Poetry and prose: ingredients for Phyllis Grant’s memoir

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Cook and author Phyllis Grant reads from her memoir, “ Everything is Under Control ,” in which she describes a career in ballet, bouts of anorexia, working as a nanny, and finally cooking for her family.

Anchovy Garlic Vinaigrette is one of 17 recipes in Phyllis Grant’s memoir. Photo credit: Phyllis Grant
Phyllis Grant’s “Everything Is Under Control” is part poetry, part cookbook. Photo courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

An excerpt from “Everything is Under Control,” by Phyllis Grant.

I walk through Manhattan with a warm six-month-old baby strapped to my chest. I walk to stay awake. I walk because that’s what nannies do. Playing mom comes naturally to me, but parenting someone else’s child is the loneliest of boredoms. I am twenty-two.

I tell the baby my thoughts on everything. The neverending winter. How much I love the sticky buns at the bakery on Chambers Street. How bored I am with my café job selling hazelnut coffee and oat bran muffins. How frustrated I am by the previous day’s audition. 

I failed before I even walked into the room.

The tenth one I’ve been to since I graduated from Juilliard. How they pin a piece of paper to my chest. How one small group at a time, we walk out into the middle of the room. How the producers have us turn to face the back of the room so they can see the shapes of our asses.

So humiliating, little one.

Pirouettes on the right. And the left. And then they teach us the audition sequence. How I step out into the middle of the room. How my mind goes blank.

I panicked. I ran up Broadway. All the way home.

I stop under a passenger bridge that straddles two buildings and stare up at an airy loft filled with a life that I think I want.

Someday, I will have morning glories weaving up my very own fire escape.

My rocking and yammering have put the baby to sleep. I turn the corner and see models and lawyers and Wall Streeters slipping out of limos and into a restaurant. I sneak in the front door. The air smells fancy, fermented.

I leave before anyone sees me and go around to the back. Cooks slip out to lean against the brick wall, to take quick drags of cigarettes. They all seem rushed and guilty. Each opening of the kitchen door lets me sneak a peek into their bright world.

I watch an army of cooks in crisp white shirts and aprons, red-faced, sweating, barking out orders, heads down, arms reaching and stirring, plucking herbs and flipping fish and testing sauces with tasting spoons.

The industrial kitchen fan pumps a mash-up of lunch fumes out into the alley.

I want my hair to smell like chocolate and garlic and fish.

I want to lean in and carefully place the roasted beets next to the potato purée.

I want a purpose.

I rock the baby, hugging him tight, his back to my belly. All I want is to unstrap him, hand him to the next person walking by, enter the kitchen, and never look back. 

From Everything is Under Control; Copyright © 2020 By Phyllis Grant



Evan Kleiman