lost in kolkata

Story

It happens in my dreams.

At least once a month, I find myself sitting up in bed, weighed down with whatever this dream is supposed to be telling me about myself — how I can never make it to wherever it is I’m trying to find.

I get lost. I miss a bus. No one can hear me. No one helps me.

It’s an anxiousness — a longing — of trying to remember how to find things again.

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Why Kolkata? Well, I spent some time there nearly a decade ago. And while it was intense, I left feeling exhausted, but full of life and life’s unfairness. I left with a bigger (and aching) heart. Everything had changed for me.

A lot happened in that decade. I got married to a girl I met there. We had a wonderful and sometimes shitty marriage that led one of us to shift a bit more than the other. And with that, I decided to shift too. I was too stubborn to fight for something I felt was a lost cause. Maybe we both did.

I found cooking. I found my way back home.

That, I at least have figured out. I know where I am now, and I do know what I’m doing. At least I think.

When I wake up after my dreams, I take a sip of water and attempt to let it leave my brain. I listen to the white noise of the machine next to me drown out anything that might keep me awake. Because when you live by yourself, noise can be safety. It can also be a scarier thing.

There’s not always a way out. Rarely do I discover the destination and mostly end up leaning against a wall, hoping someone will grab me by the arm and take me. Anywhere. Anywhere that isn’t the hopelessness of feeling lost and abandoned.

The relief that is waking up to your own bed. Safe. Warm. That you have a good job to walk into with good people that believe what it is you want to do. That is a thing I never take for granted, and it feels almost dreamlike if I’m being honest with myself.

But I know I will sink back into it. That same dream. Perhaps after I’ve been talking about it with someone over too much wine and food. The reality of life’s intensity, its sadness and its overwhelming ability to make me feel tiny and gigantic.

I suppose I got lost in Kolkata, and I haven’t been able to fully find it again. Maybe it needed to stay there, on the streets with smoking charcoal and exhaust from buses and rickshaws and angry men.

I found a lot more than I lost,

the city of joy,

and that which lives within.

Podcasts with Everything is OK

Food, Story

In the past year I have done TWO super cool podcasts with my friend David.

He and a couple of his friends (who all reign from the OK state) started a podcast to talk about all sorts of things. I reckon’ that’s what they’re for, anyhow.

He asked me a little over a year ago to share my journey from Mississippi to Oregon and back again. (And everything in between.) That podcast you can right here!

And recently, we caught with one another, roughly recapping the year and talking about chicken sandwiches and God and the church. So many things.

You can find the newest episode here!

Okay.

I hope you all have a great week.

See you soon.

-josh

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rest

Food, Health, Hospitality Industry

I picked a profession that doesn’t allow for much brain rest.

In fact, it’s a job that prides itself on being the most busiest and most tired. I would be lying if I didn’t feel good sometimes about having a really long day. I kind of like being tired, but I don’t like what it perpetuates.

I’ve done what I’ve had to do in the restaurant biz, and I have it really easy. This is the first time ever, working in the industry, that making a living and rest have evened out. Sure, some weeks are more tiring and require me to be present 60+ hours a week. Then I get some weeks where I actually eat about three meals a day. Some days I even get to sit down for them.

But that’s just been my life for the past 10 years.

I’ve decided to take a break from drinking, among other things. I’m doing this for a lot of reasons, currently for my body/mind health. Alcohol is the sneakiest one. Part of me is doing it so that I can drink a beer or a glass of wine in my 50’s and 60’s and be okay.

Also, I was just feeling really awful after drinking. More so than usual. I try to pay attention. Sometimes, your brain goes straight to “make this feel better immediately” — cue alcohol, food, sugar, dumb TV.

There is a pressure to medicate.

Rarely do I have two days off in a row that I can not be at the restaurant. Currently, it’s not so bad. I have a great crew who take care of things and do a super job at it. This is worth its weight in gold. Any chef or manager will tell you the weight lifted off your shoulders when you can be gone from your business and know things are being taken care of properly.

