It was 1973 and I had just turned 40. I was still dancing at a Casino in Freeport, in the Bahamas following an extended European musical tour. I began to think about what I was going to be doing at 50. I called a very good friend of mine who owned The Island Art Gallery and Gift Shop in Manteo, North Carolina and he offered me a job as his assistant at three times what I was making as a dancer, plus I would have a room on the property. I accepted the offer.
During my stay there his cook retired and when he could not find a replacement, I started cooking lunch and dinners for him and his partner. This eventually led to their talking about opening a restaurant on the property. They asked me to then run the restaurant. I replied that I knew nothing about the running of a restaurant, but the offer inspired me. I wrote to several schools and finally decided to return to New York for a two year course at New York City of Technology in Brooklyn, New York where I received my degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.
I graduated on the Dean’s list and my first job was cooking for the Executive Kitchen of American Express. I started doing salads and desserts and worked my way up to sous chef.
After four years, I quit and took a job at a fashion house called Sally Gee. I was chief cook and bottle washer, I did it all, The only problem was that the reps from other houses were coming to eat my lunches. The bank told them they had to close the kitchen.
When American Express found out that I was available again, they called me in for a meeting, They could not offer me my old job back since my replacement was doing a good job. However, they were going to move their offices and were expand the dining rooms. They asked if I would consider being maître d’ for all of the rooms. They increased my salary and gave me an assistant. I stayed another four years.
My next job was for Restaurant Associates as Night Manager at Lincoln Center. In Avery Fisher Hall there were two restaurants at the time, Panevino and Café Vienna. In the summertime, there was also an outdoor café and I had to work all three at the same time.
After five years of training many people who ended up getting better jobs, I asked for a transfer. I ended up working at law offices that had their own dinning rooms and usually did the lunch service. I retired six months short of my 65th birthday. It was a fabulous second career. ~ Teak Lewis
For this pumpkin flan, you’ll need 1 metal fluted mold 8 to 9 inches for a real fancy display, or a 2 quart glass loaf pan.
Caramel sauce: 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water.
Flan: 6 large eggs, 2 cups pumpkin puree, or a 15oz can, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground Allspice, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 2 cups heavy cream.
Instruction: In a small saucepan combine the first sugar and water and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook the syrup swirling the saucepan until it is a deep caramel color. Pour into the mold, tilting the mold to cover the bottom and come partially up the sides evenly and let harden. If using a glass mold, heat before pouring in the caramel.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl beat the eggs with the sugar, beat in the pumpkin puree, salt, the remaining spices and heavy cream until well mixed.
Set the mold into a deep baking pan and add enough hot water to go up halfway up the side of your mold and bake the flan in the middle of the oven for one hour and fifteen minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted into the center. Remove form the oven and let the flan cool, then chill it.
Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan. Place a platter over the mold and invert the flan onto the platter. Serve the flan cut into slices with flavored whipped cream. May I suggest cinnamon or rum.
~ Teak Lewis
To learn about Teak’s dance career, visit his bio on the John Hemmer Meet the Entertainers page here.
Watch Teak’s oral history interview here