My life as a personal chef in New York City gives me a window into a world most people don’t get to see. In early 2017 as the feminist fury against Trump was in its earliest organizing stages I cooked for a Planned Parenthood postcard-writing party in TriBeCa held by a fashion designer.

As a mercenary cook, I am usually sent out with an address and a contact. Sometimes it is the client themselves, and other times it is an assistant or housekeeper. I never really know. This time I was arriving to meet another chef who was the lead for the job, Ellie. The client’s home was a ground level post-industrial loft space transformed into a Tim Burton film set. I quietly entered and found that Ellie was distraught. She described in hushed tones how the client came in earlier and gasped with disapproval: the food smelled disgusting and hopefully she hadn’t salted anything!

Food is a messy business and she was grilling, of all things, fish. Depending on the venting system, any kind of cooking can create an alarming amount of odorific mess — especially in an open kitchen designed for form over function. The only option is to modestly apologize and get through the event with as much dignity as possible. I gave her a sympathetic look before we both put on our game faces, tightened our apron strings and finished setting up. I was hoping that my fresh energy could bouy her spirits. I tidied up and tasted everything, giving her my opinion on the seasoning and bolstering her confidence.

While we worked, a couple of small children being loosely corralled by a nanny and housekeeper would escape from a back room wearing mom’s high heels, long strings of pearls, outlandish makeup, and feather boas. They were to have dinner before the guests arrived so the client instructed the staff to order Nobu take out: “let them have sushi”!

Smiling employees from the designer’s flagship store soon appeared. One was wearing a floral caftan and had her face painted whimsically. Another was dressed modestly like Buddhist monk in backward inside out scrubs. They both looked like they were floating as they cheerfully finished setting the tables and designing the floral arrangements, lush pink peonies. They then disappeared as discretely as they arrived.

In time, a makeup artist arrived. She pulled an Evian from the refrigerator spilling the Ceasar dressing and began to set herself up on the kitchen island where we were working. “Oh, no,” we said. “That is not a problem at all, we will move everything for you.” We cheerfully wiped up the spilled Caesar dressing and shuffled our prep out of the way. Our client appeared in a rainbow faux fur vest with almost nothing else on underneath, her body so thin and androgenous it hardly shocked any of us. As the makeup artist applied layers of black eye makeup, we nervously averted our eyes. They chatted with each other comfortably, agreeing that the longer lashes were really working. Her eyes ended up so deeply black, you couldn’t tell whether she was looking at you or not. They looked like the dreamscape mother’s button eyes in Coraline.

Finally we set up the buffet: a beautifully knotted piece of driftwood made a platter for the Caesar salad of pink little gem romaine, a hand-blown glass bowl served up luscious white bean dip carefully dressed with a grassy shimmer of olive oil, long silver platters held perfectly grilled Branzini layered with herbs and lemon slices, colorful hand painted bowls were filled with grilled marinated eggplant, zucchini, and portobellos. We stood back, happy with our work and set about opening bottles of wine.

The arriving guests were all of that class of ultra fabulous in New York City. They have their own diet, dialect, and decorum. Blousey floral print pants with heels and graphic tees were a kind of unspoken uniform. Most of the young women drank rose, of course, but our client, the host, drank Chartreuse as she padded amiably through the bubbly group of women with her toddler in a stroller. Her black eyes, and bright green beverage were embellished by a boa of hot pink feathers. The guests wrote postcards for the resistance with brand new markers, glue sticks, and a full array of arts and crafts supplies. A Planned Parenthood executive was also there in an awkward mavenly black pant suit, her role was to give weight to the occasion, her speech during the meal was gracious, polite.

An ombre cake from a bakery in Williamsburg of five gorgeous layers, varying in shades of pink from dark to light, with rich buttercream and a sexy drizzle of white chocolate glaze was dessert. The cake was properly revered, but barely nibbled in little guilty bites before being abandoned by the the young women as they called an Uber XL to ferry them on into the New York City night.

The half-finished postcards lay behind for someone to organize and mail. Perhaps the housekeeper would do it, I wondered? The apartment empty, the client devoted herself to the children. Alone with them now, her face washed clean and dressed in an over-sized t-shirt, her humanity was poignant. She was now a young mother alone and suddenly so relatable. She shuffled calmly from room to room until the children’s cries ceased. We quietly hand-washed her grandmother’s china and the crystal glassware, and put leftover food in neatly labeled glass containers before we let ourselves out. Ellie and I said our goodbyes, made plans for the next event and went our separate ways. Both of us deeply inhaling the brisk evening air as a sign that the day was done, the night was ours again.

As a wellness-focused chef and breast cancer survivor reflecting on cancer and trauma recovery, food, family, and gardening.