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I draw back into myself on days like this. I have some time to dream, for myself and for the business. This is the most important thing. You cannot be inspired if you are stuck frying eggs and fixing drains tired, because we do that more than anything most days.

There is also some guilt to self care. “You’re not drinking!? Bummer!!”
Man, don’t ever say that to someone. You never know what demons someone is fighting.

My mind is wracked with guilt about how this business is done. How some of us can make livings and other cannot. Some of that comes with how much people are willing to pay for food. Then there are other things like the thinnest margins of profit, mixed with food cost and labor and rent.

Some part of my mind wonders what it’d be like to work for a large business and I didn’t have to carry that weight. I try to fight the good fight, and hope that being good to our employees means not making them feel like shit if they mess up.

Grace, not just by us, but also by customers is important.

You can make all the difference in the world by being understanding that mistakes will happen. The pressure to not disappoint is insurmountable. So, when we do, we feel kind of crushed. To you, it seems like a fairly easy job, but there is also a lot of love that goes into these things, and when you misinterpret it for lazy and dumb, it really goes a long way to mess with our heads.

So you have one of the biggest parts here. Be a good diner, and support the folks trying to make a living and a better life for themselves. Some of us really love this work, and people are the hardest things to navigate.

Getting back to what I want to say, out of all of this, is to to rest your mind. Quiet the voices and remember your place in the grand scheme of everything moving around us. Get a massage. Go for a walk. Watch something that will make you laugh.

Be kind to your brain and your body. Listen to it. Give it a break. The weight of the cosmos is always pressing down on it, so just be aware of the pressures it has to handle without the stresses of moving in the world.

Allow some wiggle room for things to be sloppy if you need the dishes to sit for a few hours. Allow yourself to drift off into a nap without feeling like your to-do list will be waiting for you when you wake up. There are always things we could be doing, just remember to fit yourself in.

Love yourself, and leave room for the world to love you in return.

 

ramen night.

Food, Story

If I can tell you any truth, it is that I had no idea what I was doing.

This goes beyond “Fake it til’ you make it”, because if we’re all being honest, we do know what we’re doing, or at least trying to do. Whether or not it’s the quality you desire, it just takes time and practice.

A few months ago, I had a person on Instagram (Who I’ve actually never met, nor do I know) from Hattiesburg message me about doing a Ramen night at our restaurant. I brushed it off because we do sandwiches and salads mostly. Like most ideas others toss on me to mull over, I rejected almost immediately. But, I let this one marinate and it got under my skin.

The masochistic part of me, which most chefs are to some extent, knew we would be crushed. I laid awake at night trying to figure it out. I also know that in general, if I set my mind to it, I can probably overcome the “drag” part of my brain that really just wants to sit in my chair and play Overwatch all day.

I made a batch at home, inspired by Ivan Ramen. I figured if anyone was going to have an idea how to sell this stuff to a crowd in south Mississippi, it would be him. Technically, it’s very labor intensive. I had to source a lot of ingredients online, as well as a few different asian markets in the south.

After all was said and done (around 11pm) I finally had my composed bowl of ramen and it was insane. There was depth. There was some element of magic. It worked. Afterwards I thought, “Okay. I guess I can do this now.”

So, I set a date and it blew up. I knew it would. People like ramen. It’s cool. It’s fun. If done right, it is so completely satisfying. Like a big hug or a good conversation.

The word kept spreading, and I kept feeling it in my stomach.

“I’m going to have a make an epic shit ton of this.” I kept thinking.

Along with ramen, I wanted a few other fun snacks. We had Okonomiyaki, Tofu Coney Island (our token vegan option) and Chaschu Pork Cubanos, also inspired by Ivan Orkin.

Between working on the line and my usual daily toils, it took me about three days to prep. The day of the event, I spent in the zone. Pacing myself. I was already tired and the event wasn’t for another six hours. I was caught up, so I went home and laid down for thirty minutes. I somehow managed to doze off for ten minutes, but it was enough for my brain to restart. I felt good. I felt excited.

