Sunday, July 1, 2012

Uncertainty

A lot of my life has changed. The way I view it, what makes me happy, and what I want out of it.

Part of this may have had to do with my first "chef" position, how I felt throughout it, and how it ended.

What went wrong, really? I'm young for the restaurant industry, and only seven months out of culinary school, someone offered me a pastry chef position - to be in charge of a restaurant, a retail chocolate shop, and soon to be a second restaurant as well - how could I turn it down? I was thrilled. Honored. I had done a small tasting for the chef/owner and they had offered it to ME? Really? How badass am I! I sent a mass text out to everyone saying I got the job as soon as I left the building...and walked straight to my previous employers to turn in notice.

Well, what I'm leaving out is the fact that I didn't really go over details with this new employer. Details that have a lot of importance. Salary was agreed upon, (not really negotiated though..it was a lot more than I was used to so it seemed great) but it didn't go much further than that. Things I should have known were vacation policies. Paid, unpaid? Other benefits? Why wasn't all of this written up in some sort of contract or offer letter?

It was my first ever salaried position, and I made all the classic rookie mistakes. I would run things by my boss verbally, only to have her fuck my world up a few short days before I left for vacation. And there was nothing I could do about it, because I had nothing in writing.

The truth of the matter is that there's still a lot I don't know, and am still learning. Perhaps it was too soon for me to take on a chef position. But now that I have, I can't step back from that.

I never fit in to the kitchen. As anyone that works in this industry knows, all kitchens have their own personalities, generated by those that work in them and the way all the characters bounce off each other. There was a lot I saw that wasn't up to my expectations, and after a while I realized they were never going to change and so I saw myself adapting, and not caring anymore. Passive aggressiveness was something employed by all the managers, something that infuriates me, but I found myself almost doing the same after a while.

But, perhaps the biggest red flag I should have paid more attention to, was simply the fact that I wasn't making the kind of food I wanted to make. I took the position mainly to learn how to run a pastry department, not realizing that if you're not making the style of food you want to make, it will eat away at you inside. All chefs are adaptable and can make various styles of food, but at some point you just need to do what makes you happy.

Happiness. Happiness used to come from my life at work but nowadays, it's coming from my life outside of work. And so I've had thoughts of leaving the field...I could take an office job, be hated and looked down on by all my cooking friends for it, and have a nicer paycheck and hours than all of them. Spend my Christmas surrounded by family and loved ones, not exhausted and half asleep from a month of hard labor to get all the orders out.

I'm at a crossroads, and ultimately it will be my decision to continue on this path or not.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cooking (or not) at Home

I have a lot of kitchen crap.

By kitchen crap, I mean home kitchen supplies like an ice cream maker, espresso maker, two cake display pans, a spice grinder, steamer, mortar and pestle, TONS of extra offset spatulas and other tools like that, various food colorings and sprinkles…the list goes on and on. I have to come to realize this (I was probably in denial before) because I’m moving soon, and there’s nothing that makes you notice how much extra junk you have until you’ve got to move it.

But the thing about having all these cooking supplies is that, well – I rarely cook at home. I mostly live off of cereal, sandwiches, and fruit. Though some might be surprised by it, most people that actually cook for a living live off of crappy food when they’re not at work. This stockpile of stuff I have was accrued over the first couple years when I started working in the industry and had just begun culinary school. I had this wonderful na├»ve vision of myself, working hard all day in the kitchen, and then coming home to make wonderful meals for my boyfriend and I, to apply all that I had learned. I thought I would make everything – from bread to tarts and ice cream to cheese and dinners that would have a starch, protein, veg, and sauce.

I was assisted by my mother who, in all her sweetness, would show up at my apartment with another unneeded piece of equipment, and when seeing the look on my face would say, “I know you’ll need it one day!” Really. She even bought me not one but TWO full sets of Cuisinart cookware. Nobody I know needs 12 skillets and pots, least of all someone that lives alone.

