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.

Noonday_Rest

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.

 

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.

156590_f6761efd0ad42ba8c6a1dc5549bfd87c.jpg,1440

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.

 

 

 

First Course: Panic Attack! (Or “How I Wrote My First Menu”)

Food, Hospitality Industry

I told myself taking a walk would clear my head a little.

Instead I walked past a few local spots filled to the brim with people eating and drinking and I got overwhelmed.

I hurried home. The blood rushing to my face. I told myself to chill out. To not pass out on a random cross street with some dude asking me if I was okay — that maybe I was overreacting. I was a little high strung and all I could think about was getting back to my apartment and shoving something chocolatey and sweet in my mouth. I thought maybe this was a panic attack. Though it came so suddenly.

I know all I wanted to do was eat some chocolate. And I did. Typical coping mechanism, I imagine.

I took some deep breaths. I told myself I could do it.

It's cool yo. Just relax.

It’s cool yo. Just relax.

And that was that. I laid down on a pile of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers and fell asleep.

Onward to the bigger news:

Dinner service starts this week!

Bah!

It’ll be my first week in charge of a kitchen. Which, to me, is a BIG deal. To people already heels deep in the industry, you know I am over reacting. This, I know too well. I know how things work. I know the good and the bad all too well.

I’m not so much afraid of failing as I am succeeding. Failing is sort of easy, right? It’s when things catch on and get busier and busier. I think that was what got me. The idea of getting in over my head.

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Food feels different when you’re not feeding close family and friends. It becomes somewhat of a commodity. People pay for it and expect to get their money’s worth. That becomes a little scary to me. Especially for a dude who doesn’t have much. Making sure people are fed and taken care of — that is what’s most important to me.

I wrote out a rough draft menu while working a party a few days ago and felt really good about it. Sort of a “look how far you’ve gotten with what you’ve learned” kind of thing. A lot of folks who go to culinary school don’t get this opportunity. I consider myself lucky to know the right people at the right time, and to work hard for these people. (And to give them whiskey, from time to time.)

I was proud of that menu. Damn proud. It’s nothing special. But it’s food, and I think it tastes good. Which is really important, by the way. The menu showcases the cook. The person in charge. The things he/she wants to show you, the patron. A menu can be personal. It’s a story. It’s a thought applied to an ingredient involving technique, timing and seasoning. A lot of hard work goes into cooking that food. Sort of like that time you had to give a presentation at work, only you then realized that you have to give it five days a week and hope to be consistent and better every time.

I got that nervous twinge in my belly. But a good one. And that’s when I knew I’d be okay. I felt proud about being a cook. I felt empowered and strong and confident.

So yes, there is a lot to be overwhelmed about. That’s okay, ya know? What good things aren’t sometimes scary at first?

This is the part where I say thanks for following this messy journey, and those who will continue to follow me into the kitchen. And while I make this seem more dramatic than it needs to be, it’s big to me and that matters. Deeply.

So thank you for all the kind and supportive words.

And if you’re in the Portland area. Hit me up.

I’d love to feed you.

the inevitable two weeks.

Food, Hospitality Industry

This is an interesting food blog.

From the beginning, I’ve always wanted this to be a space where I get to process my wanderings as a blogger/writer/whatever, but also as a person who cooks at home, at work, and wherever I might be with a good knife and a bag of goods.

A lot has been shifting in my life. For those who keep up with this blog, I’m sort of all over the place. I’ve wrestled with the idea of food carts, meaningful work, customer service and what food really means to me.

I’ve (very) recently put in my two weeks notice at my current place of employment. This is a very scary and liberating thing, for reasons I probably won’t get into on here, unless I chat with you more personally from time to time.

It’s not easy to stand up to your boss. They sign your paychecks and can fire you. They are the people you always want to make happy. And when you don’t, they either talk to you or gnaw at you until you just can’t take it anymore.

