“Chef Wants To Know What You Would Like for Breakfast”

03 May “Chef Wants To Know What You Would Like for Breakfast”

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 26.4.21


Someone from the luxury resort was on the phone to our room. They’d worked out we were up now because smoke was curling out of the chimney of our chalet across the courtyard. Midwinter in Queenstown, you need to light the fire as soon as you throw off the duck feather duvet and slide out of the thousand thread count sheets. “Chef would like to know what you would like for breakfast.”

This was many years ago, when I was booked to perform at Winter Festival. Part of the package was to be hosted by a sponsor – we were paid less in cash, and more in kind. Which is how we found ourselves at the same lodge Bill Clinton had stayed at on a visit to our shores. The kind of place where, if you were of a mind, you could ask them to rustle up a helicopter to take you skiing somewhere quiet. Possibly shoot a deer and have chef turn it into venison steaks for a private dinner served in the wine cellar if that was your mood. 

I hadn’t seen a menu in our room, and asked where I should be looking. I was assured there was no specific list of breakfast options – just tell chef what you fancy and the kitchen will be happy to oblige. This, I realised, was what it was like to be rich. You didn’t just choose from available options, you told people what you wanted and they would make it their business to find it for you.

I should have been delighted by all this. Instead, the idea of imagining a breakfast out of thin air left me bewildered and a touch anxious. What would you like to have for breakfast when you can have anything in the world? Do you go hog wild (possibly organic hog, raised on the eastern side of a hill and served extra crispy) or ask for the ordinary thing that starts your ordinary day? Should I be who I am, or who I would like to be in another different life?

This was during my very lean years – raising a kid, scratching out a living, working hard to make ends meet, only just managing it at various points. No financial safety net, sleepless nights, all of that palaver. The kind of poor where you counted every slice of bread, and wept if something was broken or spilt or wasted because you couldn’t see how those things could be replenished. The kind of poor that makes you edgy and short-tempered, and saying something like, “Never mind, we’ll get another one” would be speaking a foreign language.

So I spent those days at the luxury lodge wondering about two things. One was this: What if this package deal only covers the room, and a bill will presented when we leave for the chef’s breakfasts and delicious dinners? How the heck am I going to pay for that? And the other was: Now that I’ve seen how it works, I’m not sure if I’d be good at being rich.

Because we assume that we would be, right? We daydream about what it would be like to not worry about bills, to live easily and comfortably – or even extravagantly. Part of it, too, is that we imagine how generous we could be – the money we’d give away, the help we could give, the time we could spend on things and people other than work and worry.

But would I really know what to do with more money than I needed? Maybe what happens is you start to imagine you need things that match your money. Like helicopters and venison, and places to stay that nightly cost more than the average month’s rent.

I thought about that trip again recently when I had the family to stay. I can happily clarify two things now – first (everyone relax) the deal had indeed been all-inclusive and there was no list of extras to pay for when we finally checked out. (We should have said yes to the helicopter.) And second, my idea of what “rich” is has shifted somewhat.

Here is what it means to me now: no one in my house goes hungry, ever. We have adventures, buy school and also party shoes, stop for ice cream pretty much whenever we want. Sure, there is a little bit of mental maths going on (when is the power bill due again?) and also a line to be observed between “I’d love you to have this” and “Let’s not be greedy”.

I feel rich because I own books I haven’t read yet, and enough clothes to get dressed for a week without doing the laundry, and because now and then I can afford something exciting to look forward to.

And we are rich if we know that, worst case scenario, we have friends who would rally round; and that – boot on the other foot – we could afford to take a friend in and cheerfully give them houseroom if they needed it.