San Francisco [And No, We did NOT visit the Ghiardelli Factory.]

Food, Story, Vacation

We are lucky in that we get to do these things.

Travel. Eat good food. Catch up with friends. Rest.

We spent the past week in San Francisco after a few months of debating what would be most worth our money, considering we don’t have that much. We set a time and took off from work and called it our “eat-cation” because if we were going to spend time in one place, the food best be good.

I loved San Fran. It’s a foodie city. Lots of industry folks and some really affordable food. Lots of places to get hosed or high or whatever it is you like. Lots of cool side bars offering decent exposure to one of the many different neighborhoods that make up San Francisco.

We found us a sweet little spot in SoMa (South of Market St.) on the fringe of The Mission. The first night we ate at Mission Street Chinese in the form of a pop-up as the namesake Lung Shan Restaurant closes after lunch. Had a few really amazing dishes. Salt cod fried rice. Mongolian long beans which numbed our tongue it was so spicy — in a good way, of course. Also this rib tip dish that I can’t remember the name of. Had those cartilage-y bits too that were actually really nice.

The next day we hit up Sight Glass for coffee. Amazing. Pricey, but worth it if that’s your thing. Beautiful space full of laptops and cell phones, but that’s the cafe world, right?

My friend Noodles (Andrew is his real name…but we know him as Noodles. Or Noods. We go way back. Like when I had hair and wanted to be a computer programmer.) He treated us to breakfast at this little spot not too far from our hotel. Eggs, toast and hash browns. Nothin’ better when you got the coffee jitters.

Needed some more food in our bellies so we headed down the food carts on 11th and Division/Bryant — ate some really good Korean tacos (mostly a fan of the duck, but the others I would never complain!) – split a decent empanada and a pastrami sandwich – overkill, but in a good way.

That night we met a friend of mine from college and his partner at Dolores Park for some catch up time and devoured some pretty delicious sandwiches. One of which was the antithesis of my diet for the past 8 months. Bread stuffed with roast beef, turkey, pastrami (again, I know!), onion rings, fried jalapeno poppers, fried mozzarella sticks, tomato and guacamole. It was named the “Kryptonite” – it defeated me quickly. I maybe got 7 or 8 good bites in. Respectively so.

We walked a TON. True, the best way to get around San Fran is usin’ the ole’ legs. Well, public transportation is great in SF. We took the BART most of the time. You can pretty much get off anywhere and find something good within walking distance. Of course we got lost several times, but there’s something to be said about getting lost in a city. You discover lots of little things, like how I don’t actually like getting lost all that much. 🙂

Went to this bar called the Tempest and had a few pints with my buddy Will who’s been one of my good good friends since we were kids. He works as a camera guy for Mythbusters and is just an all around bad ass. So great to catch up in funky bars. Noods came later while we all determined that September 11th would be a great day to meet up at the Tempest and reminisce.

We spent one night on Tiburon Bay. Sort of an over-the-top luxury night. Figured we might be able to afford just one of those once and a while. It was so nice. Biggest and softest bed I’d ever laid on. Sweet view of the SF skyline. Got to see little boats come in and out while always asking myself, “People really live like this??”

Yes. Yes they do.

We ate decent tourist town pizza. Watched TV and lit a fire. A nice way to say good-bye to the Bay area.

On the way out, we drove back in to SF and forgot to bring cash for the FREAKING toll. A nice $25 dollar fine will be coming in the mail shortly. Buh. But, that was made up for by the great time we had in Chinatown with our friend Jamie. Chinatown was my favorite. It sets the bar for Chinatowns everywhere, that is, except in China. We found some ladies hand-making fortune cookies. Roasted ducks hanging in windows. Bakeries with black bean curd pastries and custards. So neat. Hannah was in custard heaven. We ate lunch at a clay pot place in a tiny room above one of the markets. It was delicious. Way too much food, but so fun.

We said our goodbyes and drove home through Yountville, where we stumbled upon Thomas Keller’s tiny empire of over-the-top goods. Most of which I will write about another time, because there were some deeper things that happened with this.

But I shall digress, as this piece is already far too long. I’m sure I’ve already lost your attention span. I will leave you only temporarily to say that our little vacation was brilliant and we were treated with such hospitality — both by the city and by our dear friends.

So glad to be back in Portland.

But then again, I always am.

 

A Birthday NOT on Instagram

Food, Story, Wine

I’ve been thinking a lot about consuming experience.