The kitchen crew showed up. I hurriedly ran through each part of our line. They seemed blitzed a bit. It was a lot at once, but I knew way before we began that they would handle it. We made everything once. Let the staff try it and everything got a full mouthed “thumbs up”.

I walked across the dining room to see a line stretched around our building. I figured people would be piling up. But not that many.

I gave the go ahead to our FOH to open the doors.

For the next three hours my head was buried in tickets. Bowls of ripping hot broth burning our hands and steam filling our faces with sweat. We were in the deepest weeds ever, but we were calm. And people were having a great time.

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About an hour and a half into service, I looked out and the line was still wrapped around the building. I knew I had to cut it off at the door. We were getting to a point where the last person was waiting nearly an hour to get their food, and for the sake of compromising the quality, we had to break some hearts.

I felt awful. But I also still had about 30 tickets hanging for food and knew some time down the road, we would do it again and I would make up for it.

We fired off our last bowl of ramen about 8pm. I looked at my team and we were all running around like crazy, half smiling half exhausted.

To be honest, my head is still buzzing.

We had done something.

I felt a crack in the Earth. People were glowing. Excited. Fed.

It won’t ever feel like that again, or at least in that way. That, was so super special, and my heart is still full.

I don’t know if it’s masochistic. I really just want to give people something good, in hopes that they respond to it.

To those who came out: thank you for standing in line and waiting. Thank you for waiting again and for your response.

To those we had to turn away: know that it crushed my heart to do so, and I hope you understand that sometimes, food runs out and we didn’t want to sell it to you only to take it right back. We will make it up to you.

And to the cosmos and universe for feeding me the energy to try something new, over and over again, I thank you.

let’s do it all over again,

and again

and again.

Downtown, Community & Digging Up the Earth

Uncategorized

I’ve been working in Downtown Hattiesburg, MS for a bit over four years now.

My history with this work has been relatively small, compared to some others. I am fierce about the ground I stand on. Let me make that clear. I know no other home that I feel more alive and excited, and equally nervous about than in a restaurant kitchen. Especially my kitchen.

But, I want to talk about something else. It’s a perspective that I assume isn’t very popular, but is something I feel very deep in my bones.

I recently read an article by our city’s most celebrated restauranteur. I will always give credit where it is due, in saying the man created a food scene here when it had none. He gave this city a place to experience what the Gulf Coast has to offer.  He deserves to be celebrated for the great things he has done, and continues to do.

This is about place. It’s about community.

Your most recent article talked about the lack of community in downtown cafes and I want to take a minute to tell you what I’ve been pouring my heart into ever since I moved back here.

We run and operate a fairly successful sandwich and coffee shop in the “ass-end” (as I like to say) of downtown Hattiesburg. We work really hard to give people something not just good, but great.

We have people we see every morning. They buy their coffee, we make it with our hands, as well as our unique breakfast options. We lay it down at your table with those same hands.

We’ve worked through the worst conditions, in a kitchen that wasn’t designed to be a kitchen and nearly came close to shutting down a few times before our new ownership.

I worked on broken bones and flooded floors (because buildings down here are OLD and things happen.)

Downtown may have aesthetic, but it is HARD. Trains make it hard. Parking makes it hard. The commute makes it hard. On top of it all, is the ever building pressure to be better and better. That, I put upon myself and my co-workers.

You believe in moving forward. So do I. But we have different versions of this and neither of them are wrong. I’m not one to dwell in the past and maybe it’s just part of my generation to always look to the future for the next thing.

It hurts to have to defend my food against the “Real Local, Real Food” motto, because many of us cook real food daily. Seven days a week. But we choose to focus our mission on expanding what hospitality and food culture can be and we’re often quiet about it. We get left out of all sorts of fun stuff because maybe we don’t have the money or I’m simply not pretty enough. (Joking, guys. I am so pretty.)

My goal for the Depot was to be able to sit outside and imagine that you could be in any city in the country. I wanted our food to remind you of a place you ate at in New Orleans or Atlanta or San Francisco. Our goal is to take care of you and to also help you explore your own world. We’ve been given the task to create and facilitate an experience for you.

