It is hard not to get excited when you’re engaged by someone who is passionate about something. We can feel their energy. It exudes from their words, their tone of voice, the way their hands move as they speak. That passion translates. When that passion is about something we understand, well – now they’re speaking our language. We lean in.
Italians have a saying. Mangia bene, vivi bene. It means, “eat well, live well.” This is one people’s statement on the universal idea of nourishing the body and soul with food. People all over the world have built food cultures around this simple philosophy. Some have turned it into a recipe for living a life of passion and freedom.
If eating well means living well, it makes sense that how you cook defines how you live. And if how you cook defines how you live, wouldn’t you want to cook boldly, bravely, and with full flavor?
I want to introduce you to some people who want you to do just that. To cook and live with passion, freedom, and confidence.
Here’s where you start to lean in.
In a small cottage on a small farm in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, newlyweds Marcus and Rose (Orrell) Davis are making big plans. Blending to perfection their individual talents and passions to develop a line of high-quality food products accompanied with an array of culinary education resources, the couple is masterfully crafting more than a business. They’re sharing with others their zest for life through food. And, it all began where the day ends: the dinner table.
“We both grew up in families that sat down to dinner every night and talked,” explains Rose, sitting at the large marble-top island that anchors their kitchen. “Food brought the family together.”
Raised in a larger than average family of Jewish heritage, Rose’s family had an ample garden in their yard. Her mother was the primary cook in the household and assembled food in Mediterranean style. Rose compares the food of her upbringing to that of Southern Italy and describes it as light fare that was “very resourceful, healthy, and in season.” She was raised to be health conscious and to find food from clean, local sources. Above all, she was raised with a sense of respect and gratitude for food.
Marcus relates similar experiences with food in his childhood. Coming up in Nassau County, Long Island, common themes of respect, consciousness, and gratitude prevailed. For Marcus, however, food was about more than nourishment. Cooking it was an act of expression, and he took it at a very young age.
“His mother has these stories about him being three years old in the kitchen making decisions,” Rose laughs proudly.
Marcus, in a disarming charm and modesty, aims the compliment at his mother who owned a restaurant in her native Jamaica before emigrating to the United States. “My mother is a phenomenal cook,” he says. “She is the best cook I know. She’s really talented, and she just has that natural gift for it.”
Throughout Marcus’s childhood, his mother did more than prepare delicious food. She delivered an array of flavors and dishes. “One night, we may be eating a meal of curry goat, but then the next day it may be a roasted chicken with a more American flavor… and everything in between… It could be oxtail, but we also enjoyed lasagna. Always a salad, a vegetable. Nice and balanced. My father was big on health and wellness… We ran the gambit in terms of style of cuisine. It was always flavorful. We were very fortunate to have a diverse cuisine at home.”
Mom Davis wasn’t the only one in Marcus’s family with talent you can eat. His aunt is a tremendous baker, and the extended family also cooks – each with their own style. Marcus grew up surrounded by skillful preparers of wide-ranging dishes. It makes sense, then, that Marcus – himself a natural in the kitchen – was drawn to a life of food, but it wasn’t where life took him at first.
His father was a tradesman, and Marcus followed in his footsteps. Hanging off buildings at heights that would paralyze even the toughest among us, Marcus earned his living as a second-generation steamfitter. He worked on the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center, among many other high-rising marvels in New York City, and he spent his evenings and weekends obsessing over culinary arts. He attended the French Culinary Institute and got hooked into catering jobs. Eventually, that led him into opportunities as a personal chef.
Growing his professional resume was exciting. Getting more time with his feet on the ground and his hands in the spices was even better, but Marcus had a vision for himself that extended beyond preparing food for others.
“If you have the ability to teach, you should. If you come across in a way that people can understand your message and learn from you, it’s something you should definitely do.” When saying this Marcus’s pervading calm begins to depart and a spark ignites. For Marcus, being a chef isn’t about showing others what he can do. It’s about teaching others that they can do it, too. “There’s nothing like empowering somebody. That’s where the rewards are.”
His mission is simple, “To empower people, to help people take things to that next step. It could be something as small as holding a knife or cutting a vegetable, developing sauces, building techniques.”
