Sunday, October 31, 2004

Death Before Dishonor

Think we're lowly kitchen scum? We are. But you know what?, We take more pride in what we do on a daily basis more than virtually any other "respectable" occupation you can think of. We are are own harshest critics. Personally, I hate people. I know from my posts this might be hard to believe but bear with me, it's true. Think that because of what I write here that I take customers for granted and treat them like shit? Wrong. I love and hate everything about this horrid business and will sacrifice anything and everything for it. Burned out? Maybe. Jaded? Definitely. Enough to let a minute detail go unnoticed? Not on your miserable life. It's that long forgotten virtue(?) called pride. Sure the whiney, pain in the ass,needy motherfuckers drive us all to the point of madness. Sure the sacrifice we all make on a daily basis is enough to also make us think"I have to get out of this shit", but when it comes down to it, when you strip away all the bullshit, all we have left is our pride in what we do. I'm not talking about sellout shoemakers, I'm talking about cooks or ANYONE who has the slightest vestige of principle in what they do. When a dish fails either in conception or execution, for that brief instant my life is ruined and I am shit. There is no"getting over it". There's no "Aww dude, it's not the end of the world". Yes it is fucker. Granted, these feeling pass but it grounds us and let's us know that we actually care about what the fuck we're doing. That in itself is a great feeling. That brief realization after the self flogging ends to know you actually give a shit. It's one of the hardest parts of this odyssey. The majority of people tell you how great everything was and all you do is rip apart the things you felt could be better. "Ohhhhhhh...the souffle of sea urchin was like Heaven!" And all I think is, Heaven? I don't want that! I want you to feel like you wiped out in a wave and ate the beach! Therefore, I think I failed. To me Heaven just doesn't sound that glorious.
My point is that after all the headaches, all the insulting ridiculousness, we already have seen our shortcomings and are ready, willing and able to do our own version of better next time. Most are willing to settle for something less. But for us, settling for "good enough" is a personal affront. I think all my work is garbage. Maybe I've set my personal standards too high and it drives most of my kitchen staff nuts, but as far as I think, if you settle for good enough, you've less importantly let down your diner(they rarely notice) , but you've failed yourself. A simple thing like a dinner roll can destroy an entire evening. ONE ROLL!!! If a poorly risen roll is ever served, it negates all the other things you've pulled off. No one sees it but us. Everyone is happy except us. It's truly strange that bunch of predominantly foul mouthed, uncaring, harsh, egotistical sociopaths actually care so much about what they do. It's admirable and honorable and I am fiercely proud of caring so much about what we do. Cooking. We feed people. What is more important and communal? Nothing.

Friday, October 29, 2004


Can you just make them? Or maybe how about not walking in with a party of 12 unannounced on a Saturday night. What is so goddamned hard about making reservations? I'm sure you have a cell phone as you probably be talking loudly on it in the dining room. Ever heard of common consideration? I'm not talking about popping in to Maggiano's Little Italy( or little travesty) Quiznos for a quick bite. I'm talking about the absolute refusal for diners to make reservations at upscale places and then get all pissy when they can't get seated (or served) right away. Oh well. Guess you should have made a reservation because the people that did are going to get preferential treatment. Is it really that hard? Why do people spend the majority of their time on their absolutely insanely annoying cell phones talking about the most useless shit but when it comes time for something that might be necessary, they seem to forget they have them. We can plan our whole entire lives out, but when it comes to such trivial events as when and where you're going to dinner, this as a incredible stumbling block. Just make a fucking reservation.
If you don't, don't bitch when the waiter takes to long to get to you. We've staffed the floor according to reservations and what's in town. We ran out of squab? Oh well. I only ordered so many based on reservations, a few walk ins and historical sales. You should have made a reservation and you would have gotten it. " Little short staffed tonight huh?"..Yeah. None of you assholes let us know you were coming.
You always plan for walk ins..(of course if you over plan, you'll be dead) but Wed was like the seen in Dawn of the Dead where they're all outside the mall trying to get in. They started circling two hours before service ...shielding their eyes, staring in through the windows....waiting. All they have to do is walk in and make a reservation . Could they? Nope. Fuck that. That's too much planning. "Would you care to make a reservation?" .." Ummm no..we'll just come back around 7".....ok Kenny Rogers...Mr. Gambler...roll the dice and see what happens. You'll probably have a great time. If too many others think like you, you're gonna be shit outta luck. You do of course have the power to change this. Just make a reservation. And for Christ's sake, don't just show up with a banquet. I don't care who you are or where you are, if you show up unannounced with 10-12 people ( especially if the kind of asshole who says, " It could be 9 but it might be as many as 14") you are an inconsiderate idiot. If you're going to try to broaden your horizons beyond Fuddruckers (Isn't THAT a fun sounding name. Good times I'll bet!) do it on your own a few times until you get the hang of it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Raw And The Cooked