For example, Hannah and I went out to dinner for her birthday this past Sunday night at Le Pigeon here in Portland. I had set aside tip money for the dinner because sometimes, you just need to celebrate and go big. I was so giddy and nervous  (similar to how I feel when I get to eat at Tanuki!) Hannah has a thing for little french restaurants and like the responsible food lover I am, it felt important to experience this level of dining.

We sat in the corner near the big windows — being able to see the whole restaurant, the open kitchen and other diners. We sat at the end of a long table with another couple who didn’t seem to talk to each other. They quietly sat and took pictures of their food and ate it while it was too hot and just things I don’t quite understand.

I’ve been learning how to smile more while eating. Especially if it’s good. It’s so discouraging to be a part of someone’s meal and wonder if they’re even enjoying what they eat. Cooks look at that kind of thing. “Is anybody out there enjoying their food?” To see hoards of people chewing food like cows munchin’ cud — it can be a little disheartening.

Everything we ate at Le Pigeon had so much flavor — so much complexity. I ate the flash fried pigeon with liver toast, grapes and white anchovies along with beef cheek bourguignon (my favorite thing ever!) — both of which were so ridiculously good I almost blacked out. That could have been from the wine, though.

Hannah ordered the rabbit and eel terrine with peaches, avocado and foie-miso vinaigrette – (shyeah, foie-miso) and the shortribs with scallops, succotash, tomato jam and padrons.

I mean, everything just worked.

I said out loud, “I wanna do food like this…”

It’s one of those dining experiences where you can just feel that the folks in the kitchen cook with passion and a great love for the ingredients. It was such a special time for me and Hannah. We “ohhh’ed and ahhh’ed” over every bite and soaked it all in.

I imagine some people in the world eat like this all the time. It becomes second nature to blow that kind of money at a restaurant. But for those of us without much money, we choose to spend our resources on things that will stick in our minds. Some people buy TVs and if that’s what they wanna do, then by all means.

We have to be careful though, because it’s easy to turn these things into everything else we consume without thinking. I always want to be aware of that. To know it’s a luxury for us to eat like this. To know it’s special. To recognize its part in celebration.

I will always remember that meal, sitting across from Hannah, processing a year and everything feeling okay.

I love those times;

and for that, I’m thankful beyond what I could have captured on Instagram.

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.

 

 

Channeling my Inner Julia

Food, Story

This coming up week marks the 100th birthday of Julia Child.

I can’t say that I grew up watching her shows. I remember seeing a much older Julia Child. Hunched over, sort of poking and stirring hamburger meat in a pan over a two-burner electric stove.

I grew up watching Justin Wilson and Paul Prudhomme. They were on local television because well, they were local. I’ve talked about both of these guys before. Also the “Frugal Gourmet” — does anyone remember that guy? I think he got arrested for something unfortunate.

I watched a ton of Emeril Live! and had always dreamed to sit at one of those studio tables where the folks got to try his food. It seemed so decadent. He did it so fast! Not gonna lie, Emeril is the man. The dude employs 1,000s of people and is a hard ass. But this post really isn’t about Emeril, either.

Hannah and I watched “Julie and Julia” when it came out. We snuck in McDonald’s because we were in a hurry and didn’t have time to eat. It was perfect. I know, I know. Sort of a dramatic story with not-so-good-in-real-life ending.

As most people can concur, I love Julia’s spirit. Her ability to think on her feet and to be fiercely involved with food and cooking. She had the daunting task of translating French cooking into English. Not only into English, but trying to get Americans to cook French. You still really can’t get many people to cook this stuff, but I love it.

I rented old videos and watched. I especially love the videos of her and Jacques Pepin cooking together. He’s so solidly French. Cooks with gas heat and has remarkable knife skills — Julia on the other hand stays steady on her electric burner and makes me nervous as she brings the knife down upon a jumbled pile of onions. I wouldn’t dare question the direction of her mind.

So tonight, I — in a last minute decision after a grueling morning at work — decided to make beef bourguignon. It’s not all of Julia’s recipe, but it was a dish they say she loved. That and Coq-au-vin. And things with butter. Which is real food, by the way.

She was an advocate for real food. She brought to my attention, as well as Pepin, the importance of pairing food and drink (wine, in this case.)

She made it. Lots of times imperfectly, but with tons of grace for herself and others. I hope to channel my inner Julia as I dive into this world of food and technique and timing.

Happy Birthday Miss.

Thanks for all the work you put in and for fearlessly leading us into those kitchens with boning knives and as always, a little humility.

