Gumbo Therapy

Food, Story

I work long hours on my feet. Most of the world does, I guess you could say. We work hard and it’s often back breaking, thankless work.

When I was offered the chance to submit my gumbo in Eat: Oyster Bar’s annual gumbo cook-off representing Red Hills Market, I was beyond stoked. I really don’t get to do that much cooking where I work. I act as a manager (which I sometimes feel is a bullsh*t position.) A lot rides on you to make sure everyone is doing their job and being sweet and get pounded on when something goes wrong.

But every now and then, I get to cook something delicious for a lot of people and it thrills me to the point where I have butterflies in my belly.

Between watching this week’s episode of Treme and prepping for the gumbo cook off, I’ve been an emotional wreck.

Gumbo is personal to me. It’s personal to the people I came from and when I make it, I’m usually working through something. (When are we not, really?) It can, and has always been, an all-day process if done right. I am quite sure gumbo derived from people using whatever they had to make something delicious for the masses.

But these days, folks go all over the place with gumbo. It’s a story. It’s memory and smell and an entire region mixed into one pot. While grabbing huge amounts of veggies and such at the store, the lady at the check out counter asked, “You must work at a restaurant or somethin’, uh?” I say, “Well, sort of.”

She asked what I was making. I told her gumbo and she furled her eyebrows, “Hrm…can’t say I’d like it because I don’t care for seafood much..”

“Ah..” I say, “..well my gumbo doesn’t use seafood — I think you’d dig it!”

She responded, “That’ll be 38.45 — you have your rewards card?”

Not all conversations end ultra inspirational.

I called this piece “Gumbo Therapy” because there are lots of things involved. Music. A few spirits of choice. Usually Son House, Mississippi Fred, Professor Longhair and I’ll soften it up with Andrew Bird and Bon Iver and add some harder aspects with Hatebreed and throw in some Lupe Fiasco and Common for added affect.

Beer is always good to have on hand when making roux.

The roux is my guide. My base. My flavor. All of these things are put in at each given time and ordered just as I need it. There is good structure in gumbo, but also there is space to add and change.

I can never eat gumbo the day I cook it. By tasting it over and over again, its flavor and smell overwhelms me and the walls of our tiny apartment. Gumbo tastes best a day or two after you cook it anyways.

So today will go as it has many times before. I will stir roux and chop and stir while imagining where this dish has been.

(And where it might take me next.)

My South (And What You Might Not See)

Food, Health, Story, Vacation

Mississippi washes over you like a wave.

The smell of the grass and tall weeds hit by the hot sun. Crickets.

Moss hanging from them trees that we were told as kids had lice in em’. Well, Me-Maw wasn’t wrong, we found out.

It sounds different than the Pacific Northwest. The way the trees rustle and lose their leaves. Discovering the Battle of Raymond — now just a hay field off the Natchez Trace. A good place to pick up acorns and the occasional mushroom.

It is my home when I’m not in Oregon.

I think y’all know this by now.

But what you don’t know is how that place makes me soft. The mix of family and smells and deep fried carbohydrates puts me into that place that I’m so familiar with. Odd, how a place does that.

I visited home last week and had such a great time. We went to Mississippi State Fair and ate fried alligator and smoked turkey legs. I almost threw up on at least two rides, mostly due to the block of fair cart food sloshing around in my (usually) well balanced belly. I didn’t much mind.

I watched my mom in the kitchen, orchestrating dinner and snacks and realized where I got it from — why it feels so natural — and why we both get it. Someone has to be in charge of that stuff or people get grumpy and hungry. We know, we know.

I got to each lunch with my niece at her school where my sister teaches 1st grade. She’s such a good teacher. I love looking at her classroom and realizing how bad I am at math. God, I miss cubby holes. And naps! And chicken tetrazzini!

It’s also been since last December that I’ve seen my home state. I was not in a great place health wise, as y’all might recall. Having heartburn and stomach pains nearly every day.

I started going to a doctor and 10 months later, have dropped nearly 45lbs. Stomach pains have stopped and I haven’t had heartburn till I made Gran’s chili, but that’s just to be expected, I think.