So now we're not supposed to cook food now? I'm getting a little tired of these joyless, pasty white, emaciated raw food junkies spouting their version of "healthy lifestyles". A life without cooked food would suck. Hard. Think of the pleasure you refuse yourself and tell me that that's "healthy"
The concept of raw food is one I can agree with. Food heated beyond 118 deg. loses the majority of enzymes and nutrients. Ok. So?. Who cares? You can live just as long and just as healthy by eating ANY vegetables. These people are like joyless moonies...." Must live to 100"..."Must not see light of day"...." Must not partake of anything edibly luxurious". It's no different than staunch, in your face Vegans telling us all how THEIR way is better. No it's not. It's better for YOU, and that's fine. The premiere RAW food restaurant Roxanne's closed recently. I'm sorry to see any restaurant close (unless their truly bad) because I know how much it takes to get them going in the first place. But as brilliant a display of what raw food can be, it just sounds sterile and clinical. Like a trip to the doctor's office. There's no mention of a technique that puts the image in your head first. People don't go out to eat to be healthy nor do I believe the majority want to be healthy enough to do more than wish they were healthy.. If they're concerned with health, they live a healthy life and then go out to blow it. Can you think of anything more unpleasant than a meal where nothings cooked? First off, it's gonna be room temp. I don't like my food blistering, but I want it hotter than 118 deg. tops. Next,it's going to be raw. Nothing slowly braised until every protein turns into a little barely holding together bit of flavor. Of course, there's no meat to braise anyway. I try to imagine if a kitchen where nothing is cooked actually smells like a kitchen. Meat blood searing. Onions and garlic roasting. Bread baking. All the things that brings a rush of childhood, a sense of tranquility and at the same time excitement. Carnal desire. And, the feeling of...I wanna!
Freshly baked bread is my downfall. Smelling it bake and pulling it out of the oven I can easily devour 1/2 a loaf. Now imagine a professional kitchen where there were no kitchen smells. What desire would there be to eat, taste and cook? MMMMMM....smell that dehydrated tomato! Makes you want to head right out to that yoga class huh? And the soy cheese! Man, nothing I like better than a cheese plate with soy or cashew cheese. No, I want a steak cooked a perfect medium rare, or a chicken roasted until it falls off the bone, or a big goddamn lambshank braised in red wine until it melts. And I want my vegetables cooked too. I'll eat my raw food in the salad. I hate food overcooked, but raw just seems silly in a restaurant. I'm more than happy to cook for Vegans, vegetarians and even raw foodists ( I like challenges what can I say) but an entire movement? Trying to actually qualify such nonsense with arguments that this is how the cavemen ate and look how healthy they were. Healthy maybe, but can you imagine how fucking happy they were to discover fire and get to cook their food? I'm tired of people in 2004 trying to get back to the way things were in the Paleozoic period. Why not just eat. I'm tired of people trying to turn eating ,and now COOKING, into some kind of new age evil. Wanna really help humanity? Destroy the disgusting, souless, murderous, obesity inducing, hop-into-bed-with-the medical-industry food corporations. These are the ones keeping society unhealthy. Not us. Not the ones who cook and not cooked food itself. To me there's bigger food related health issues than whether or not someone cooks food.
Ever wonder where normality lies? It lies somewhere between our Orwellian president with his cameras up your ass and forcing you to take your shoes off before flying bullshit and these special interest groups that have nothing better to do than FIND a cause. Wanna eat raw? Hey go's your choice. But don't go around telling everyone what's wrong with society is that we've cooked all the enzymes out of it. Life is shitty enough without having to deprive ourselve's of somthing as pleasurable as cooked food. And if it gives you the energy of a 10 year old, please keep your invigorated, peppy ass away from me.
Cooking food is bad now. Christ I can't wait for what's next.

Monday, October 25, 2004

If Bathroom Walls Could Talk, They'd Scream

You know you're headed into a good night when one of your first parties arrives drunk and promptly blows her entire stomach all over the bathroom. Now that's class! I think in any customer service business we are uniquely privy to the worst of human behavior. It seems the higher up the income bracket the customer is, the worse the behavior becomes. I always thought bathrooms were for basically ...going to the bathroom and washing up. I was way off. Here's a few things that have happened in several bathrooms in several restaurants. The above scenario is the most recent. When I worked in Maryland, a customer's colostomy bag burst in the bathroom. That was awesome. One time a customer went in to the bathroom, locked the door and had a stroke. About 7 firemen and paramedics were there to add a little levity to the evening. At another place a toiled overflowed so we called the plumber to snake it and about 10 condoms were found. I found a squirrel tail in one once and a teddy bear with all the stuffing pulled out in another. A couple went into a bathroom one time for yet another convenient use and ended up in one of the greatest screaming matches I've ever heard. The entire restaurant went silent and we finally had to ask them to leave. After listening and laughing at them for about 10 minutes. I've had faucets stripped and pictures stolen, not to mention the the toilet paper. I found a bartender passed out in one while I was locking up. The Ritz Carlton has telephone jacks (one marked "fax") right next to the shitter. I might be old fashioned but I think some things take precedence over getting a fax.
I wish the walls could talk as I'm sure they have better stories than we could ever imagine.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I've Got a New Pet!!!