 

On Being Healthy (Part 2)

Food, Health, Story

It’s safe to say that I’ve spent this year learning what it means to take care of myself.

If I’m honest, a lot of things came easy to me. That tends to happen when you begin to fear for your life (or at least being a healthy human being.)

I’m not in good enough shape to call myself healthy or fit or “good to go”. I do drink beer and eat pizza and may or may not have a half eaten bag of Cheetos sitting beside our recliner. (Granted, they are the ‘healthier’ version of Cheetos which are just kind of BS when you want the real thing.)

With all of this said, I’m still losing weight and my blood pressure is still dropping, albeit slowly. My blood sugar level has decreased, though my body is still creating insulin when I fast. My cholesterol hasn’t changed too much, which was a little discouraging at first until my doctor explained to me what cholesterol actually was. Granted, high cholesterol isn’t great, but neither is severely low. And there are good and bad kinds. But as I was explained to, there has never really been much evidence to prove that high cholesterol (when speaking just of cholesterol) was a result of a person’s death.

But high cholesterol mixed with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc — that’s when things start getting messy. That’s when plaque builds in arteries and when sh*t inevitably starts hitting the fan.

[This is based off a conversation with my doctor and no, I don’t know where the studies are on this. But I trust my doctor. He’s helped me in ways other doctors have not been able to come close to. I trust what he has to say. Do not take your medical advice from me because everyone is different and has different needs. This is just my conversation and what I’ve learned about the things that are good and bad for my body.]

Sterols like Lipitor are given to people with high cholesterol. Lipitor blocks cholesterol from being made. Our bodies NEED cholesterol to function properly. It helps produce crucial vitamins, proper brain function and our ever-so-important hormonal activity. Out of 600 folks, sterols have only helped one out of those 600 people while the other 599 eventually got sicker and/or died due to their conditions.

In almost every other case where a person lost weight, their health dramatically increased.

This is to say, medications can only do so much. What is killing us (and what we hear everywhere) is obesity. Being overweight with the combo of high blood pressure and high insulin levels in the blood lead to what is most killing us these days.

Things like stress inflame those ever so important things in our bodies. Dr. Luke uses words like “inflammatory” when talking of things that aren’t too good for our bodies. Inflammation causes are bodies to do all sorts of things, including shutting down. It’s why I had so much pain in my belly. My liver was inflamed as well as much of my endocrine system was all jacked up. My adrenal glands were producing too much for my body to handle. Most either due from being overweight and/or stressed.

I’ve been eating and doing not-so-good things to my body for many years. I can’t expect 6-months to change things too drastically. But I have been losing weight. My blood pressure is lowering and my body is starting to regulate its blood sugar level.

I know this sounds like a lot. And it is. But these are the things I have to deal with right now. Especially coming into an industry where it’s easy to abuse your body to stay awake and work longer hours. It’s important to know what your body can take.

You can always change.
You can always move.
There’s nothing stopping you from this.
You just need to find a starting place and just…go.

And remember, you can always start again tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a blank slate.

Make it something huge.

 

 

Beginnings.

Food, Hospitality Industry, Story

There’s a line out the door.

There’s been a line out the door for a good three hours.

“Shiiiiit.”

I sorta mumble to myself.

The pastry chef leaves us with cakes and tarts that are terrible for our busy lunch and dinner rush. The instructions for the overly sweet marshmallow chocolate torte, “Heat knife, then cut. Use blow torch to toast marshmallow.”

WTF!? In this rush? (And marshmallow?? Seriously??)

I’m totally in the weeds. Well, not so much as the weeds as just running on all cylinders with a line of people that will not shorten. They just keep coming and coming. All wanting to be treated with kindness. All wanting to be fed carbs and wine and liquor.

Sink or swim man…sink or swim.

So I decide to swim and just laugh it off. Being busy is not a bad problem to have. A line is good publicity. It shows people you do good stuff. I don’t see why people complain about a line. Unless people are just twirling their thumbs behind the counter, a line is something you have to deal with.

And folks, it’s just a line. No need to get bent out of shape. If you want the goods, you have to do your part too, okay?

These are some new things for me. I’ve worked in busy shops. But nothing like this where a rush lasts for hours.

To update a little, I’m moving off the front lines a little. Doing a little less front of house work and spending more time with food. At least I think this is what’s happening. This is what I came to do. To gain experience. To develop skills needed to continue kitchen/food service work while keeping my standards at a somewhat respectable level.

