The Journey That Led to an Unexpected Destination

Most journeys start with a specific destination in mind. Most, though not all, wind up at that intended place. Me? Not so much.

My life's journey really began in 1983 at Juilliard after I graduated from college. I was in New York City studying the craft I loved on my way to the career I dreamed about in show business. My life was to be a theatre life. Maybe I desired stardom, I don't know. I think mostly I just loved the work. I loved being on stage and telling the story. Certainly I wanted to be noticed and do something important with my life.

But I was also totally freaked out. At that time I was very conflicted about my sexuality. Ok, not so much conflicted as deeply closeted; so scared I was gay I wouldn't go below 42nd Street.

My Juilliard career was cut short by a chance meeting in a bar one fall Sunday afternoon. I was asked to audition for a musical about the Civil War which was to have a pre-Broadway run in D.C. I got the part, left school and started rehearsals a little more than two months after I first started graduate school.

So, yeah, that was great. It was all new and fresh and very exciting. But it also pulled me out of the safety of school, and basically threw me out of my Upper West Side closet. Suddenly I was rehearsing my first professional show in the West Village! I had to come to terms with my sexuality, and figure out how that fit into my life in show business.

Next stop was a move to Los Angeles to find work on screen. I started working right away. Small parts on good 1980s TV like Cagney and Lacey, and Hill Street Blues, and bigger parts on bad 1980s TV like Riptide, and Jake and the Fatman. Good, bad or indifferent, it didn't matter. It was all exciting.

Then I got the role of skirt-chasing Dr. McGuire on Doogie Howser, MD. I started getting recognized in grocery stores and airports. But I was still in the closet. By then I was "out" to my friends and family, but personally I was still conflicted. I'd freak out every week when my Doogie scripts were delivered to the Beechwood Canyon bungalow I shared with my boyfriend. The low point in my high life was when I took a "beard" to the People's Choice Awards. Ugh!

Slowly my closet door began to open as I watched my friends get sick and die. The AIDS crisis made it impossible to live in secret. We simply couldn't combat AIDS and rampant homophobia from behind that closet door. These battles were mine and I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I didn't join in.

So I marched. I raised money. I got political. And my life became more meaningful. The desire for communication and connection that lead me into show business began to lead me away from it.

In 1996, I came out at the GLAAD awards while playing an openly gay character on the much-beloved show Party of Five. That night, I became an activist first and an actor second.

My priorities changed as well. I ached for more meaningful roles that were fewer and farther between. I began to realize my life in show business was not meeting my expectations for a greater purpose.

Then, on August 21, 2001, I turned 40. Two weeks later on September 11, 2001, the World Trade Towers fell. These two events put the last nails in the coffin of my show business career, made me reorganize my priorities and realize what I held dear. That was, my home and my life with Richie, my partner of 18 years.

With his help and encouragement, I found a new calling, a new passion. I made a home with him in Atlanta and went into the kitchen. Having been a lifelong amateur cook, I decided to train as a chef. I found a great mentor who taught me about the restaurant business and this amazingly improvisational, artistic approach to food that really clicked. And in the fall of 2005, I opened my restaurant in Midtown Atlanta. MetroFresh was born.

My menu changed every day and I was convinced the key to success was getting that menu into potential customers' inboxes as they opened their computers each morning. And, I knew those customers were more likely to come for a meal if they had a personal "buy in" to me and the restaurant.

So I began writing, every day. At first I told stories about MetroFresh -- "The Adventures of Restaurant World." But then I started writing about life -- about my childhood, my family, my home, and basically whatever came into my head. It's a story about life as it is. It's open, honest and inclusive.

Suddenly, it seems, 10 years passed and I have 10 years of recipes and 10 years of blogs. So I put them in a book called Food & Thought. It's recipes and conversation. And that's what my life is all about.

I used to think standing on the stage, in front of a camera or at a lectern was the way for me to lead a fulfilling life -- to get noticed and "make a difference." Now I realize that by quietly telling the story, with my food and with my blog, I have achieved what I set out to do.

And that's the grand thing about life's grand journey. When you get to your destination, while it may look completely different from what you expected at the start, maybe it's exactly as it was supposed to be all along.