I'll call him MyLittleMonkey
You know you're doing something good when MyLittleMonkey spends his time scrutinizing my posts, failing to understand the concept of sarcasm and venting, and my personal favorite pointing out hypocrisy. I told someone not to hit the publish button twice yet I do it sometimes. So? MyLittleMonkey calls me an ungrateful prick (I love it!) because I vent about the irony and Murphy's law of this business. I'm grateful for every dime my customers spend. Am I grateful for what we have to put up with to get it ? Not by a fucking long shot. I'll leave the "yessa boss" dick sucking to my MyLittleMonkey. I'm so grateful I open the doors and cook for free for them once a year shithead. We give to the community, we work our fingers to the bone and we treat our customers like gold. We treat our employees the best we can. Apparently this is a problem for MyLittleMonkey.
MyLittleMonkey calls me childish. Yep. I act like a fucking 7 year old sometimes.
Another favorite MyLittleMonkey told me I was "fucked in the head". I'm so proud of MyLittleMonkey!! He figured that out on his own!? I've only said I was about a hundred times.
Do you think I tell the people that show up five minutes before we close they can't eat? No, they get the best we can give them.That's why they keep coming back. If you like when they do that, YOU'RE fucked in the head. Liking something and dealing with it are two different things. We deal with it. Sometimes I do it by leaving. I don't want my mood to rub off on my employees and set the tone for their work. Someday you'll have the luxury and sense to do the same thing. My kitchen doesn't need me babysitting them.
It's the same when somebody shows up at MyLittleMonkey's place and says "Can I have a 2 Value Meals?" You know, you're almost done mopping and now look.
I know what you're thinking MyLittleMonkey. You're thinking "well you chose this line of work"..yeah I sure did. Kind of. "Well if you don't like it get out" Why would I do that? I love it! I also love bitching about assholes. Actually it a lot simpler, if you don't like what I write, don't read it. I know you have to MyLittleMonkey, you're obsessed with it now.
These are of course, only his opinions and as flattering as they are, he's certainly entitled to them. That's why I love my new LittleMonkey so much. I'm sure his other owners love him too.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Sound of Silence

Let me preface this with I used to be a screamer. I was one of the bad ones. I would scream at cooks, dishwashers , general managers( my favorites) and waitpeople like they were totally worthless. I rarely scream anymore. I lose my shit sometimes , but all in all I generally go about shit in a concentrating state of controlled frustration. Part of the growing process as a chef is realizing screaming does nothing to make people learn. All it does is make you look like an out of control asshole. I have no need anymore to give instruction with the hint of "look how much I know". I've already proven what I know by being where I am. I have nothing to prove to anyone. Thomas Keller is one of the most notorious screamers of all time and even he realized you get the point across more with quiet, obvious dissatisfaction. For some reason it's more insulting . Being a chef is being a HOPEFUL role model for a generation of cooks. All I ask is they show up on time with a good attitude. I don't expect them to do as much in as little time as me, if they could, they wouldn't be working FOR me. I've been in kitchens for 24 years. Longer than some have been alive. You can't make someone you. You can't make them think like you. You set a standard for yourself and the only person that has to live up to that IS you. Don't get me wrong, I still want to wring cooks necks when they move slow or work in clutter or don't multi-task in a logical and sensible order i.e. Don't put your braises off, do them first. If your mincing shallots, do you have the chocolate melting for the petit fours, the onions caramelizing and the pasta dough kneading at the same time? Are you prepping for today or is that a given and you're thinking about the next day? If not, you're behind. Chances are they are not. So what are you gonna do? Give them shit until they quit? Give yourself more headaches hoping the next guy shows up? No. Deal with it. Lighting a fire under someone's ass is waaay different than condescending to them and making them feel like shit. We have an unbelievable workload and my cooking staff consists of me, my sous chef and two cooks. that's 2. not twelve, not twenty. We cure our own meats. Make all our own chacrouterie. We buy nothing pre-portioned. Pastas, desserts, petit fours, even crackers for our cheese plates are made in house. Lunch, dinner a separate bar menu every day. On weekends, mind warpingly labor intensive specials are the norm. They even help produce small sub menus that occur when I need to satisfy the few and far between "foodie". Then they help the dishdog. The fact that we produce as much as we do is mind boggling, so that in itself is testament to their dedication to the restaurant, myself and the kitchen I run. My cooks get props because they don't have attitudes. We all do what needs to be done. They are individuals and need to be respected as such. I'll take them over any primadonas that think they're above doing anything that needs to be done. Sure, I'll still give them shit if they do something truly boneheaded, but I don't insult them. Usually anyway. They know me and they know I'm there also. They don't have the luxury of thinking they do all the work. If they are having a bad day, we all like to think.."leave that shit at home". Ask yourself, do you? Not always. It's not possible. You can't be pissed at them because everyone can't coordinate the bad personal days. All you can do is tell what to do, hope it gets done and if it doesn't, look at the big picture. Break it down to the upcoming service. Just get through it, make your customers happy( except the shitheads, send them straight to Hell) and do it all again tomorrow and tomorrow I'll have to tell show them how to clean the sea urchins again and tell them, make sure they bake of the creme brulees while they're cleaning up. Again. It's just not that big a deal as it will always get done.
I like a quiet , busy, on top of your shit service. Screaming means you're not on top of your shit. It puts people on edge and they can't do their best. Everyone loses.
Waiters are your salespeople and they do a job that we simply couldn't. If I had to put up with what they have to take, I would end up just beating the living shit out of a customer. I'm generally a little less lenient on the waiters because a) They're the face of the restaurant on a more constant level b) I buy them all the tools they need to do their job and they reward me by breaking all my shit c) They make lot's of money with my tools. But still, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Just a minute though. As long as the customer likes them and they provide good service, fuck what you think of them personally. They are the ones that handsell a chefs work. Without them it's a broken machine.
Of course, there are employee exceptions to any rule, but either the problem or the people will naturally weed itself out. If not, don't scream , just SACK THEIR ASSES!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

It's Not Very Busy, Can't He Just....