Maybe it’s hipster. Maybe sometimes it’s weird and our air conditioner can’t keep up. But it doesn’t make us any less of an establishment striving to create community.

We have grown into something I never thought it’d be. This restaurant is one of the only things keeping me in this town. It is where I pour the deepest and often times, most tired parts of my soul. It is where you can see me at my best and my worst and I have nowhere to hide any of it.

You never say a word about the places downtown that are new and thriving. Only what you don’t see, and that hurts some of us. You have the capacity to bring the world you speak into, downtown but you don’t. Maybe that’s just business.

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I will say, any time someone asks me where to eat in the city, I always tell them your restaurants first and mine second.

Why?

Because it is this city and has been for decades. You are what you’re always speaking of and writing about — but we also crave your attention and some of us need your wisdom. We wonder if we’re doing a good job. If you’re proud of the place we are working to create when you’ve been here doing it longer than any of us ever will.

But since I’ve been here, I’ve heard nothing. Even when I cooked for you, I heard nothing. None of us do. I suppose it isn’t your job, but I am intertwined and tangled with what I do and the people we serve. I am in the kitchen every week, dealing with the back pain and the heavy lifting. It feels good to be alive there. To see that line stretched out the door, remembering where it came from.

I am a caretaker at best. A cook passing through until a better one comes along.

I dig up the earth wherever I plant my feet and that’s never going to change. I don’t dwell on where things have been, but I am always thinking about where we are going, which is what Mississippi needs more than anything.

Thank you, for giving all of us a place to sit and drink and eat, and to receive some of the best service in the city.

I write this, because we all need one another. The last thing downtown needs is doubt and feeling as though it isn’t good enough. We know what we are and we are working to make it better.

So, I invite you to come down and sit down with me and a few of my friends.

Let’s talk about what we want to see in this city.

I’ll cook, if you wanna do the dishes.

 

apples and words.

Food, poem

I once wrote a poem about pots and pans,

and how they lined my wall.

I spoke about their scorched bottoms. (Some more than others.)

How they fed my marriage;

deep dark sauces, sometimes too salty — too little — not enough,

and I would wipe my sweaty forehead.

Now those pots and pans are on shelves.

Organized and wobbly. Still scorched. Familiar.

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I also remember carrying a half pig a half mile.

It was for a friend, and it was for her birthday.

I filled their kitchen with smoke from too much

butter in biscuits.

We laughed, and drank more wine.

Proud of my pots and pans.

oh,

It was a beautiful roast!

for the solstice,

for my friend.

I was half paid in apples and words,

but I was in love with this thing,

and the truth is —

I really love apples and words.

the love [and the weight]

Health, Hospitality Industry

There’s been a lot going on lately in the chef community in regards to depression, anxiety and suicide.

Ever since Bourdain, we have been woke. And this doesn’t begin to touch on all of the chefs who struggle with substances A to Z.

I’ve been lucky to have worked for people who haven’t ran me into the ground, physically and verbally.  The stress of a restaurant failing and succeeding are so tight, that the way a person carries it to their staff is almost too much.

I had a hard week following Bourdain’s suicide. Those closest to me saw that.

I was stuck in a deep, dark hole.
I was heavy with grief.

I was thinking of nothing but my failures. My failed marriage. My failure as a husband and partner. Failure as a friend, boss, chef, uncle, son, brother. It seems when the dark pours on you, it is terribly hard to get out from under it. Like a heavy blanket.

The anxiety of a slow restaurant and failing everyone that I worked with was also riding up to my shoulders. The risk of changing our service. Adding loads more overhead and pulling in okay numbers was almost over my head.

I would fantasize about working in front of a computer. Or being like my friends who sit through meetings and explode on the weekends to burn off that office smell. I would think to myself, “It would be so nice to not worry about our walk-in breaking down in the middle of this summer heat.” Only to have it break down a day later.

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This work, as I always talk about it, can be so ultra rewarding, and the weight can also be so heavy.

I love the challenge. I love the competition. I love to cook. I love holding myself to a certain level. Some of that stress I absolutely put on myself.

