. In September everything finally came to a head and I was kicking him and his smokers out!
Our house in Ucluelet had 3 bedrooms. The third bedroom was used mostly as a guest bedroom and storage. We rarely go into the third bedroom unless we have friends or family coming to visit.
One morning we decided to go for a surf. I remember that it was a little cold outside, so I decided to wear my winter wetsuit. I stored it in the closet of the third bedroom. Clark was in the garage loading the truck with our surfboards when I yelled from inside the house, “I’m almost ready, I’m just going to get my winter suit.”
The bedroom was always colder than the rest of the house because we kept the heat off and the door closed. So, when I felt a rush of cold air it didn’t really occur to me that it was by design. The open window didn’t concern me either. It was a little odd given the temperature outside, but I also didn’t know who left it open. It could have been me, Clark, a visitor, who knows. But when I opened the closet, I knew instantly that nobody else but Clark left the window open and it was done on purpose.
You see hanging neatly beside my wetsuit was my wedding dress. It was stored in this particular closet for safe keeping. An ivory A-line gown with a sweetheart neckline and a 10-foot train lined with crystal beads along its trim. This is the dress that I wore the day we really started our life together. The dress I wore when we made the vow: ‘To have and to hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, from this day forward until death do us part. Let me repeat that: until death do us part. That was the deal. I was certain at that moment that I was about to be freed from that contract as I was about to kill him. Because, hanging beside my beautiful wedding dress were 4 ducks wrapped in white cheesecloth held together by butcher twine. Not much different from the ducks currently hanging in the fridge in Hank’s. And, I only knew they were ducks because they were clearly labeled as Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Donald.
“Duck Prosciutto!” He yelled from the bottom of the stairs whilst sprinting like he was The Flash. “I’m making duck prosciutto!” he said panting after every word as he tries to catch his breath.
“Because I wanted to try it out,” he started.
“No! Why are you curing the ducks in the closet? And do they really have to be hanging beside my wedding dress?” I was truly frustrated. All summer he was acting like a mad scientist that turned the whole house into his lab. I finally broke.
“There’s enough meat in our freezer to literally feed a small country. There are enough smokers and grills in our backyard to cook the meat to feed that same small country! Why do you need so many smokers and grills? Is there an apocalypse you are preparing us for? And how much beer are you making? Who is going to drink it all? Now, there are ducks hanging in our closet! When is this going to end? Are we going to raise pigs in our backyard too?” I was livid and this time he didn’t have a pie in hand.
“You need your own place,” I continued. “A place to do all of this. I don’t care if you rent one or buy one, but this, all of this, is going with you!” I turned and waved my arms in big circles, gesturing to the hanging ducks. As I did this, I once again caught the labels on the ducks. Why would he name them after Donald Duck and his nephews? What a weird and creepy thing to do? I couldn’t help myself; I cracked a smile in the middle of my rant, distracted by his odd, dark sense of humor. Before I knew it, we were both laughing hysterically.
“You are ridiculous!” I said.
“You’re never going to wear that dress again anyway.” He replied with a sly grin. He reached for one of the ducks and says, “C’mon, let’s try Dewey!”
I guess he got me there and I must admit, Dewey was delicious!