No. It's not a matter of whether I can or not, It's WILL I. Don't you love when people want something special and then think the phrase" Why not? it's not very busy" is going to somehow magically work for them. Not busy? Not if you think you're the only person in the dining room. Did you happen to notice the other 30 people that sat down at the exact same time as you? Did you notice there were other people here when you walked in? Did you notice the other people walking in after you?.. Fuck you. This is one of those rage inducing questions because they actually think that they know what constitutes busy for us. How about the fact my dining room is filling up (all at the same time of course). How about the fact that I'm already pissed of at the cheap ass vegan who's companion is only having a bowl of soup. We won't mention the fact he is wearing a captain's hat. What's that about? What's with people that wear captain's hats? No he's not a sailor, just a dimwit. How about the fact that I have a serious foodie in house and I decided to turn my concentration to them for a minute. I'm totally spent from a bust ass busy weekend and earlier in the day I already relaxed by cranking out about 70 fucking brunches then, after taking a break for 30 minutes went immediately into dinner prep and menu adjustments. Wouldn't you love to walk into some doctor's office and demand he see you NOW! He's only with one other patient. Or maybe go to your mechanic and see if he can "just find that little noise real quick"..I mean HE'S not very busy is he? How self importantly presumptuous to assume I'm not very busy. Then the clincher was telling the waiter.."That's not very American".. Yes it is, It's extremely American. We're the rudest, meanest, crassest culture on Earth and I wouldn't want it otherwise.
Outsiders don't have the slightest clue what we have to do. Or maybe, just maybe we're fucking exhausted. Don't come in with demands and insult us by saying we're not very busy. You might spend the better part of your week at the gym and tediously pursuing hard to find hair products When you were working, we were working. When you were off, we were working. We're always busy. Play nice and you'll get what you want, act like you're the only person that I'm cooking for and you get nothing. Push it, and the waiter will disappear.
Right you spoiled shit. I'm not very busy. Amuses, intermezzos, vegans, petit fours, all the other diners don't exist in your world, only mine.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

HE'S The Chef, You've Got To Meet Him

No you don't. You don't have to meet me. I don't particularly want to leave my sanctuary. Did you ever think maybe, just maybe I might be in the zone working? I zone out. There is nothing else that even exist for me when I'm working. I don't want to stop what I'm doing, find a coat that's cleanish, get another apron and torchon and leave my post. If I go to your table I'll stand there like an idiot thinking about what's on the stove burning. I'm not a particularly attractive man, I don't feel comfortable inflicting myself on my customers and I hate rattling off the same thing I always do. "Thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves". Then all the other diners feel neglected if I don't go to THEIR table. If I don't, I become the temperamental"artist". I must admit I like the term. Even though I don't care to be called an artist, I like the word temperamental. One review called me a tortured artist. Like there's some nobility in it. All being tortured does is fuck up your creative juices with worry. I like being crazy, but I don't like worrying about shit. I don't like being tortured and that's what this business does to you. Cooking a plate of food gives me about 1-2 minutes of peace. That's it. Don't get me wrong, I am so appreciative of creating something someone actually likes, I can't put it into words. The fact that you enjoyed it means I did my job well and you are happy. Let's leave it at that shall we? Let's not ruin this relationship by getting to know each other on some other level. I don't want to hear about where you ate last night or tell you how I learned. I don't want to know that you cook at home"but nothing like this" and I don't..really don't, want to hear about your kids. ESPECIALLY if one is going to cooking school. "Johnny's going to be a chef one day!" THAT PUSSY? No he's not. I especially like the people who have no idea what they just ate. I've spent my entire life in hot, steamy, deadline filled box and it's the only place I can function. I am entirely a product of my environment and can't function in any other social situation. Ok, maybe drinking in a bar where I don't have to get too chummy.
I like a lot of customers but they know me and know I'll come and talk when I'm ready or IF I'm ready. There's a reason we're behind the swinging doors.
-It's not that I hate people, I just feel better when they're not around- and I've found that most people are guilty of being part of this species. Most. Some I don't know what the Hell they are. I had one guy today poke his head in the door at lunch, started screaming some gibberish and then continued walking down the street screaming and directing traffic. That's really what I wanted to do. I was actually resentful. Such freedom insanity.
Here's a God awful situation I'll soon be subjected too. I was invited to some of our regulars house for dinner. Wonderful people. Nicest people in the world, devoted customers and not a bad bone in their body. That's the problem. All my bones are bad. I have nothing..ZERO in common with them. Plus, they're Jesus freaks. No drugs, no drink, no smoke. Besides cooking, those are my main hobbies. Just praising God for everything. If they were cool and I could go and get smoked out with them it would be one thing, but I really don't want to be subjected to hearing about all the trips they take or how much their house cost. Jesus must have bought it for them. What kind of spiritual loan shark is he anyway?. Don't even get me started on the organized religion racket. Maybe I could entertain them with how I can't afford to go to the doctor. Or maybe how my entire financial future could crumble in a month. Maybe Jesus could spring for the exhaust hood that blew at $2000.00. Oh....I've got lot's of stories! I feel like a total shit for feeling this way about such a kind and generous offer, but don't people understand not everyone cares for human interaction?
Can't we just have an easily recognized division of labor? YOU be the customer, and I'll cook for you. I DO like you, I just don't want to be friends with you unless we have a lot in common. Like good weed, pharmaceuticals, loud, fast punk/thrash music and a sarcastic mean streak a mile wide. All with a healthy dose of skeptical unacceptance. And for God's sake, don't come into the kitchen to meet me! "CAN'T YOU SEE I'M WORKING!"

