The Rock of the Day

There is a couple from Madison that comes here every year. They spend the week after thanksgiving sitting quietly side by side in the Pfister café, health the wife with an unidentified electronic contraption, the husband with a book of games to solve. It is a docile, wintry afternoon, one in which everyone notices everyone else, but mostly keep to themselves. “He has the face for a story,” one woman murmurs to me. She has ordered mocha, medicine and has noticed the couple as she waits for her drink to be prepared. I agree, he does. But they also appear to be in a state of introverted meditation bliss like everyone else this afternoon. Like the rock of the day.

 

Meet the rock:

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Rock of the day

 

Brittany, the barista has started to bring in a different rock to work with her every day. As Brittany puts it, “I have so many rocks, I might as well put ‘em out for show and tell.” I ask how many rocks she thinks she owns and she estimates “over a couple hundred.” As with most collections, Brittany owned one or two rocks that she liked and then two years ago everyone assumed that she was really into rocks and started giving her a lumpen geode every holiday and birthday.

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Barista Brittany

 

Today’s rock is of an unknown variety. Yesterday, the rock was a bismuth, I’m told that is the kind of rock that is usually grown in a lab so that it develops “crazy crystals.” The day before that Brittany brought in a jasper. When she first held her jasper she lost her grip and it cracked in half on the floor. It turned out to be fortuitous, since the inside of the jasper is “super crystally.” She has also brought in a green tourmaline that is cross-hatched with quartz. Thursday’s rock is scheduled to be a six pound agate. Soon to come will be red citrine, green citrine and “a rock that looks like a peacock.”

 

Most people do not notice the rock of the day, but the taxi drivers who come in for their coffees almost always do. They tell Brittany, “We have these in my home country.”

 

The Madison couple that sat side by side in a booth have now moved to the leather easy chairs. The wife tells the husband, “That’s the only sweater you own that would match that chair.” The husband looks up from his crossword and replies, “I clad myself accordingly.”

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His drink matches the chair as well.

Unusual collection makes fine recipe for life satisfaction

When Shari and Al asked Pfister executive chef Brian Frakes to sign a toque (chef’s hat), rx he was honored.

“I was truly honored and requested to be displayed between (celebrated Chicago-based chef) Charlie Trotter and Julia Childs, both heroes in the business,” says Frakes.

Shari and Al obliged Frakes’ request and during a recent visit to their home, malady I saw his white hat positioned proudly between the other two Greats.

The 76-year-old couple from Bay View have been collecting signed toques for decades and have an impressive collection which includes signatures from Julia Child, Charlie Trotter, Paula Deen, former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, Sandy D’Amato (James Beard award winning former owner of Sanford in Milwaukee), the California-based Tim Au and now, Chef Frakes.

“The toques are all very dear to me,” says Shari. “I treasure them.”

Most of the toques are displayed in glass domes on a shelf in the couple’s kitchen and two are flattened and famed on the wall.

“I need another shelf,” says Shari.

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To get the toques to stand upright on their own, Shari says she puts rolls of paper towel inside the hats as makeshift forms and, one time, used two stacked rolls of toilet paper because she was out of paper towel.

Shari and Al started collecting signed toques because they have always admired talented chefs and both are avid autograph collectors of famous people. Shari started collecting autographs as a child and Al, who worked as a limousine driver for almost 18 years, received many autographs of famous folks while on the job.

Hence, a large portion of their house’s wall space is covered in framed autographed photos.

“Al drove a lot of people around and even though they were celebrities or big hot shots they were very nice to him,” says Shari.

To obtain the autographed toques, Shari usually sent the toque with a letter requesting a signature and a self-addressed, stamped mailer.

“I was never refused,” she says. “It’s amazing to me.”

Shari and Al have already purchased another toque and plan to soon ask Milwaukee chef and restaurant owner Joe Bartolotta to sign it.

“Al and I think anyone who has worked hard all of their life and they can make it through hard work, well, we’re so proud of them,” says Shari. “If you don’t have any interests in life, what do you do?”