Southern cuisine is struggling. Fast food has destroyed what made Southern food so good. If you look hard enough, you can find mom and pop storefronts that are making the real stuff. You’ll find T-Beaux’s seafood stand that builds on to its small trailer every year. You’d be surprised to find a lot of gas stations doing their own stuff.

Mostly you’ll notice the fast food. I strolled into Wal-Mart looking for headphones when I noticed nearly everyone walking around with soda in their hand, shopping. And I don’t say this to cast a bad light on my people. Because I’ve come a long way to lose that habit and it’s changed my life.

I mean, to feel how good it is to have folks say, “Whoa, you have lost so much weight!”

Damn straight.

I worked hard for that. Fought back control of my body. Only to see the struggle of the South. To take back what made it so unique. But I will say it again, fast food is killing the South. Cheap, empty calories, sugar highs and temporarily full bellies.

Real southern food is not this. Don’t kid yourself. Vegetables are a HUGE part of Southern foodways. The “meat and three veg” joints. The huge potential of growing amazing food out of the earth. I saw the most beautiful fresh okra from the street fair. It looked like it was still alive and moving. I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy the other stuff again.

I crave this from my South. A place that most of the world is still so curious about. A place where food and hospitality reign over anything else.

You won’t really find any izakayas or Michelin rated restaurants.

You will find my family and friends who are there. Adapting and moving in the way Mississippi lets you. You’ll see that my mom uses real butter now and that my Gran hooks us up with that awesome yellow cheddar from Mississippi State. I love that.

We’re all still moving and adjusting, hardly settling. And that’s okay. We experience growing pains everywhere we plant our roots.

Thankful for the times sitting around the table and getting to spend time with my niece and nephew. Always so sad to leave, but with each trip, learning what it means to have two homes with lots of people who love us. So thankful for all of it that I just eat it up.

Mississippi, as the sign reads, is always like comin’ home.

 

Last Meal

Food, Story

I ask this question to a lot of people.

Cooks I’ve worked with and friends and family.  I love hearing the answers.

I’ve written about this before. The meal that puts you right in your sweet spot. Where indulgence and ingredient and technique form a perfect memory. I’ve had several last meals float around my head — things surely changing as I grow and am introduced to more unique experiences.

At first it was chicken wings and chili cheese fries.

Fried chicken will always find a place in my last meal. As will pecan pie and my mom’s sweet tea.

A fellow cook I work with said “cioppino” which is basically a fish stew. He’s from an Italian-American household in Astoria, Oregon where the weather and closeness to the salty ocean can almost force upon you a need to eat seafood. I can understand that. I loved his answer. Because it was something he associated with more than just food. It was that sense of place. Something I’m sure he loved growing up and can make pretty damn good.

So that led me to think about another part of this complex question.

This food — this “last meal” — this summation of all things good in your life would probably be nothing without the company of others to eat it with.

And that hit me hard. Right in my soft spot that is seemingly getting softer and softer.

To quote Alexander Supertramp, “Happiness is only real when shared”. This saying may or may not be true to you, but it resonates deeply to me.

We eat food alone all the time. But the memory of eating food with others seems to stick out the most. Sharing food has all the elements of what makes us healthy people. There’s a sense of nostalgia. There’s proximity. There’s vulnerability. There’s love and conversation. Food has this ability to break people down into their most human form. Creatures that need to eat to survive.

So I say I like my mom’s sweet tea…which I really do…but bigger than that, I miss and love my mom and what that taste of sweet tea does to me. It brings me back when she used to wash my hair in the sink when I was a kid and it reminds me of the crock pot of red beans and her love of magnolias and that when I think of hospitality, I think of her.

Fried chicken is best when eaten among others. (Or..in a dark room with the doors locked…as I joke.) It reminds me of lunch after church and taking a nap with Bob Ross on TV. The comfort that food brings is powerful.

Sure we all have things we’d love to taste before we die, but more importantly, we’d rather remember the people we loved and loved us back.

My last meal keeps getting bigger and richer.

The table grows each year.

So grab a chair and let’s talk.

There’s plenty to go around.

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.