I’m working a little on saute, and have a couple of heat blisters to prove it. Also, the hair on my arm 2-4 inches above my wrist is pretty much singed off. Oh fire and timing and ingredients. The things we work with the most. The things that are most stressful. But there’s nothing like it.

The buzz after the rush. The cleaning up. The prep for the next rush and/or day. The feeling that your day is complete when the oven hood shuts off and the music is hushed.

You go home and rest your feet but want to do something fun because you know the next day you’ll have to do the same thing. The times after you get off act as some sort of rebellion towards the next day. When you only have two hours before 12am and you want to make them count.

It’s the best feeling, that is, unless you’re completely exhausted.

Because it is exhausting work. And you will get whooped. You can only hope that you’ll have enough time to get your shit together before you have to do it all over again.

These are the beginnings.

And once you’re in…

you’re in.

How Anthony Bourdain Got Me to Cook

Food, Story

The first time I watched “No Reservations” was on an airplane in route to Kolkata, India via Jackson, Mississippi.

It just so happened to be the episode where he was in Kolkata eating street food and dodging cock-fights. I got real nervous. “This is where I’m going to live for four months??”

I’ll save the India story for another time, though it’s a place you can never forget. India, specifically Kolkata, has this way of sticking to you wherever you go.

I didn’t really watch his show again until two years later when I found myself itchy to travel. Travel shows have this way of itching that scratch, if  just temporarily. I was really getting into food. I found myself cooking southern food for friends and it slowly became something comfortable for me.

Sitting down after a long shift at the cafe, finding an episode I hadn’t seen yet and indulging my senses in the sights and sounds of something unfamiliar was becoming a comfort for me. Not only was the cinematography something I was addicted to, the narration and writing pulled me in. Finally, a travel show where I don’t feel nervous that the host will make an ass of the typical American traveler.

Watching Bourdain has always felt honest. He would sit and eat with families and locals and make them feel comfortable. He was kind to the people he met and was most importantly, culturally appropriate.

He never called their customs, “weird” or made a big deal about them or the food they cooked. He always seemed thankful for the opportunity.

Also, I liked how much he cussed and smoked and drank. It is, at times, decadent to watch No Reservations. I am one of thousands who claim to be a fan of the show, so there’s nothing unique about any of this.

Food became important, as I watched people in different parts of the world cook for Tony. The mix of social, economic, and culinary details were always present. It was a show much more realistic. It gave me hope that I could be a traveler, and not a tourist.

The downward spiral began. I picked up Kitchen Confidential and fell into it hard. Just getting into the industry, I was so curious about everything. What does it take to be a cook? Could I make it? Are chefs and cooks really this neurotic? Well…yes and no.

I picked up some knives after taking a knife skills class down the street from where I worked at the time. I started out with a Global utility knife, which didn’t come close to quenching my need for the things. Eventually, I saved up and have a pretty rad set of Global knives. Also, the infamous F. Dick offset serrated knife he talked about in Kitchen Confidential.

Oh yeah. I ate it up big time. But I also didn’t know what else to do. Tony was bad ass and right on. In KC, he talks about what it takes to be a cook day to day. How Food Network has made cooking for a living look like a dinner date with Jeffrey and Ina Garten…(ewh…) Hey, I like Barefoot Contessa. It’s all good.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford culinary school, so I started teaching myself. I bought into the whole celebrity chef thing hard. I developed a man crush on David Chang and bought Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc. The typical first steps of a foodie. But I wanted to be different.

I wanted to work. I wanted to do more than consume. I wanted to understand.

I started throwing dinner parties and became sort of good at it.

I catered a few friends parties and pulled it off — though sometimes just barely.

And needless to say, I am just starting my life working in a kitchen. To say Bourdain is responsible for all of this is not true, but he was a catalyst for most of it.

I have to say the Two Fat Ladies made a great impression on me as well, to give credit where it’s due. I mean, bubble and squeak??!

So thanks Tony. I know you probably aren’t going to be in Portland any time soon, or even read this, given that we’re a city full of foodies/hipsters/industry folk, but if you do, it’d be a pleasure to sit down and buy you a shot and a beer at one of my favorite haunts.

We can sit and talk sh*t about lousy customers and food writers because there’s nothing better than talkin’ shop in a dark bar after a long day on your feet.

hot damn! fried chicken!

Food, Story

I’ve been making fried chicken for a long time.

I’ve been eating fried chicken for as long as I can remember. From seeing it at family reunions, to dinner after Sunday morning church. Fried chicken has, in a sense, always been there.