The food industry is a weird machine. It works with the hopes of that there will be people willing to work for eight dollars an hour. It exists because of this poverty. It’s a “make it by the skin of your teeth” industry too. Profits are usually low, which is why labor needs to be cheap. People like myself, work hard for that eight or nine dollars an hour, for reasons we can’t really explain. Passion is involved usually. It’s an easy business to get sucked into. It’s fast and the affirmation is quick. (Or disappointment, for that matter.)

Some of us work for it in hopes of having our own place. Some of us work because we are in transition with bigger things upon the horizon. Some of us have no idea where we’re going. The food industry is good for these reasons as well. I think I exist in it for most of these reasons.

Our kitchen-12re

And so I sit here moving my fingers without a place to be in two weeks. I have hopes that something will come my way, but also that it will be something I can grow into.

I’m not afraid of working hard. I am afraid of working without that thing that fills me up. I don’t believe in wasting these experiences. They show me how I don’t want to be, and what I don’t want to do. They show me the kind of person I really am.

I’ve spent this whole year learning how to take care of myself. Though this part of the year has been a low, it has shown me that I’m fierce and passionate about what I do.

And I’m proud of that.

So here’s to the inevitable future and that whatever I end up doing, I do it well and with love…

(…and hopefully, get to use butter.)

The Bug

Food, Hospitality Industry

Y’all —

I tied for 2nd place in the gumbo cook off!!

Well, at least in the people’s choice category. I’m all about letting the people speak.

I was confident in my gumbo, but everybody’s a fan of their own stuff. Needless to say, I was beside myself. I’m sure all the other dudes could have cared less whether or not their gumbos made an impact, but I don’t have my own restaurant. I’m not a chef, nor am I a seasoned line cook.

It felt good. Damn good.

It gave me a lot of confidence and affirmation — that maybe I can do this kind of stuff. Not gumbo competitions, but to cook and to have people respond.
I’m often discouraged by the amount of work it will take to have my own place someday. I go back and forth on whether or not it’s worth it, or if I should get out while I still can.

The thing is, I have this bug.

And I guess I don’t know whether or not I should be trying to get rid of it. Lord knows restaurant folk struggle to make it some years. But also, being your own boss is great. That seems to be the way things go in the industry. If you want it bad enough and put in your time working your way up the rings, you might just get your chance. Because at some point, you will get tired of working so much for so little.

Little is a loose term. Most folks don’t really do it for the money. If they do, they’re gonna get burnt out quick.

It’s best to stick with something you feel good about. Something you feel proud doing. You may not like doing it day in and day out, but it fits you.

No, I don’t think just because I made a decent gumbo I know what it’s like.

But I love doing it. Some part of me loves the grind and the hustle.

And who knows what will come from all of those nights scraping crud from underneath the sink.

We all start somewhere, right?

My Meez (And the Sense of Urgency)

Food, Hospitality Industry

After visiting Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, I was sort of ruined.

How clean it was — the complexity of pastry — the croissants that must have gone through a sheeter a thousand times to get all those layers. I must admit though, the Yountville scene is kind of creepy to me. What I’m sure was once a small town with simple gas stations now turned wine shops and a dry cleaner called the French Laundry now a world renowned, 3-star Michelin rated restaurant — it sort of rubbed off on me in an odd way.

I say creepy because I’m afraid of fancy-schmancyness. I don’t feel like I belong. I feel judged by the wait-staff and have a right to be. But, that’s just coming from me.

Creepiness aside, T. Keller and folk know how to cook. Their meticulous passion for detail and cleanliness is really something to be admired. You also have to be in a continuous state of working your ass off to maintain that glamour. I reckon’ it just depends where you want to put your efforts. I’ve said this before, I’m much more interested in the created memory of a place. Not so much that the service was awful or the food was crap. But I suppose it’s a culmination of those things. Ah hell, who am I kidding, the food is important. 🙂

I received Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook last week. It’s gorgeous and intimidating. The idea of making macarons at my skill level is doubtful. Cookbooks these days use a lot of narrative, which I really enjoy. I like seeing what makes a chef work. What drives them to continue their craft without getting too burnt out or regretful. In one section, Keller talks about being clean and organized and how that makes a good chef, a great chef.

