Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Say Cheese!

I was in New York recently, and picking up a newspaper, I found an old acquaintance making headlines.  His business was a huge success and they were going public. I texted my wife back home in Atlanta to see if she had his phone number.  Over twenty years ago, my wife was his son’s kindergarten teacher, and we had been family friends.  Ten years had passed since we’d last spoken, so I was surprised when my wife quickly sent back his number.  Should I call him?  Would he even remember me?  I decided to send a text message, asking if there was any chance he could meet with me.

Moments later my phone rang.  It was not what I expected.  The loud, gruff voice on the line said, “I don’t respond to emails, I don’t like taking phone calls, and I certainly don’t like meetings!”  Then the voice softened and he continued, “But you can come and meet me at my private office and I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”  I was relieved.  Two days later we met.  Here’s his story…

Steve grew up in a small town in Missouri and, as he recalls, everyone either played football or loved to watch it.  Unfortunately, he enjoyed neither.  His dad was in the water business, and his mom did a lot of charity work, and they both encouraged Steve to pursue what he loved.  He just hadn’t discovered what that was yet.

In college, Steve tried out for a play and enjoyed the positive attention he received from the audience. When he wasn’t acting, he was listening to rock music and dreaming of becoming a star.  Upon graduation, he moved to New York City and landed a job on a soap opera, and also found work in local theaters.  The money wasn’t great, but worse, Steve wasn’t enjoying it, and felt trapped.  Going back home would signify failure.

Manhattan was expensive, so Steve needed a paycheck while he sorted out his dilemma.  Thanks to a friend, he was able to get a job at a local cheese shop.  He was twenty-four years old with a college degree, and he wore an apron to work… not exactly what he had in mind.  Even so, he decided to commit fully.  Steve was fascinated with maps and soon, he came to enjoy researching the regions the cheeses were from.  That’s when he realized that most of the cheeses sold in America were imitations of the real thing.

Steve saved his money and took a trip to France.  He visited local provinces and farms to discover cheese that was unknown in America.  He marveled at how passionate the cheese artisans were at their craft.  They derived such joy from working their land, and they all had stories to share as to why their products were the very best.  With every taste, Steve knew he had to find a way to bring their products to the USA.

For five years, Steve continued to work at various cheese shops in New York, saving his money and returning to Europe to make new culinary discoveries.  His break came when he joined with a supermarket called Fairway.  There, he convinced the owner to allow him to import the wonderful cheeses he discovered throughout the years.  He also created signs to explain where and how the cheeses were made. 

Steve Jenkins became a partner in Fairway, and continued to travel the world looking for the very best olive oil, spices, coffee, and other delicacies.  Thanks to him, we have authentic Brie, Mozzarella, and Fontina cheese in the US, among many others.  Since he joined the company, Fairway has grown into the most respected gourmet market in New York, with over a billion dollars a year in sales.  Steve found his passion, proudly puts on his apron, and shares it with his customers every day.  He even wrote a best-selling book that’s regarded as the definitive guide to cheese by chefs across the country.

I asked Steve for advice on living your dreams, and he said, “Sometimes you can become a rock star because of pear cider, sourdough bread, or even cheese.  It doesn’t matter what you choose in life, as long as you find something you love, have pride in your work, and try to do it better than anyone else.”

My friend Steve is certainly a cheese expert.  I call him the Cheeze Whiz.  But there’s nothing artificial about him or his advice.  Pursue what you love, and become the artisan of your own ultimate life!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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