This past Friday, the world celebrated National Fried Chicken Day. There’s a lot of nostalgia in fried chicken. For most kids in the South, you grow up eating a lot of it. It’s only natural for us to feel warm and fuzzy when we bite into a piece, flooding our brain with those powerful chemicals.

The way I make fried chicken is forever changing. I grew up soaking it in milk and egg, flour and Tony Chachere’s. The process was a little gross to the foreign. The first time I visited Hannah in Oregon, I made this fried chicken for her friends. They were a little freaked by the process, but after they ate it, they ate some more…and more. Ah, the power of soul food. We became good friends after this. After all, food connects us deeply to other people, and those memories seem to stick.

After searching around for the best means of fried chicken, I stumbled upon a recipe, which I’ve altered to my own taste and technique that I’m really happy with. I don’t believe this will be my final recipe, but it’s a damn good one.

There are two important things when dealing with fried chicken. Time and labor. Well, clean up too. But that’s always somethin’, ain’t it?

Fried chicken is a labor of love. It always has to be done fresh. You will get messy. Prepare yourself well.

This is how I make fried chicken.

As a pre-note, I love fried chicken on the bone. In general, that is how it’s supposed to be eaten and this recipe works just as well. But, for fun, I love chicken tenders. Or at least fried chicken that’s easy to grab and cut and mix with other food. For this recipe, I’ll just be using boneless chicken breasts. Dark meat lovers, you can do the same with thighs. I just like how the breast fries up. Nothing against dark, ya heard?

What you’ll need: 
4-5 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts; sliced into strips/chunks (or as I like to call them the “mom choice” cuts of meat)
4 cups good buttermilk
2 cups AP flour
4 T kosher salt
3 T **freshly ground** black pepper
2 T Cayenne pepper (I know that seems like a lot, but add more or less depending on your tolerance of heat. What’s fried chicken without a little heat??)
1 T garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 T mustard powder
4 sprigs fresh thyme
About six cups (or a lot) of vegetable oil for deep frying (Or canola or whatever. I like vegetable oil these days.)

How to Cook it:
You’ll need to soak the chicken over night (or at least up to 8 hours), so prepare this part in advance.
Mix together all the spices. Half of your spice mix will be for your buttermilk marinade. The other half will be for your flour/batter.

In a big bowl, toss in your chicken. Poke the chicken with a fork, but not too much. Maybe a few pokes in each piece. Enough so the marinade/brine has a way to get all up in there. Toss in one half of the spice mixture you reserved for the buttermilk. Mix and massage into the chicken. Pour in your buttermilk, mix. Throw in your thyme (keep on stem), mix again. Cover and put in your fridge up to 8 hours or preferably over night.

The next day when you’re ready to fry, fill up a deep, heavy bottomed pot with your veggie oil. Enough so that your chicken will be able to deep fry without hitting the bottom of the pan. Kick the heat up. If you have a deep fry thermometer, get it up to 375. Keep an eye out. Don’t let it get too hot. Oil temp is important. If it’s not hot enough, you’re gonna get some soggy-ass chicken. Nobody wants soggy-ass chicken.

Prepare your flour by mixing in the rest of your spices you reserved the night before. I prefer the double dip method. This makes it much messier of a process, but I think it’s delicious. You can use tongs or something if you don’t want to get your fingers all cakey. Take each piece of chicken, cover in flour mix, dip back into buttermilk and again in flour mix. Do this for every piece. You can also do a lot at once and set it on a dry rack over a sheet pan. This is generally how I do it so I can keep an eye on the chicken while it fries and to not have to wash my hands a billion times.

Slowly submerge battered chicken into the hot oil. Do not over crowd the pot. The chicken should not touch each other. They need their personal space just as much as we do.

Monitor the oil temperature. Raise the temperature a bit after sticking in your first batch because the cold chicken will drastically lower your oil temp. Turn it back down once you’ve gotten back up to 375. It should take about 5-7 minutes for white meat. Usually takes longer for dark meat. When I take the chicken out of the oil, I place it on another raised cooling rack (on sheet pan), toss a little salt on it, and place it in our oven on “warm”.

That should do it! I love eating fried chicken with collard greens, black eyed peas, and cornbread. I don’t know. It’s like the perfect meal.

I also like eating fried chicken with a lot of people.

So cook it for them and soak in those good times.

You will always be reminded of them.

the cook and the comedian

Food, Hospitality Industry, Story

I’d like to say that I’m a student of the human condition. I watch as all wallflowers do; gaging conversation, mood, and the like.