But it’s bigger and not limited to the kitchen. Your emotional state is noticeable on the floor and it will bite at you. If you’re not prepared in your head, you’re going to have a messy time.

In the food industry, you have what is called your mise-en-place. In short, we say ‘meez’. It means, “putting in place”. When you cook on a line, your meez is your best friend and spirit guide. Not only is it the raw ingredients for your soon-to-be completed dish, but it’s a state of mind. You don’t wanna have to go looking for sliced onions when you’re busy. You also don’t want to be cutting things during service. You’re more likely to hurt yourself in a hurry.

If I’m able to prep well for busy lunch and dinner service on the weekends, my days go by so much better. The same goes for home cooking. Having all the things you need before you start to cook is incredibly important to throwing down a stress free meal.

I’ve seen in some of Keller’s kitchens, he has the phrase “Sense of Urgency” underneath the clocks hanging on the wall. I like that. For one, he’s spot on. When putting out food, there is, or at least should be in your head, that sense of urgency. That someone is waiting on you to cook them food. This is also what makes cooking for a living so stressful. But I’ve honestly found it to be a very good sense of urgency to me. It keeps me focused and aware without having someone scream at me.

This is something that I’m always working on. Not just in the kitchen, but outside. When I wake up and start the day, I’m thinking how I can organize things in my head to work through it smoothly. I think organized and clean people make really great cooks. That is, if they want to bring themselves to that life style. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure.

Of course, managing a production line at a corrugated box facility sounds terrible to me. We all have our things, right?

Anyways, those were just some of my thoughts as of late. I’m learning good things. I’m a firm believer that restaurant work instills good work ethic, if you work hard at it.

And whatever it is you do, prep and work hard for it. (Ah, and clean, clean, clean.)

I mean, we’re not all that different…

you and I.

Front of House

Food, Hospitality Industry

About a week ago, my boss sat me down to have a little talk.

I got that feeling in my stomach. Like I maybe did something wrong or a customer misinterpreted me as rude or some mundane thing my mind conjures up on a daily basis.

It was an offer. An offer I felt deep down I’d be asked to do. Mostly, because I was doing it anyway.

He asked if I’d be interested in managing FOH – meaning Front of House.

Front of House is usually the face of a restaurant. They’re the people — yes read: “PEOPLE” that greet you, take your orders, drop off your orders and help you throughout the process. (And who listen to your complaints and how you sometimes talk down to folks behind the counter.)

Now, I’ve sort of wanted to get away from this because people drain me. Customer service overwhelms me. The odd thing is that this job keeps finding me. The more I run away, the more it seems to follow me. I’m good at it, at least I think I am.

I’m a sucker for quality. I want everything to be great and I want everyone to do it right. Who doesn’t, right? Busy owners who don’t have time to manage either FOH or BOH love people like me who take it upon themselves to push for quality and consistency. For one, I just think if you’re going to be serving awesome products, you should serve them the best you can. I’m also fiercely defensive of the floor. Meaning, I love to defend and help the people I work alongside. I like speaking up for their frustrations and getting some justice out of a shi**y day.

As you can probably imagine, I said yes. More like, “Yeah..totally…sweet!” With this job comes a decent salary + tips + healthcare. I find myself buying groceries and thinking, “So THIS is what it’s like to make a living wage, eh?”

And also, industry work in the PNW is somewhat seasonal. Things slow down as the weather gets gross and wet. RHM might just do the same, but even on slow days, they are doing well. It’s good to have something solid going into the unforgiving winter. Hey, all seasons have a purpose.

So I have to reprocess this stuff in my mind. I actually love serving people. I would serve our crew any time, any day. I resonate with the cooks on Downton Abbey (I know, I know) because they don’t even get to eat with the servants. I’ve always felt a need to serve. I still want to cook and move further back, but I think these skills are important.

The cool part is, I still get to cook. Granted it’s pizzas and breakfast, at least I can stay on the line a good bit. I’ll be helping with catering a bit more as well. I mean, I know y’all were all like, “BUT JOSH, YOU WANTED TO COOK RIGHT!??”