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Just For The Record

This blog is for people in the restaurant business. A lot of things in it apply to many fields that require passion. What it is NOT is a guide Q/A site for home cooks. It's a site for professionals in every field to fucking bitch, share familiar anecdotes and generally say fuck the world. Even at home or in doing ANYTHING your own interest should guide you. Wanna fix motorcycles? get one and take the fucker apart. Wanna cook? then start cooking. If you can't guide yourself, I can't help you.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


"How do you come up with all this stuff?" I hate this question, and maybe by ranting a little about it I'll figure the answer out. Then maybe instead of dreading the question (I honestly don't know, it just comes to me) I'll have an answer. I can sit at a traffic light and an idea pops into my head. I can look at a box of Pop Tarts and I wanna go"try something." I can lay out a row of pills and wonder " See how neatly they're all laid out? That would make a cool presentation" Right now..Right here I'm going to create a new word. "Craftist". I hate referring to ourselves as artists...too pretentious. But it IS an art form. It is also a craft. I flip flop on the term so , like the creation of a dish, I'll split the difference to suit myself. Kenny Shopsin equated creativity and fusion( I'll let him slide on the term) with " Sticking your dick in the wrong hole." He says" There's a certain friction , a sexual friction that's created when you put an ingredient in a dish that's not supposed to go there. This ..doing something you're not supposed to do.Sometimes it doesn't work, but a lot of times it does."
I think any great craftist starts with a fucked up mind. We don't think in the same linear fashion as we are taught. We're the ones that always had to know why something worked a certain way, In math class remember how the robot would always tell you "Well the answer is right, but you went about it wrong." What the fuck is that? I used a different approach and ended up in the same place? Who cares? I think this is what I hated about school. They only teach you in one way. That, and I was such a weirdo I could never fuck the cheerleaders. I think the eternal question WHY leads to contrariness in our "because it is" way of Western linear thought. Most of us have never followed the rules and have ended up being the foremost proponents of tradition. I find myself saying..."you do it that way, because that's the way it's done" a lot. But only in the hopes that whoever I'm attempting to teach will learn the rules in order to break them sensibly. And regularly. I hate convention yet despise ungrounded innovation.
It is contrariness that makes our minds look outside the box. I quit high school but read voraciously. Most times I feel like everything is pointless and at the same time feel like I can do anything. It's a neverending conflict in my mind and this is what I mean by a fucked up mind. It just doesn't follow a normal course of thought. I hate it. Then someone will say " well, why don't you see a doctor to straighten it all out?" Because I like it. See what I mean?
I live in my own head. I don't think I'm alone in there though, I just don't see my neighbors as anything other than ideas. Shapes, colors,textures, questions...techniques , creation are the only things that give me peace. Sure, it will drive you crazy but who is sane? As long as you can walk normally and give brief impressions of sanity, you're fine.
A deeply troubled and quizical mind is technique.
The next part is the tools. Your idea bank. Aquired knowledge. You can't rule ANYTHING out. Things you hate, things you love, all your training, every dish you've ever eaten, every painting you've ever seen, every touch, every philosophy - Everything- forms this great resourse that your contrary technique can use. You have to keep this idea bank fed on a daily basis. It's like a shark. If it doesn't swim it dies. Without inspiration, what's the point? You can't force it though. It's a natural occurence. Sometimes you have to force it because you have a deadline, but this is where we critique ourselves and go " God, that sucked." Fortunately most people don't see it, but we do. The hardest part is not killing yourself when you hit a down period. You're simply recharging. I used to think I had do my most original, creative stuff on a daily basis. Now I sometimes go a week without any ideas. Culinary writer's block I guess. This is when you have to rely on just good old fashioned cooking. Just make a really good, simple roast chicken. Or a plate of linuine with clam sauce ( you have to make perfect linguine though, not that boxed shit). Cook simple for a while and your head will reboot and you'll suddenly have that idea you were looking for. One style spurs the other. This is also why we never relax. When we cook to relax, it just makes us think more and that's when we wake up a 4:30 am and say" Fuck a roast chicken."
Being a fanatical craftist has destroyed any sense of normality in my life. I feel sorry for my family, my friends and anyone I've ever been in a relationship with. I can't change and for 99.9% percent of the people , it's too hard to deal with. Remember the scene in Amadeus where Mozart was in a billiard room...just rolling the balls around the table, bouncing them off each other, stone cold silent except for the the billiard balls. His wife walks in and he screams.." CAN'T YOU SEE I'M WORKING!!!!".. Well, that's what craftism is. For that I'm sorry. Alienating and isolating, but only in OUR heads.

