Wow. My heart is unexpectedly heavy today. My work list remains pretty much untouched, everything seems a little more trivial. Cape Town and South Africa lost a legendary Chef this morning. I lost a friend.
Absent-minded, barely focussing on anything in particular, I scrolled down my Facebook news feed earlier today… it caught my eye: “It is a very sad day today. Chef Bruce passed away this morning…” My immediate reaction – No, this cannot be true, is this some kind of sick joke by someone who has hacked the page? A status message from Pete de Bruin of The Foodbarn confirmed the tragic truth that Bruce had indeed left us.
I didn’t know Bruce as a chef. I knew he was a chef, because he emanated the essence of chefness that only top chefs enjoy. I knew him as a father, having met him during the realisation of his Boathouse Scarborough dream and our childrens’ preschool years. Although he rarely talked shop, he was always quick to share his genuine advice if I broached any subject about the industry. Once in passing, on a hot summer’s day, while we were both rushing between work and children, he told me “You’ve got to loose the sleeves!” – and that was when I got myself some sleeveless chef jackets… maybe one day I’ll copy his carefree barefoot and white shirt style, a casualness reserved for the elite who have proven themselves time and again. I chose to borrow the pic of him (off his facebook page) in his trademark attire rather than share a pic taken of him at his daughter’s birthday party, because even in his openness and warmth, he kept his private life out of the public eye.
Besides being in obvious awe that I was in the presence of a culinary great when I was chatting to Bruce, I highly respected him as an amazing father. His love for his little girl was so visible, it was practically tangible. Our conversations flowed as we found ourselves pushing our little ones on the swings after school, and it always struck me how present he was with his daughter. At his daughter’s birthdays he let the kids jump all over him, getting involved in their play with delight. We met them on Scarborough beach, and Bruce was in the water with my son and his daughter, being completely and authentically engaged in them. When I texted Bruce to arrange a play date he would always call back instead of sending a reply by text. Our connection lived on after our kids moved on to different ‘big schools’ – every time we bumped into each other we would promise to get our little ones together, and now I can only wish for just one more visit.
I don’t even know how to tell my own son Dylan that his beloved “Bruce the Shark” is now with the angels, my heart goes out to the gorgeous little girl Bruce has left behind. Jemima, darling child, you can always be proud of your daddy, who loves you so so very much. Bruce, you touched my heart in the short time I knew you, and for me this poem encapsulates your essence as a great man whose legacy will always live on…
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle Autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die
Mary Elizabeth Frye