I know followers of Southern Belly can give a sigh of relief. Trust me, I believe these things to be good. I think so much of being a good and successful industry worker is understanding all aspects of the business. From running a cash register to getting yourself out of the weeds to properly making a cappuccino. All of which I hope to get better at.

Come on by sometime and let me take care of ya.

Just ask for Josh.

I’m sure I’ll be cleaning out a drain or something.

 

scars and stripes

Food, Hospitality Industry

I’ve been learning a whole lot lately.

About different ways to clarify butter and better ways to make vinaigrette. It’s funny.

This is my school now.

I don’t really have homework unless you count making dinner an assignment, which usually, it is. Dishes way heavy on my back, but are a joy to crunch out and get done. That sense of completion makes it all worth it. Sitting down feels even better with that off my conscience. What was dirty is now clean. Like a kitchen revival. All things made new. Until, that is, you cook again.

As the days go by in my oddly timed work week, I find the tiredness creeping into my bones. I get a little careless here and there and slice open my finger during lunch service or burn myself two different times on a wood-fired oven that heats up to about 800 degrees.

And then that same burn feels worse when you’re near heat…which is pretty much the whole time.

Needless to say, I’m earning my stripes. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything, other than that you are working with hot things throughout the day. The pain is quick, but it helps you to learn.

I’ve been doing some soul-searching about this line of work. Reading articles about why one shouldn’t become a chef and listening to the elders of kitchen life tell me that I should probably do something else that’s not as time consuming and back breaking. But there’s a reason they’re doing it, right?

I process this stuff day in and day out. Do I want to devote my body and stress and time to this work? What will it mean for the future of my family (which is just a lady named Hannah who lives underneath the roof of our Bryant Street apartment.)?

I guess I won’t really ever know the answer to those questions until I’m in it. Of course we want an easy way through life. Getting the most out of it without really working that hard. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic to mostly all of us. Our dreams of becoming rich and retiring early and having a huge savings account is also not realistic. I suppose it’s easy to nestle into something you find yourself becoming good at.

Cooking, for example. I know I can cook. I know I can work the hours and still remain somewhat healthy. I can’t seem to think of anything else I’d rather do right now. Unfortunately the money is not great, but it IS meaningful work to me. I do love that I get to learn things everyday that both make me a better person and a better cook. I couldn’t really ask for anything else.

Of course we want more money — that’s not to say I won’t — but I will say that I can make a living. And that’s not bad.

We all earn our stripes in different ways.

They won’t all turn to scars but they will remind you of what it took to get you there. I am a pretty odd and twisted individual that happens to think this work is exciting and challenging and the people that are attracted to it probably feel the same.

Ah, the people. I love that the kitchen is often a home to the washed out and in-betweeners. The people searching for what it is they actually want. I do like to see people finally get that job they were hoping for. The job that pays them 30/hr instead of 9/hr with tips.

I’ve said this and heard it said all the time, that you have to love this or it makes no sense at all.

When I get to tell people I’m a cook, I know what it looks like. “So what are you trying to do?”

I don’t really know the answer right now. I don’t think I have to.

Life is going by so fast and I don’t really have the time to make a 10-year plan for myself. Do the things you love now because you probably won’t get to it later when you assume you’ll have all that free time.

So instead, I’ll joke with the other cooks and FOH and invest myself into their lives. These are the things we don’t get to tell people often. The bond that forms is that of sisters and brothers who fight and mend and imagine.

When I think of the scars and stripes, I imagine my body being built for this kinda stuff.

and nobody can take that from me.

Weather Patterns

Food, Hospitality Industry, Story, Wine

The clouds are out in Portland today, giving off a cool air that makes my apartment comfortable again.

The beginning signs of a changing season. It seems as though summer has just started. Not that I believe it’s close to over yet, but you can feel it in your bones and belly. Mother nature is doin’ that thing she does; changin’ and groanin’ and all.