To do this, Marcus creates web content as varied as food itself. His videos teach everything from basic skills and foundational techniques to step-by-step preparation of sure-to-impress dishes like Jamaican style beef shins. His blog enhances the learning experience by engaging readers in meaningful articles on topics like entrepreneurialism, sustainable agriculture, healthy eating, tools of the trade, and beyond. Knowledge and guidance, empowerment and engagement at your fingertips, and it is all entertaining.
Watching Marcus cook is seeing him in his element. His smile broadens. Melodies replace speaking. His movements are fast, fluid, and precise. His body seems lighter, as does his spirit. There is joy there. That is where he gets to truly deliver. Spices fly. Pans sizzle. And, sitting just out of view, Rose beams.
Rose is more than Marcus’s partner in life. She is also his partner in business. While Marcus takes center stage as the culinary mastermind, Rose runs the operations end of things. She believes in Marcus’s talent, his passion, and his vision. She’s tasted his food. She knows what he is capable of giving to the world, and with her professional background, she knows exactly how to help him build the vehicle in which he could deliver it.
Sales, marketing, consulting, tech, and analytics, from corporate to start-ups, Rose has worn all the hats. Trusting in her business savvy and soulful dedication to the mission, Marcus put his faith in Rose and took the leap. He left NYC, moved to Bucks County, and set up shop in their cottage home. Together, they designed a work environment at home that was conducive to both of their needs and inspirations, and began to slowly execute. This is when Covid struck.
“We were intensely focused and productive during the entire pandemic,” Rose explains. “We had already brought ourselves into a remote workspace. There was no shock of transition, no distractions, and no other options. I don’t know if we’ll ever be as productive or produce more work as we did in those two years.”
For most, Covid was a disaster to their economic and environmental lives. People shuffled through disbelief into disarray. They sifted through backlogs of home office to-dos in an effort sort out makeshift work and distance learning spaces, while struggling with the loss of first-world fundamentals and thrust into lives lived entirely at home. Luckily for Marcus and Rose, who were perfectly arranged to be working from home at that point, Covid meant people had two things on their hands: time and hungry housemates.
With people learning (or relearning) to cook and online ordering the primary mechanism for sourcing their needs, Rose and Marcus hit the ground running… hard. Simultaneously launching their website and their product line, Wah Gwan – Marcus’ unique blends of restaurant quality seasonings, the pair came onto the market at the perfect time. “The product took off faster than we thought,” says Rose, “and he went gangbusters, made all these videos that really supported using the product but also teaching people to do more letting go in the kitchen.”
More letting go in the kitchen…
Lean in a little more.
“We’ll have spices in our cabinets for 10 years,” Rose giggles with an infectious smile. “We’ll be like, ‘Yeah, that was a gift and I never used it.’ Use it! Eat it! Consume it! It’s actually going to add so much value to everything and it’s totally worth it, but we err on the side of precious with seasoning. We are trying to knock that out, to truly teach people that’s where the flavor is.”
For Marcus and Rose, it isn’t about just getting you to use your spices. It is about bringing confidence to your cooking and flavor to your life. It is hard to live with rigidity when you cook with freedom. Having the courage to use big, bold flavors or to trust your simmer, to have patience when time is needed, to let things marinate, to breathe in the aroma, to turn up the heat at that critical moment, “to do more letting go” isn’t just how to cook well. It’s how to live well, and it is a lifestyle these two entrepreneurs have embraced fully.
“It is the thing that will keep us happy, healthy, and whole,” says Rose, talking about the future of Wah Gwan. “We have dozens of ideas in our back pocket. We’re just like ‘Get this going because this one is coming right behind it.’”
All of them aimed at growing their business and their lives in ways that allow them to stand on their foundational values, the values they were taught through food at their childhood dinner tables… respect, gratitude, embracing diversity, finding healthy and clean sources, creating superior food products, and empowering others. They talk about traveling the world, exploring cuisines, filming on location, expanding their product line, and sharing it all with you.
“At the end of the day,” Marcus smiles, “just being able to do the work, to be able to have your freedom, and to contribute what you want to, that’s the real goal. That’s the gift of it all.”
In hearing him say this, I realize that the gift is just as much for us as it is for them. We need only to lean in. Breathe it in. Can you smell it? That’s life – full flavor.