I am lucky to have friends and family who decided to listen to me, and ask if I was okay, because I so was not.

You should check on your strong friends, too.

Open up. Be vulnerable if you can, because it seems we are all overwhelmed with the state of things. It is tiring to give a shit, and to keep giving a shit.

It’s hard to start owning something. It’s even harder to keep it up. That’s the weight of doing something new, and having people respond.

I don’t suppose this is anything new. But it’s new to me.

This is real, though. I think that’s what scared me the most. You have to take care of yourself. You have to open yourself up wide. Maybe that’s how things get in, but it’s also how they all get out.

If you do find yourself reading this, and you need some good words or someone to listen, please reach out. You are more valuable than anything, and I hope you find the strength to see light and goodness and hope.

 

 

 

hustle.

Uncategorized

I come home every day feeling worn down with good and bad words. It makes me the most tired. It’s rewarding and hard, but I am too ripped up, sometimes.

I was half way through making our day’s batch of grits when I heard the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death. Truly truly truly, beloved by millions — conflicted and misunderstood by many as well, I assume — but each person having their own relationship with him, his stories and his active pursuit of good in the world.

There are always words. Even when I can’t come up with any. I owe him some of mine, because of all he gave me.

I’ve read so many pieces from others, explaining why it hurts so much — that Bourdain was the best and worst in all of us — the realest — the guy we all wanted to drink a beer with.

When I lived in Portland, it was his book Kitchen Confidential that inspired me to take my first knife skills class with a bunch of 60 year old women at a fancy kitchen supply store in the Pearl District. I was way too timid to start in a kitchen anywhere, but was working in coffee shops, so I had the spark of a good hustle.

And I started to like the hustle.

He became my person. Like everyone else who loved him, we saw him as one of our own — somehow able to keep one foot in a different universe and the other sitting across from us, talking about our love for cheap hotdogs and steamy hot noodle bowls.

He made us all feel cooler, and perhaps more sane, by liking him.

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I was so angry. It was ripping me up. I was getting texts from friends, asking if I was okay, because they all knew he was an important figure to me and one if not the biggest influencing factors of my career.

I resonated with his bittersweet homesickness. To be everywhere and to be home at the same time. That there’s nothing like leaving home, and nothing better than coming back to your place.

The part time writer and cook side of my own world loved it all. His constant humility to the working class, blue collar side of humanity. The way he talked about kitchen life made it seem respectable — and maybe the first time in a long time, the brutality and passion and anger of kitchen and restaurant work was getting the attention it was never allowed to get.

He made the table a sacred place. To feel secure and learn about other people, even if you didn’t agree.

He made the kitchen a place where it didn’t matter what language you spoke or where you came from…but that you showed up and did the work and did it well.

The traveling and writing was work, too. Just like cooking. From everything I’ve read, he took everything seriously, and professionally. He hustled. He showed up early and never left anything for the swim back.

Bourdain may have brought me to cooking, but it’s been the people sitting at our tables that keep me coming back to it.

The food on those plates is, in a way, a testament to his life’s work: inspiring us to be open minded, hard working and kind.

I am so sad you are gone, Tony.

Thank you for helping me not feel so alone.
That it’s okay to be a cook. That it’s okay to question yourself, daily, on what it is to be good in this world.

Thank you.

thank you for everything.

 

 

 

 

 

welcome to the freak show

Uncategorized

I really don’t know why I wrote that title.

I think maybe kitchen life has shown me more about myself than almost anything. Not that I am a freak (okay maybe a little), but that it is all a show and this show is the most wild thing I’ve been a part of in a really long time.

I woke up this morning feeling bone tired. Nervous. Weary. Wanting nothing more than to just sink back into my bed and not think about the day I was about to have.

I even prayed. I asked God to help me, even though it’s been a while because I am stubborn and burnt and mostly lost in all of those things. Lost in them is not a bad place to be, if I’m being honest. I just need to be into something, and the chaos of my day to day is becoming something of a norm.

