Spinning Plates is a documentary about three extraordinary restaurants and the incredible people who make them what they are. A cutting-edge restaurant named the seventh-best in the world whose chef must battle a life-threatening obstacle to pursue his passion. A 150-year-old family restaurant still standing only because of the unbreakable bond with its community. A fledgling Mexican restaurant whose owners are risking everything just to survive and provide for their young daughter. Their unforgettable stories of family, legacy, passion and survival come together to reveal how meaningful food can be, and the power it has to connect us to one another.
Once when I was a kid my parents took me to the circus. I remember two things about it. The encounter with the scary clown of course was one. The other was the plate-spinner. Maybe eight sticks are impaled in the ground; on the table is a stack of plates. The performer picks a plate off the top of the stack, centers it on the point of the first stick, and starts it spinning. While that one spins he picks up another plate, balances it atop the second stick, and spins it. Quickly the guy goes back and gives the first plate another spin. And so on, stick by stick, plate by plate, until every stick is topped by a spinning plate. Applause.
Except this particular plate-spinner, on this particular day at the circus, was having a miserable time of it. By the time he got a plate spinning on, say, stick number six, the plate on stick three would wobble and fall, crashing to the hard floor and shattering. One by one, over and over, the plates kept breaking. My parents and I were sitting in the front row so we could see the effort and the exasperation on the plate-spinner’s red and sweating face. I felt bad for the guy. My father didn’t. The first plate fell and my father grinned; with the second he chuckled. As the act turned catastrophic, the sound of each newly-shattered plate was accompanied by another outburst of my father’s raucous laughter. Seated so close to the performer I could see the humiliation, the rage, the fear that he would never get all of those plates spinning at once, would never stop the cascade of crashing china and the violent onslaught of my father’s laughter. I was humiliated, both for the plate-spinner and for myself.
I’m about halfway through writing a novel that might turn out to be the first in a series. The novel’s structure follows a sort of soap-opera format, in which several separate but interrelated stories are developed simultaneously, alternating from one story line to another to another. In the first part of the novel I introduce one main story line and hint at a second. In the second part I advance the first story incrementally while I get the second story going. In the novel’s third part a third story line kicks in while the other two stories move forward a bit farther. Describing to a friend the process of writing this way, I likened it to someone sitting in front of a control console pushing a row of levers forward, each one a little bit at a time. Now I’m thinking it might be more like spinning plates.