The concept of 12 Seats stems in part from a turning point in Desjarlais's culinary career. While a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine studying medieval literature, Desjarlais began working at a private dining venue owned by Scott Paper Company with renowned chef Elizabeth DeFranco, preparing and serving an intimate meal to between six and 20 guests a night. Working with DeFranco, Desjarlais says she came away with more than skills in classic French technique; she embraced DeFranco's work ethic and strength as a female chef, at a time when men dominated kitchens.
DeFranco "was a spitfire," recalled Desjarlais. "She could do anything and nothing was above her. She worked her whole life with strong men and she would say to me, 'Don't be afraid to walk into a kitchen, even if you don't feel qualified to be there. Don't be intimidated.'"
Her experience working for DeFranco "was the first time cooking became more cerebral," she says. "Where food and philosophy came together and was elevated to the point where it was more intellectual and cooking became creative and it was treated very much like a craft."
Returning to that intimate setting and creating "a beautiful environment with butler service and courses served on bone china ultimately, in my mind, is how I've come full circle with 12 Seats," she says.
Leischen Stelter can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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