Mad River Union
ARCATA – No one likes writing their friend’s memorial. This is by no means comprehensive, and of course, I only knew Luke during the decade we both lived here in Arcata. But Luke was such a special person I’d like to write at least a few words.
Six months ago, when I said goodbye to my friend Luke Patterson, we’d spent a nice afternoon walking Rex and Paulo – Lola is too old to walk much now – and then Luke had prepared his mother’s traditional South African bobotie, for which he supplied the genuine Mrs. Ball’s Chutney.
He’d been talking about this dish for years and as such it suited the special occasion, a goodbye dinner for two good friends on the eve of his departure to Tannersville and a new chapter. He kissed my 4-month-old daughter goodbye and that was the last time I saw my friend.
Luke Patterson was a larger-than-life personality. Many Arcatans will remember his humble beginnings on the Plaza, selling southern-style barbecue, which was before I moved back here.
I first met him from behind the counter, as did many of us, of the beloved, colorful first restaurant, Luke’s Joint. As I suspect many of us laid-back Californians were, I was struck by his energy, vitality, strength and volume – an East Coast temperament, a lightning-fast wit, a keen intellect, and a deep and loving kindness that kept his occasional hot temper in check.
My friendship with him grew as he supported my fledgling food cart effort by letting me rent space in his kitchen for a very low rate.
Eventually, when I was forced off the Plaza by the Occupy movement, he let me sell my food out of his restaurant and refused a cut of the profits. That was typical of Luke. The stories of his generosity are legion.
Arguably hampered by wealth, he was giving by nature, not necessarily in financial ways (that I am aware of) but by letting people use his spaces, encouraging all sorts of projects, giving indigent people jobs (often to his own detriment), and, of course, his famous free Thanksgiving meals, at which he served over a hundred needy people each Thanksgiving for several years, out of his own pocket and with huge amounts of his time and skill.
He volunteered for all sorts of things – teaching kids how to cook, cleaning up the local rivers. I am just reporting subjectively here, I have no doubt he helped out far more than he ever told me. He was truly by nature a giving and supportive person, and took no interest in getting credit for good deeds done.
Luke went on to open The Other Place, which was perhaps a bit ahead of its time in this area. His foams, sous-vide and savory ice creams were all thrilling and experimental.
He lined his beautiful restaurant with local art, of which he was a great patron, and he inspired and taught fledging chefs what truly great culinary art was about. No memorial about him could be complete without mentioning his genius in the kitchen, as well as his exceptional talent in photography. He had the soul of an artist.
I know he was occasionally the source of some brouhaha, as he could be hot-headed and vitriolic. But he left this town better than when he arrived.
He was funny, sweet, tender, loud, brash, an extraordinary friend whom I miss very much, and I have no doubt many other people in the community feel his loss deeply too.