Oh well, at least we have each other.

Monday, October 11, 2004

How To Become a Chef Today

Here's how you do it.
1) Go to any cooking school
2) Work for a month here and a month there for really GOOD chef's who've paid their dues
3) Don't learn how to cook. Fuck learning how to make mashed potatoes correctly, make wasabi mashed potatoes.
4) Don't read anything about food or cooking except glossy magazines
5) Carry around evey little kitchen gadget and 20 dull knives in a big briefcase
6) Land a executive chef's job and freak out when you have to think on the fly. Then yell at everybody for your own inabilities.

Isn't it enough we have to have the public insult our intelligence on a daily basis without having to deal with these young , little twerps that see a chef on t.v and discover their true calling? I discovered mine when I was about 7 or 8. For some reason I always liked arranging cheese and crackers for the family. I then made strudel dough from a book and stretched it across our kitchen table. I didn't do anything with it as my friends came over and we had to go blow some shit up, but nonetheless it was so thin you could see through it. In hindsight, I guess I was destined for this profession. Years of sacrifice, verbal abuse, ungodly hours and reading...reading...reading..working...working...working...and Voila! Here I am! Broke because I have principles. Anyway, my point is I don't ever recall saying" I wanna be a chef!" I just took jobs because restaurant jobs were easy to get. Washing dishes, then doing a little veg. prep AND washing dishes. Helping the cooks and washing THEIR fucking dishes. Eventually making some salads...helping the busboys break the rungs out of the chairs so they would collapse under the customer. Slowly...verrrrry slowly working my way up. I don't ever recall thinking I was too good for whatever job I was doing. I was learning tons but didn't realize it. It was just work to me. I remembered every single thing I had to do.
Nowadays try teaching some snot how to cook. They don't want to learn how to cook. They want to learn how to make money and have people tell them how great they are. As I said before I'm on the " Star Chefs" site. When you get elected they have a big ceremony and one of the things you have to do is be on a panel of chef's speaking to culinary students. What a scary, disinterested lot this was. I'm just looking at these kids and thinking.."You're going to fail horribly". Not all I guess, but most. Then you're assigned a couple of student helpers who follow you around, keeping you from smoking cigarettes and scouting for potential chef groupies. One kid who was particularly annoying just came right out and asked...."What's the fastest way to get to where you are?"
I wanted to shove his head in the toilet. "There's no fast way to get anywhere good" I told him.
He kept on.."Does it take a long time to become a chef?"..."I was I get out of school, I could like.. get a job in a restaurant." It made me think. You just got a lecture from a bunch of chefs on how we got where we are and you didn't even listen. And this is the future of cooking. It the same as writing, painting, designing clothes ...ANYTHING . You have to want to do it more than anything else in your life. If it doesn't consume you ..GET OUT QUICK! If you think making fresh pasta and cleaning 30 lbs of fish is boring and gross. Quit. Please.We don't want you. Don't insult us and don't ruin your own lives. Most of all don't insult us, or we'll ruin your lives worse than you could ever hope to. If you have no passion about anything ...if someone asks you what really gets you fired up and you can't answer, you're a worthless human being to me.
What's wrong with this generation of "artists" who don't believe in the most important part of the learning process. The sacrifice. Wanna train to be a chef AND have a life ? Go fuck yourself.
I hate and am actually kind of scared where cooking is headed. I feel like a dinosaur most days. Mostly though I get worried that I'm gonna stroke out from some asshole that's too important to learn to cook properly. If you roll your eyes when I show you how to make gnochi guess what, next you'll be taking out the trash because my dishwasher is a lot more valuable than you. I'm not really a screamer anymore but I'm not so sure this is a good thing.

I Like Killing Flies

I watched an independent film last night called "I like Killing Flies." It was about a restaurant owner/chef named Kenny Shopsin. This might quite possibly be the best food/restaurant movie I have ever seen. Shopsin's restaurant is in New York, some of you might be familiar with it but I wasn't. It is a low budget documentary about the life and philosophies of Kenny Shopsin, one of the coolest, most down to earth, intelligent and abrasive restauranteurs I've had the pleasure of watching. It is straight from the trenches and almost made me want to say fuck "high cuisine". Almost. It took me back to the days when we weren't rock stars or celebrities, we were cooks. Ughhhh...sorry, I started to wax poetic. Back when I was nobody people came to eat my food. Now they come to find all the faults. I still feel and always will feel that I am just a good cook. It now seems food has taken a backseat to bullshit and just cooking great food is the least important part of our career. Playing the network who you know/how you look game is what it's all about now. It makes me sick. I will probably die broke because I don't prescribe to that shit. It's forced upon me and I hate it. I know I should be grateful but it's hard when you just like to cook. People's work should speak most loudly. Here's a Calvin Trillan story on him. Watching that movie made feel good for a brief instant knowing there is a person like Kenny in the world.
A favorite moment was his policy of no 6 tops. A six top walk in and he says " No fucking six tops, get out!" When the customer explained there was no-one else in there he pointed out .." No..YOU'RE in here, when you leave THEN there will be nobody in here." He then went on how you have to enforce policies.
Another great statement was "People seem to think we have some other obligation other than to open our doors and cook for them" "Fuck them, I work twice as hard as they do"
He's brilliant in his observations. "Everybody's 7 years old. See that guy? He's got a job, a wife , he's gonna die, he's a good father...he's gonna to go to work on Wall Street and slaughter a third world nation and he's having chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.""Good for him!"
I can't really relay how sincere this man is, but the core of him is his work ethic. The main point being is that there is you(cooking) and the customer. The only thing between you and them is a plate of food. Your only job at that point is to make them happy. If you don't you've failed. You've given the customer nothing and you've failed in your job. Although his style is what I'd call cool ass, funky, real diner food, this ethic can be applied at any level. We must simply make people happy with our food. Fuck ourselves and our ego. Fuck our white coats and our "look at my custom made Bonnet cooking suite" bullshit. The essence of what we do is simple and clear and it is our only obligation. Strip it down and we're paid servants. Most couldn't handle that realization. I think it makes us better than most. We're content in our place.
Finally, his most endearing belief; " People have to realize that they are pieces of shit. All the people everyone thinks of as "good"people are also pieces shit. Constantly telling yourself you're a good person is like driving a brand new car without a scratch on it, it's an enormous responsibility that is almost impossible to live up to. But if you realize you're a piece of shit, and you can do one or two good things for people, then you're ok." Right on Kenny. Right fucking on.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