I suppose there are still a few inspired souls out there that have the passion and drive enough to go home and cook – and when they do, they’ll be snatching whatever they need from work – garlic, lemons, maybe a bit of stock or prepared sauce, even flour. And there are of course the cooks and chefs out there that will cook a nice meal to get laid. But I, like most others, live off a very limited diet at home.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Moment in Hospitality

In London, I arrived at Borough Market for free time during a recent school trip. I was tired, grumpy, and cold, and wanted a place to sit down and order coffee and have some good food. As a friend and I wandered around looking for something that could fit the bill, we came to a pub. Of course, like every other place, the front doors were open, bringing the chill inside. But there was a restaurant upstairs and we figured this would be a warm place to sit and stay for a while. It was five till noon, and a man behind the bar told us the restaurant wouldn't open for another five to ten minutes. My instant thought was to move on and keep looking. I suppose it was the American in me, expecting to be delivered exactly what I want all the time, and wanting to find something else if I’m not getting it.

Seeing the dissatisfaction on my face, I’m guessing, an old man at the bar said to me, “Have a pint, stay a while.”

It was this that spoke to me perhaps more than anything else on the trip. No, he hadn’t gone above and beyond in delivering hospitality to me – moreso, it was a transfer of an idea; a culture; a lifestyle; in one simple sentence. He had helped me find my way when I was lost on a deeper level than giving me a map to my hotel. As I let his words settle in, I realized how right he was – why would I go somewhere else when this (albeit chilly) pub was just right, and playing Elvis no less – and all I had to do was wait a few minutes for the kitchen to open?

And so my dear friend Paul and I took a seat at the bar, and I forewent my cup of coffee to order a pint of cider instead. We sat for over an hour, eating bangers and mash, drinking beer and cider, and singing to Elvis. I’ll never forget that simple line.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Irony

Recently I was sitting in my Business Law class, one of the final classes in my bachelor’s program at school. Our teacher was going over how much things have changed since the old days in the sense that one must always watch what they say, lest they get sued.

“If you say something the wrong way someone could sue you for sexual harassment! People used to say ‘Boys will be boys,’ but not anymore,” he exclaimed.

“Except in the kitchen,” I mumbled, as another student glanced at me and chuckled.

Part of working in a kitchen is the ability to not get easily offended. Currently, I get called a skank on a regular basis from one of the sous chefs (as do all the females). Another chef told me once that he knows I can’t think as well as a man because I’m a woman. Talking shit and getting it back is part of the job – and it’s usually based on gender, sexual orientation, or race.

Right now I also work with the only gay man I’ve ever met in a kitchen – and god knows he must have a thick skin to deal with all the gay impressions he gets on a daily basis, and all the cooks asking him if he has AIDS.


So while I understand that it’s part of the curriculum in any business law class to go over how to not get sued, it is truly situational irony at its finest.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fresh Fruit

I fucking love eating fresh fruit. Especially, of course, when it's in season. Which is kind of funny because when I see it on a dessert, unadulterated, I detest it. A raspberry for a garnish? No, I'm sorry, that's not a garnish. That's what I call a "bullshit berry." You ordered the creme brulee and, surprise surprise, there's a a big fat unripe strawberry, stem attached, sitting on top for you to awkwardly move around. Bullshit berry.

And I see it all the time, whether as part of a dessert or in a pastry case sitting on top of a cake. When they take that cake home someone is going to have the task of plucking off that shriveled strawberry and plopping it on the table nearby because no one wants to eat it. If you're going to do something like add some fruit to a dessert that you couldn't take the time to roast or puree or make it new in any way, at least do the guest a favor and make it easy to eat.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Coffee

I've been thinking a lot about coffee lately, and how much I love it. Brought on by those 5-hour energy shot commercials that are firmly anti-coffee, as though it takes too much time and isn't worth the hassle.


