My Signature Dish by Roy Cohen - Rancho La Puerta
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My Signature Dish by Roy Cohen

In 2020 we continue to feature extraordinary works of writing by recent Ranch guests. Each piece focuses on The Ranch and moments of personal insight, observation, or awareness.

Watch Roy read his winning piece of writing:

My Signature Dish by Roy Cohen

Late one afternoon during my week at the Ranch, I blocked out an hour or so to catch up on work; emails mostly along with an urgent request from a client. I sat outside the Bazar del Sol. Despite my best intentions, I was just not feeling it. So, when a fellow sat down beside me it was both an excuse and a reminder: the work could wait, and I was on vacation. Here’s what we chatted about and, as we fast approach another anniversary of 9/11, my story feels more relevant now than ever:

Shortly after last year’s anniversary of 9/11, a friend told me about a series of dinners to be hosted by the famed chef and restaurateur David Bouley — of particular interest, an evening with Alice Waters to raise money for her farm-to-table Edible Schoolyard and School Lunch Initiatives. The decision to attend was an easy one. Besides the obvious opportunity to support an important philanthropy and to meet an individual whose accomplishments I hold in high regard, I had a personal story to share. I was intending to send a note to Ms. Waters for years after 9/11, but I never got around to following through. Seventeen years later, the events of the day were once again fresh in my memory and she would be in close proximity. Dinner beckoned.

I called to purchase a ticket and was advised that the event was a sell-out. Good for Alice but a disappointment for me. I was placed on a waiting list. Day of — I got a phone message late afternoon that a space opened up. Too late. My calendar was booked back-to-back with clients till late evening.

With that detail as context, here is what I wanted to share with Ms. Waters and, now, with the RLP community:

I served as the volunteer fire warden for my floor in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It was my responsibility to make sure that, in the event of an emergency, fellow tenants complied with evacuation procedures. So, technically speaking, I could not exit until everyone else on my floor left before me. And that meant that on this particular day, I was one of the last to leave the building.

As I exited from my office, I reached out for a single item, an index card resting on the corner of my desk. On it, I taped a recipe clipped from the NY Times almost two years before. It was Alice Waters’ recipe for a fool-proof cranberry upside-down cake. It was, indeed, fool-proof and a crowd pleaser, too. I served it to 20 guests at Thanksgiving — and as a non-chef, it immediately qualified as my “signature” dish. Easy to follow, impossible to screw up, and loved by virtually everyone.

It was not the obvious memento to grab in haste but for some reason it seemed important at the time. Photos, laptop, briefcase, and an old Burberry raincoat were left behind. So were all of my client records dating back 10+ years.

It took a while to make sense of the events of that day and to restore some order to my professional life. I didn’t have time to dwell on my own needs when my clients’ lives were fractured and others had perished. But now 18 years later, I think I understand my actions. I am a lousy cook because I am uncomfortable in the kitchen. I burn. I over cook. I under- and over-season. That recipe allowed me to feel something that I had never before experienced in the kitchen — a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of joy in dispelling a long-held fear. For that, I am deeply grateful. Thank you, Alice Waters. And thank you Rancho la Puerta for allowing me to share this story.


Find Alice Water’s recipe in the New York Times online here.

Roy Cohen is a nationally recognized career counselor and executive coach, and a leading expert in Wall Street job search and career management.  He is the author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, the best-selling and only career resource for people who work on Wall Street. In addition to numerous media appearances and frequent quotes, Roy speaks often at a range of events, most recently on behalf of various chapters of the CFA Institute and at a number of business schools.  He is also currently an advisor to Baruch College’s master of financial engineering program and he serves on the advisory board for Men’s Fitness Magazine.  He has an MBA from Columbia, a masters degree from Colgate, and an undergraduate degree from Cornell. He has been to the Ranch 12 or 13 times; with each visit more memorable and joyful.