My Farewell to the Woodlands Staff

For almost 30 years, Hiro Sone captivated enthusiastic diners at his Napa Valley restaurant, Terra. There was a time between the early 1990s and late 2010s when one could often find Chef Sone on the cover of Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, or any restaurant journal. I was a fan of his cooking, his presentation, and his sense of Feng Shui that translated to the elegant composition of his dishes. Amy and I dined at Terra in the mid-90’s, when my cooking was anything but elegant, and I remember being hypnotized by his glorious food.

Hiro Sone and Lisa Doumani

Many years later, as Chef/Owner of 33 Liberty, I was invited to cook at Disney World’s Epcot Food & Wine festival. This event spanned seven weeks in the fall and each weekend there were a dozen guest chefs on the docket and each had to participate in the festival’s marquee event, Party for The Senses. This was held in an auditorium at Epcot and we were asked to prepare a small bite of something wonderful for 800 guests. There was a massive amount of paperwork, recipes, and contracts that went with an appearance, which was expected, and Disney provided us a talented prep team, which was not expected. After we checked in, Amy took the kids swimming and I walked over to Epcot with our sous chef to get a tour of our surroundings before getting to work. Inside the Epcot auditorium were several dozen kiosks, each with four corners. At these corners would be four possibilities for the guests, a combination of food, wine, cheese, sweets, sparkling wines, bread, etc., from a combination of their guest chefs, Disney chefs, and assorted food celebrities. While the guests milled about, Cirque du Soleil performers would spin their magic in the center, live music would be played at the south end, and a roving magician or comedian would work the floor. Disney does everything to the nth degree. Our guide brought us to one particular kiosk and pointed to a massive banner labeled “John Malik, 33 Liberty, Greenville, SC.”

I believe this is 2005, our third year at Disney

I inhaled slowly then whispered, “wow.” This invitation had taken me three years to land and in that moment I felt secure in my title of “Chef” Malik. I walked into the space to get a feel of the area, pictured each step of the dish we would prepare, envisioned a crowd of people in line, saw how we would successfully perform, then turned around and Hiro Sone stood in front of me and I’m sure my eyes must have popped out of my head. While I stood dumbstruck, Chef Sone approached me, grabbed my hand, shook it warmly and said, “Chef Malik. I am honored to share this kitchen with you and have heard many great things about your cooking.”

I was flabbergasted and temporarily lost the power of speech. I do not remember what I said in response. The next evening, during Party for The Senses, Chef Sone was a lot of fun and we traded smiles, jokes, and posed for many photos for the guests and I remember thinking how wonderful life could be, because here I was cooking next to Hiro Sone, and he treated me as his equal.

Morning line up at The Woodlands

In the second week of August, I finished my four month contract with The Woodlands and on that final morning, I told that story and encouraged the culinary team to treat one another like Hiro Sone treated me.

Life is full of beautiful moments. Some may be soft as a spring breeze, others may be as boisterous as a crashing salt water wave. Some moments may be as memorable as a handshake and a few words of encouragement, so on that final day I offered Hiro Sone’s words as clearly, and with as much honesty as the day they were given to me.

~ John



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