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A Foodie Finds Helping Hands

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The perfect meal: I don't know if I have had it, or if I were to design it, if I would know what to include, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that dining out is and always will be one of my favorite pastimes. Apparently the love of food and restaurants started at a very early age. My mom loves telling the story of me angrily ordering (I was upset at the choice of restaurant) baked brie and a Caesar salad at age eight when the server looked my way.

Outside of owning and/or managing a restaurant, I have done just about every job possible, from the heart of the house to the front of the house. I think it is that time that makes me really appreciate all of the moving pieces that must work together to make a guest experience enjoyable from start to finish. There are so many variables in the equation: the atmosphere, the staff, the service, and, of course, the food that must all play their part in order to be successful.

This same type of seamlessness and fluidity between different departments happens within our own bodies every minute of every day. Since being diagnosed with ALS in February of last year, let's just say that I'm not as "fluid" as I used to be. This disease, which affects voluntary muscles from head to toe, can reach any and every part of the body, and make things physically impossible for some. Fortunately, I am still able to eat, meaning of the ability to chew and swallow and take in just about everything. The hard part is actually getting the food to my mouth because of the loss of strength in my hands and arms.

I remember this being one of the earliest and most frustrating symptoms. I used to love dining alone, sitting at the bar of a busy restaurant. That vantage point is the equivalent of a backstage pass in my opinion. You are closer to the action and you seem to get more access than general admission. So now the question is, how do I still enjoy the show when I'm all thumbs?

As you might imagine, for a 30-year-old single guy in Chicago who, to the naked eye, looked as healthy as can be, this was not an easy thing to digest. I mean, a grown man being fed by another adult is not something you see every day. (Unless, of course, you watch a lot of romantic comedies that have a shared chocolate sundae scene.) The act of being fed is an extremely intimate interaction that leaves one party -- let's call him "Kevin" -- with feelings of vulnerability, while the other party -- let's call him/her "the feeder" -- awkward and unfamiliar.

It sounds like the enjoyment of eating out has absolutely vanished, doesn't it? Well, spoiler alert! That is not the case, my friends! I am not saying it was an easy or overnight breakthrough, but embracing it is something I have completely and now even, thanks to someone special, wear as a badge of honor. Again, I want to stress this was a choice. I could choose to feel ashamed or disabled when sitting at a dinner table and needing to be fed, or, as I now see it, I get to choose who feeds me!

Now you're probably thinking, this does sound like fun! (The noun, not the band.) I think I want to start feeding my friends! Be aware people, it is not as easy as it looks. As my closest friends and family will attest, there have been spills along the way. I even had a friend who made an airplane sound effect throughout the process. We are no longer friends. I'm kidding! She has two kids under the age of three. I let it slide.

On a serious note, thankfully I still have some use of my hands and arms. If I could manage to get the entire world to adopt the burrito as its way of encasing all things that are delicious, dining out would be a piece of cake. (Am I the only one that's hungry now?)