As a person who tries to write a few times a week (and fails to do so quite often), I always get caught up on the seasons. Especially from Summer to Fall. The months rarely matter to me as to what makes a new year, but when that comes — when trees change colors and we begin to burn the dust from our heaters — things are becoming new again. Fall has always felt like the beginning.

Food begins to change from bright and light, to dark and heavy. Sorta like beer, too. At least it’s that way in the PNW.

I introspect a lot. More so than my usual introverted thought patterns. The changing seasons force me to consider the decisions I’ve made and whether or not I should transition. I guess I look to the weather patterns for this. I am easily swayed by a slow morning or chilly night.

I crave something softer. I guess I want life to be a little softer. I reckon’ we all need the world to be a little quieter sometimes. It’s hard to not let the politics and global warming and war get caught up in our bodies. We can be vicious and passionate — especially me — I’m working on being kinder in that sense.

I’m learning to recognize the harvest. Working in wine country means that I’m awfully aware of the busy’ness that harvest brings. People are excited — especially after a decently warm summer. Hot, dry summers can mean good things to many wine growers. The grapes grow sweeter and more unique. “A Good Year” is the term I hear quite often. It usually accompanies a little smirk and the excitement of having a great crop.

But what is good for some is devastating to others. Drought. Entire crops lost. Rivers dry. The hard truths of economy and environment. When it feels like the sh*t is about to hit the fan, I usually try to keep my head down and work. It’s all I can do really. I’m not a great strategist or economist, but as a cook and someone who keeps up with food costs, we are very aware of what’s going on.

I’ve always thought of cooks to be sages of seasonal change. Beyond saying your menu is “seasonal”, which IS a good thing, I believe cooks see the change in people too, not just food. We see panic and discouragement. We see gluttony and waste. We see it all, really.

Something I’ve come to learn over the past few years is to accept these changes. When we reject change, it makes us bitter. Or at least that’s what happens to me.

As it is with so many others, my thoughts change with the season as I’m growing more and more into the kind of person I want to be. That will change with time as it always has.

I hope to become a better cook. A person who is open to change. A healthier and calmer person. To be thoughtful, but fierce.

Here’s to the harvest,

and whatever she might bring.

 

 

ALL DAY!

Food, Hospitality Industry

“COMIN’ AROUND HOT!”

“CORNER!”

“RUNNER!”

“BEHIND!”

“CAN YOU GIVE ME AN ALL-DAY!??”

Goodness. What a week it’s been.

These words and phrases are in my head from saying them, well, all day.
If you’ve worked in a restaurant and/or kitchen, these terms will either make your reminisce fondly on the old times, or give you some sort of post traumatic stress disorder.

I sometimes find myself in grocery stores, hollerin’ at people, “Behind ya..” when I move past them. I mean, it makes sense, right?
Communication is important in a kitchen. If a pan is hot, you don’t want one of the dishwashers to pick it up with their bare hands. Communication builds a good structure for people. It reminds you not to be careless with other people.

Well, except when the chef jokingly says, “I’m gonna burn you…”

When someone asks for an “all-day”, they are asking for all of the items they have to make or the ones they are personally responsible for out of all the tickets on their board. Say you have your own tickets to work on, then the dude shouting out orders gives you something else to make. It can be a lot. Especially with so much going on behind you. So, sometimes, you need an all-day just to make sure you’re on everything.

This is something you get better at with practice. Remembering food in your head comes with knowing the menu and knowing how to make it efficiently. Just like any other job, the more you do it the better you get, unless you have a crappy short term memory and are clumsy. If that’s the case, then cooking on the line may not be for you.

You also have to do five things at once. The days where I’m doing a bunch of prep, I try to maintain a few projects at one time. Especially when you walk in in the morning to see your to-do list crammed with words and asterisks and exclamations. Ya just gotta crank down and do it.

These are things I’m learning about the industry, specifically kitchen work where communication is just as important as the food.

It’s hard work, but it’s good. It doesn’t make sense unless you love it.

Usually I come home from a long day and still wanna cook,

and well…I love that.