It Must Be Great To Own Your Own Restaurant

Want it? Here's a good example of what a great day in the restaurant business is.
1) Buckets of rain have poured in under the molding and basically ruined a new carpet
2) No fish. Fed X didn't deliver as I was assured. (12:00)
3) Call local fish company. Listen to a five minute message about how they don't have anything.
4) 8 people for lunch
5) Sautee cook calls in can't work because of burn on foot. Can't blame them, it was pretty bad. I remember how bad mine was when I worked on it.
6) Call the fish company to track package...they call Fed X who asssures them it's on the van. (12:45)
7) Pm dishwasher still in jail..AM guy has to cover ....again.
8) Notice water has run down underneath the wall and the suface of the wall are lifting
9) Fish company calls to tell me my package is NOT on the van, but at the station and I have to go pick it up.
10) Call Fed X to find out why my package wasn't delivered, they can't find it. The bitch says she's gonna check into it and call me back. Never calls back (3:30)
11) Call Fed X AGAIN, This time they say they found it and the manager himself is going to deliver it personally. Thank God.
12) Write new menu to include incoming specialty fish
13) 5:30 pm.....still no fish. Call Fed no one knows what's going on. The assumption that the manager was waiting until closing time was made and I should just give them a little more time. Half an hour until service.
14) 6:00 no fish. We have to start out by telling the customers what we don't have. Impressive huh?..Fuck you Fed X.
15) 7:30 ..Fed X driver shows up with package. Says he just found out about it 20 min ago. These fuckers have been lying all day. Sorry. Put that shit back on your truck and get the fuck out of here.
16) Lady eats the Steamed Chocolate Pudding and halfway through asks if it has walnuts in it. Yes it does. She's of course, allergic. She told the waiter beforehand but the dumbfuck waiter didn't feel the need to relay the message to the kitchen.
17) Waiter complains about a 15% tip. The tip was $120.00. That's one table.
18) Recently repaired hood fan starts making bad bearing noises. Last year one let go and flew down the hood. My sous chef almost shit his pants. That was funny. The $3000 repair bill was sickening.
19) Lady come in drunk and wants chicken. Husband is visibly embarrassed as he should be, she was also hideous. She then says she wants a beer. A Corona Light. I thought she said beer, not piss. We don't have that garbage, so they left.
I'm sure there were other minor annoyances but you get the idea. I have to be honest and say sometimes I don't know if it's really worth it. Then you get the knowledgable foodie you send into ecstacy and it brings it all home.
Yes. Unfortunately, it IS all worth it.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Scar Wars

If this post doesn't prove the depths of our insanity, our absolute despisal of convention and rules I don't know what does. I'm talking about burns and scars. One of my cooks spilled a five gallon bucket of stock on herself last night and we all got to watch the skin peel off her foot. Neat huh? This same cook was browning some pork shanks last week and carelessly threw a shank into the oil. It also burned the skin right off her arm. Wow. She was on a roll. She's a really good cook and person so I attributed it to God's punishment of the good as I always do. Anyway, when these mishaps occurred the thing that told me I have yet another badass in the kitchen is she didn't cry out. She didn't bitch like a baby for hours. None of this.." I have to go to the hospital" pussy ass shit. I can't stand people that whine about getting burned like they're 2 years old. Fuckin' suck it up. Oh she was pissed, but she simply bandaged up and continued working.
Our scars are another bonding badge of honor. We all have them and we all talk about them with some perverse pride. Why? Because it DOES make us more badass than most. Most people if they got injured with the regularity we do, as a way of life, would find another line of work. Why? Because they're pussies that's why. Anthony Bourdain acknowleged that a kick ass female line cook with a bunch of burns on her arms is wonderful thing. I agree. Weird. Our scars also indentify us. I was sitting in a hotel bar one night maybe, 10-12 years ago and the waitress (hot of course) asked where I cooked at. I was in a different city so no one knew me. When I asked how she knew what I did for a living she kind of laughed and said.."Dude... look at your arms."... I looked down at them and sure enough...the telltale burns gave it all away. I admired her for picking up on this and rewarded her with a big fatty rail. Unfortunately, she wouldn't stop the coke babble and drove my nuts. I didn't even want to take her home at that point which was my initial plan.
One of my worst happened when someone left the gas on overnight in an oven where the pilot light was blown out. I reached in to light it and all I remember was a BOOM!! A great white flash, the smell of burning hair and then watching my arm turn into a s'more right before my eyes. It was fucking bad.Real bad. Size wise and seriousness wise. I love when people say it must be great to be a Chef. I'd usually like to throw hot oil on them and steal their wallet. That's what it's like.
I like my scars. I don't try to hide them or keep a burn from leaving a scar. I'm proud of them. It let's me and the world know I hate anything safe and conventional. I like sitting around with cooks talking about our injuries like the scene in Jaws where Hooper and Quint are comparing scars. It is part of who we are . The closest thing to pirates our safe, inhibited society will allow.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Quick Corporate Redux

