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To: Grant Crilly
From: Ryan Jones
Subject: Thank You Again

Hi Grant,
First off, I wanted to thoroughly congratulate you and everyone at ChefSteps for a very deserving win a few weeks back.  Both Beard Awards were more than appropriate with the caliber you’re performing at.  I can say this about very few sites on the web: ChefSteps makes my life better and I am so very lucky that it exists.
Second, I wanted to thank you again for hosting such a great meet up at Booker & Dax.  Being on the east coast, I’m always bummed I don’t live closer to your neck of the woods.
I began telling you a little about how the timeline of your site taking off and the timeline of the relationship with my girlfriend, Jaci.  Over the past 800 days or so, many of our most memorable experiences together have revolved around food, and many of those experiences were influenced or inspired by you.  Jaci did not consider herself to be a proficient cook very early on our relationship.  And so when I wanted to show off my passion, I planned out a “cooking lesson”, cooking a meal together while teaching her about emulsions (making mayo, vinegarette, whipped cream, chocolate mousse, etc.).  Since then, we’ve both utilized countless numbers of your recipes, attempting things like your burrata, sous vide carrots, broccoli puree, and coffee butter steak for a meal we cooked together for when our parents met, using your macaron class to make macarons that we gifted to friends and family this past holiday season, and a whole variety of techniques for Thanksgiving last year (carbonated cranberries are so freaking cool!).

Ultimately, ChefSteps have served as starting points for so many of the moments that define her and I becoming a real team, and its your videos that really transformed her appreciation for food into something more. She started out trying to help me with small tasks in the kitchen and now she regularly jokes that I’m sous-ing for her.

As I mentioned to you briefly (and I completely understand if this is totally not possible since it’s pretty far out in right field), I am starting to figure out how to propose to Jaci and keep coming back to this idea of doing it in Seattle because of ChefSteps and the Ferris Wheel there (because of our shared significance of both to us).  Jaci keeps asking me “Do those guys offer tours or something? Because when we make it to Seattle we’ve gotta go!” I realize that time is approaching fast, so I am not fully committed to a specific date at all, but thought it poetic to do 1,000 days, which falls on the weekend of October 9th for us.  The thought that popped into my head would be a meal of some sort that maybe sort of tells the story of us through food.  Or maybe something where she has no idea that we’re going in for a meal and we’re just expecting a meet and greet and you invite us for dinner.

No pressure at all and I completely understand if you won’t be able to accommodate us. But you never know if you don’t ask.

With great admiration, all the best,

Ryan

I clicked the send button and hoped for the best. Within a few hours I received a response.

To: Ryan Jones
From: Grant Crilly
Subject: Re: Thank you again
Ryan,

I have been sending your letter around within the office here, I hope you dont mind. Some of the folks here almost came to tears. I think that a 1000th day proposal at ChefSteps where we cook for you sounds like a wonderful idea. I am sure you understand, but we would have to figure how to make sense of it from our perspective. I am sure it would require us setting the stage by interviewing you before hand etc. But we could think of some way to make it work. Also for it to make sense for us, we would need to film it before, during and after, which might be uncomfortable for your girlfriend, but could also be an amazing memento for you.  You would have to spin a different reason as to why we are filming you  but we can think of something. Lets talk about it more.

Look forward to it,

grant

Oh. My. God. Is this really happening? I re-read the note a half dozen times, my head spinning a bit more each time through. At some point it finally clicked—oh my god, this is really happening! Wait. How is this going to work? Oh. My. God. I need to figure this out.

So I gave it some thought. A few problems came instantly to mind. How am I going to keep Jaci from becoming suspicious if we take a trip to Seattle? How am I going to explain why we’re being invited to visit the ChefSteps headquarter? When am I going to pop the question? I need to get a ring! I need to ask her parents for a blessing! Oh gosh. So much to do.

I slept on it and then wrote Grant back.

To: Grant Crilly
From: Ryan Jones
Hi Grant,

I absolutely don’t mind you passing my note around at all.  Hearing word that you’ve made a positive effect on someone else’s life is what living is all about, so I’m glad they were touched by my note.

To tell you how excited I’ve been over the last 20 hours after reading your response has me sort of floating around in the clouds.  I totally understand whatever you might need to do to make sense of it all and I’d be willing to work with you in whatever way is necessary to accomplish that goal.  Filming, interviewing, planning, talking strategy for how to present it to my gf without her getting suspicious, etc. all sounds perfectly okay to me!  And having a video to look back upon to capture a moment like that is something I didn’t even think of! That would be over the top cool!

I’m thinking that the way to introduce a believable idea to my girlfriend would be something along the lines of telling her about a new program you’ve started similar to one made on the forum last year when you selected members and work with them to make them better cooks.  Perhaps I could tell Jaci as it gets closer that there’s some sort of new program ChefSteps started where you work with selected individuals who are attempting to better their kitchen skills or looking for couples who have learned to work well in the kitchen or something and that we are eventually “chosen”.  I presume we could work a lot of different angles on that depending on how we want to develop the concept.  Could be that I tell her that the first step in the process is that you ask us to come to meet, talk, and be interviewed in order to get a better understanding for who we are and how you can assist us to make us better.  Could be a nice way to capture her and my thoughts on the interplay between food, memories, working with someone in the kitchen, etc. so that the video makes sense from each of our perspectives (yours being using the video in a meaningful way from a ChefSteps perspective, and mine being a beautiful memento of her and I).  Thematically, I find the juxtaposition of putting time, thought, and care into preparing a dish for another to enjoy compared to putting time, thought, and care into developing a relationship to bring out a thoughtful and a humanizing aspect of cuisine that is often underplayed.

I’m extremely flexible in regards to this idea.  This is only a brief brainstorm after giving it a bit of thought.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and ideas.  You can reach me whenever you’d like, though work hours may be better (so as to not spoil the surprise).

So excited to work with you on this I can hardly contain myself.

Best,
Ryan

For about a month, I heard nothing. I started to get nervous. What if they couldn’t find a way to make it work? Oh man. Deep breaths. Take a chill pill and relax.

But I didn’t have to wait very long. The next day, I received an email from Karen, who would be managing the logistics of the project. Shortly thereafter,we began fleshing things out on the phone, brainstorming how to make this work without slipping up.

Together, we ultimately came up with the ruse: I would casually mention to Jaci that I had entered a contest on ChefSteps site a few weeks prior, and then never speak of it again. Weeks later, ChefSteps would put together an official looking “Congratulations” email announcing that we had won a “Cooking & Community” contest, after I supposedly submitted an essay explaining how ChefSteps has impacted my life by bringing Jaci and I together.

We were out one night and I planted the seed of the contest in Jaci’s head.

“I wasn’t going to say anything about it because I didn’t want to get our hopes up, but I guess we didn’t win the ChefSteps contest I entered a while back,” I said casually in the lull of conversation.

“Contest?” she inquired. “ChefSteps had a contest?”

“Yea. A few weeks back they asked for submissions from community members,” I explained, continuing, “They were seeking stories of how their website has impacted their lives. It was a couple questions and an essay. I filled it out one day quickly, but haven’t heard anything else.”

“Cool!…Wait! You didn’t tell me about this! Can I see what you wrote?” I anticipated Jaci’s response and explained that for whatever reason, I didn’t save my responses, since I typed them directly into the site form.

“Well, what did you say?” she asked.

“It was about us and how their recipe and technique videos, along with their classes have transformed us into a team both in the kitchen and outside of it.” I was impressed with myself. The words came out smoothly, despite being unrehearsed.

We chatted a bit more about it and I changed the subject.

Success. Seed planted.

All that was left to do was wait.

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