Embrace it, I say. It makes things easier. Like exploring the vast cosmos trying to make sense of all the galactic chaos. Explosions and gravity and how time is such a big weirdo.

I believe that the chaos will settle and we will begin to take strong steps towards something sustainable. After all, that is at the top of my list. Right underneath “Learn how to make fried chicken taste like Popeyes.”

anger

I have been an angry chef. Pissy and short tempered. Apologetically exhausted. Not only dealing with the complexities of time and fire and plating, but the ooey gooey’ness of the people around me and their ability, unknowingly, to sink deep into my skin when I’m spiraling.

They see me tired. Stressed. Overly-apologetic because I know this isn’t the me I want to see, but it has been the me that survives. Maybe flailing around online and after a few beers isn’t the best idea, but life is too short not get a little ridiculous from time to time.

Overall, I am in awe of everything, and everyone — of seeing people eat and absorb the things I’ve had in my head since forever ago, it seems. I know I will be able to absorb it some day soon, and it will probably be in the midst of some mundane thing. But all I can see is people, and I see in them the good and the bad.

It hurts to hear the bad things, and praise feels like good water pressure.

Still, you move forward into the great and wild unknown.

A freak show in its own time.

An island of misfit toys,

a hard and heavy day,

a broken hallelujah.

Yes.

Uncategorized

“Why Hattiesburg?”

This was a question about four years ago that found me in a totally different place as I was freshly back to Mississippi from my life in Oregon. I had changed and so had this place. I needed work. And I had been out of the kitchen for a few months, which made me feel antsy and a little unhinged.

My answer then was something along the lines of, “I love this city. It’s done a lot for me and I think it has the potential to have really great food.”

The first year back in this city, I was running around everywhere trying to make my life work. I was saying yes to everything. EVERYTHING.

“Can you work this event?” YES.

“Would you like to cook for me and some friends, WE WILL PAY YOU.” YES.

“Will you watch our dogs. WE’LL PAY YOU.” YES. (Hi Pyper and Zoe I miss you a lot.)

“I have a client that wants a five course upscale southern style meal in the middle of a park for 50 guests. Can you do this without a real kitchen??” YES. (I mean, I have no #$^&ing clue, but YES.)

I did all of it. Some of it with a partially cracked foot (don’t ask…) and with no money to buy the food I’d hopefully be paid for. That’s what credit cards are for, right?

It is hustle. It is always hustle, for better or worse. It’s because you’re hungry for it and you have something to prove. Where this beast of a thing came from, is beyond me. In the back of my mind I felt that there was no limit to what I could do with the people I worked with. I wasn’t finding the food I wanted here, so I told myself I would make it, and that people would like if they had it the right way.

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In a year, I put my name on that kitchen, along with the folks who have worked right alongside me, crunching it out day after day. Our backs on fire, but a new hope in our bones that more would be revealed.

In three years, we have built up to a new restaurant.

With this comes many sleepless nights. A drink more than I should have. A deep and moving, but exciting kind of energy. Ultimately me, staring into space wondering how we are going to do it all.

Today, a friend saw me in a local coffeeshop staring blankly at a pile of books and said, “I know this is probably a lot, and it’s really stressful, but I think you’re going to do great, and I just want to say thank you for making this city a cooler place for all of us.”

It meant the world to me, and maybe I teared up after they left. But as a testament to the hardest days of my life, I feel humbled and also ready to get loud and crazy.

All of this, is a product of the people here believing in something as simple as food on a plate and the thought and hard work that goes into it. Maybe I romanticize it too much, because it’s not for everyone, even if they enjoy cooking.

You have to have something more to believe in,

A deeper water that flows even when it is not being fed, and a fire that grows when nothing else around you seems to be catching.

That is what I want to offer.

The space to not be good, but to be great. And to create and fail and start again something new. Because the people here deserve it and we have to keep pushing forward. That is my challenge.

And from the mushiness of my heart, I say thank you for responding. For giving me work. For letting me be pouty and rage-y from time to time. For giving me space to fail but also to succeed more than I ever thought was possible.

I just hope you’re hungry.

-casper