Not to me though, and I know I'm not the only one. There is something about holding a warm cup and letting the steam hit your face. Something about the way it smells and fills up your kitchen as it brews. Studies have shown that touching the warm cup brings feelings of happiness and makes people warmer and more generous. No crappy tasting energy shot will ever replace coffee, no matter how hard they push those commercials.


There's a certain mentality in people that take their time over a cup of joe in the morning. And I for one definitely nurse my coffee - it takes about half an hour to get through a cup. But when I actually have the time to take for it, it's my favorite time of the day: when everything is peaceful, the stress of the day hasn't begun yet, and I can truly savor it. It's so important to me that I even look for it in a significant other - if they would rather drink a Monster I'm afraid I'm not as compatible with them, or it's going to be harder to relate to them.


So maybe I'm a little crazy when it comes to coffee. But lately it has become the only regular thing in my life: I have school full time, and work back and forth between two restaurants. The time I get up changes almost every day, as does my schedule, but at least I know I can always rely on having a delicious cup of coffee, whether that's at home before work, on a break at school, or an iced coffee while I work. It brings a much-needed balance into what I do on a daily basis.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Music and Food

Music.

My first love. My first passion. My first career choice, before I eventually decided, instead of going to University of Memphis for a degree in sound engineering, I wanted to be a pastry chef instead.

I played sax for ten years, was an unashamed band geek in high school, playing in our concert, marching, and jazz band. Jazz band led me to a discovery that shaped me into who I am today: music of decades past. It started with Glen Miller and led to Harry Connick Jr., Frank Sinatra, B.B. King, Ray Charles, (old) Elvis of his most rockabilly days (that is to say, his first and third albums), and finally to the truly amazing blues/folk singing/field songs of Leadbelly, Big Boy Arthur Cruddup, and Lightnin' Hopkins.

I listen to stuff from today, too - various genres, and am continually trying to open my mind to music I wouldn't normally listen to. But there is nothing - nothing - that makes me feel as peaceful as putting on The Sensational Ray Charles, pulling the needle to the right, a sharp "click" as the record starts spinning, the slight scratch of the needle hitting the record, that muffled and soulful voice that emanates through the static and clicks of a vinyl record player, while I lay on my couch with eyes closed and let it wash over me.

Friends poke fun at me. I'm okay with this. When I got a new iPod a few weeks ago and told my sister what I had put on it so far she paused, thinking, and asked "what decade are you from?" I know I have the musical taste, generally speaking, of an 80 year old woman, and again, I'm okay with this. But what does this all have to do with food?

I'm presenting here, my top few favorite songs about food.

The Coffee Song by Frank Sinatra - I love coffee. I love Frank Sinatra. The theory of logic makes it so I have to love this song.


Everybody Eats When They Come to My House by Cab Calloway - oh Cab, you're so great. This song is catchy, funny, and represents a time when food was harder to come by; I imagine that's what inspired songs like this.


Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's by Wesley Willis - you mean to say you didn't know about schizophrenic musician Wesley Willis, that just sings absurd and bizarre lyrics over the same keyboard music? Well, this will be a good introduction for you. In case the song sounds familiar to you, it was in the film Super Size Me.


Rubber Biscuit by the Blues Brothers - originally done by The Chips, this song is weird and makes no sense as it's mostly scat singing. The Blues Brothers version is my preference. I wish I could scat.


All That Meat and No Potatoes by Fats Waller - Fats clearly has some strong opinions about what should be on his dinner plate.


Spam Song by Monty Python


They're Red Hot by Robert Johnson


Nutrition by Dead Milkmen - If you don't give a shit about anything else, care about your own nutrition. (If you're like me and don't listen to a lot of punk and can't tell what he's saying, lyrics are here.)


Eat Steak by Reverend Horton Heat - a damn good song about steak by a damn good rockabilly band.


Satan Gave Me a Taco by Beck - a warning against taking any food, especially tacos, from Satan. From a pre-"Loser" Beck album, containing mostly his own home recordings and random noises.


And finally, don't forget about Weird Al's entire Food Album.