I’ve been watching a lot of Louie C.K. The guy is a genius. Well, he seems miserable. But it’s funny, because it’s true. At least the things he says about life. I can look at Louie and understand life a little better. He’s realistic and captures humanity at its best and especially at its worst.

Comedians (read: good comedians) do best when they nail the human condition. That’s when they’re most funny. They point out the mundane and turn it into something brilliant. They have a sense of humor and timing. They orchestrate words to fit at just the right time with just the right amount of punch.

As a student of this condition, I find myself wondering the same about cooks. I suppose industry folk in general. That if you’re good at what you do, you understand the human condition at its best and worst. 80% of the time customers are awesome. They are nice people with nice things to say.

But then there’s the 20% — the people who make you say “piece of sh*t” under your breath. We’re all entitled to rant on this 20%, but that’s not what I wanted this post to be about.

What I am trying to say, is that it’s important to know how to handle these things. To be quick, intelligent, and skilled at rooting around the flow of serving a customer.

Like a comedian, a cook tries to connect with the audience. We send things out when they’re supposed to (usually), and tasting the way we want them to taste. We are both (comedians and cooks) in the pleasure business. We are not here to make you feel bad about yourself. We indulge you by placing large amounts of butter and fat in your food (hurray!) and ultimately, facilitating a delicious experience.

All the chefs I’ve worked under are usually pretty sane. They’re also really connected (to both ingredients and people). They hardly ever forget things. They hold on to words and keep them festering in their brains. It’s part of what makes them good at what they do, but also what weights down their conscience. In the way comedians are craftsmen (and craftswomen) at telling stories, cooks use their past to tell another kind of story.

The cook and the comedian are raw and transparent. You can see right through em’. By standing on stage in front of a crowd, or by asking the patron, “How was everything?” The response of the public always hits you the hardest. That’s the truth. The quick affirmation is addicting.

So while I’m not technically using my college degree in psychology for the betterment of humanity, I am learning what it means to understand people. Whether it’s the people we serve or work with, we are always learning from what’s around us. We, in part, take these things and give them away.

The comedian tells a joke, we plate a dish.

And deep down, we hope that both fill you up.

sunburnt (and the mysterious jar of mayonnaise)

Food, Story, Vacation

The overcast skies feel very welcome on my sunburnt head. Considering I’m a somewhat bald dude, I welcome the change of sickly white to somewhat tan.

This giant burst of sun came from sitting on a beach near the port of Cozumel, Mexico — a tourist island off the mainland of Mexico. A few margaritas sweet with lime and sugar and tequila streamed through my blood vessels taking the edge off a very much needed time of rest. I watched my wife swim in the warm water, bobbing up and down in the Gulf’s ebb and flow.

Funny enough, we forgot sunscreen and sunglasses. It was okay. We’ve had a major lack of Vitamin-D in Portland. I felt it a welcome presence upon my head. You feel tired and energized at the same time. That life-giving warmth from the sun for us Pacific Northwest dwellers does huge things to our hearts.

We made it in-land enough to eat a few tacos and some ceviche at a local eatery. We knew we were in the right place by the lack of people that looked like us. We were tourists. It is what it is. Being taken advantage of should be expected. We were fed and led around the island in kindness. For that, I’m thankful.

I got a little emotional walking along the streets. The deep smell of morning in a foreign city. It brings me right back to the streets of Calcutta. The hot humid air sinks willfully into my skin and I feel the sweat dripping down my tight sunburnt forehead. All too familiar. I realize instantly that I miss traveling. I miss being swept away by a culture not my own. It keeps me humble. I started thinking about the saying, ‘the more we see the less we know’ and began to understand that staying in one place teaches us a lot. We become confident in what we do only to have our feet swept away when we find ourselves piecing together words to communicate cross-culturally.

What a massive place we live in.

I watched them cook from several pots upon a giant counter. A spoon dipping in and out quickly and accurately. I watched the kids behind the bar chop onions and cilantro – being corrected by the older woman, smiling, gracefully passing on the trade.

A warm coke out of the bottle.

Mexican pop music blaring out the flat screen tv — sitting in wobbly green and red chairs and tables. A condiment tray in the center holding lime, onion and peppers. A jar of mayonnaise sat adjacent. I wondered what people used it for. Mmm. Mayonnaise.

So I sit here again. Writing with an open window allowing the cool to wrap around all of this. Itchy sunburn.

Remnants of that big sun;

spending time with family;

eating too much chocolate cake

and wondering where it will all begin again.