My rant against corporate restaurants is not a rant against all corporations. They're not all evil. Some are founded by good, well intentioned people who have taste and sophistication and have pooled together their resources, realizing they are stronger as a unit than individuals to spread their philosophies about dining to a greater audience. They help create a more food savvy culture. We know the corporate shitheads I'm talking about as they exist in every field. The ones that care more about dumping pablum on the masses and keeping the complacent dullard mollified. Fuck them!

side note: I'm thinking of creating an actual interactive website where you, the jaded kitchen dog or insulted wealthy pain in the ass could speak with me at certain times. Yes, think about it Rhonda ( I know you still read this) would be able to talk in real time with me and I could tell you what I think of things so near and dear to you. Your hairdo. Your outdated tastes in food. Your uptight bullshit. Offensive t-shirts might also be available as I want to create as much havoc as possible to wake people up. Nothing seems to do it better than brutal honesty. More on this sometime.

When Will This Go Away

Fucking rim garnishing. Hasn't this silly fad died out already? It's the hallmark of bad cooking. The focal point of a dish should be the dish itself. This terrible habit of throwing parsley, paprika any type of seasoning mix or even syrups and oils on the rim of the plate makes me want to kill even more. It serves no purpose other than distracting a diner from the (usually) atrociousness of a dish. I don't know how it started and I was even guilty of it for about a month in the mid 80's but now it seems like every single culinary Picasso feels the need to finalize his masterpiece by throwing a bunch of shit on it. Pure lilly gilding that adds nothing but a potential mess to a dish. Refine..refine...simplicity...purity. These are the hallmarks of good cooking and good presentation. Not distraction. Or a mess on the diners sleeve. The elements of a dish should be in the dish itself not thrown all around it like some spastic mongoloid is at the helm. I'm not talking about the cerebral level of cooking where a "deconstruction" of a dish is presented. Or in the case of Ferran Adria where each element is part of a great culinary puzzle. It another one of those goddamned culinary shortcuts that prevent a cook/chef from concentrating what he's creating. No matter what he/she/heshe comes up with, a liberal scattering of some substance over the entire plate and VOILA!!! Art! "Look what I created!" It screams of tackiness and uncertainty. It's like a little kid creating what he feels is a masterpiece..."And this green fuzzy stuff over here!...That's a tree Daddy!"...
Please for the love of God stop this horrible fad.It's natural to go through garnishing trends until you fall into your own style, just don't keep on with them. You have do learn what not to do in order to learn what TO do. There is nothing more appealing than perfection surrounded by a pristine frame. Nothing to pull your eye away from the main attraction. When you think it needs one more thing"...stop..reel it in and see how perfect what your covering up is.
Leave this for the coporate chain restaurants to use as more of their "flair".

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Shithead Du Jour

Haven't had this in a while. A dine and dasher. On one hand I can relate to ripping something off and I'm all for it, but since this was my money a whole cinematic scene unfolded in my mind. I always envision things in movie form and this was no exception. This asshole ran out on a soup, a foie gras app.,a mammoth bone in ribeye, whatever he was drinking and dessert. Around $65-$70 not to mention stiffing the waiter. I went looking for him , hoping, PRAYING I would find him. No such luck but what I envisioned was catching him and giving him one of three options (after smashing his face into a brick wall once or twice)
1) simply come back and pay for his meal
2) I could call the cops
3) I could cut the steak out of his stomach.

Option one is what probably would have happened. Option three is what I would have loved to perform on him. Option two is a last resort because I hate involving cops in anything. I have no need to involve municipal bag boys who's job it is to turn a blind eye to crime and generate revenue for a municipality. I don't so much hate cops as I do the laws they support.

I just thought it would be great to see Michael Madson revive his Mr.Pink(?) role in Reservoir Dogs and cut the meal from this asshole's stomach with the same calmness and psychotic glee he tortured the cop with in the film. Was that not one of the most heartwarming and uplifting scenes in ANY movie? Dancing around with the severed ear .." Hello Hello" he asks it..then asks the cop .."Did you hear that?"

Hey Fuckhead there is a code of honor among thieves. Don't fuck over the little guy!