crawfish.

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it’s starting to feel like spring, here —

warm with dreams of hot crawfish dumped on a table and

I smell it heavy in the air driving home past the big vats of them,

soaking in that spicy water:

garlic, cayenne, celery (and loads and loads of salt)

a hell broth that reminds of the times I learned about Jesus.

 

It is far away, sometimes.

Everything lately has been LOUD.

With the sounds of guns,

with the sadness of losing my uncle to cancer.

But I’ve planted some seeds, didn’t you know?

I’m watching them grow. They are wispy like the hairs

on the tip-top of my head.

 

Every season is renewal.

Of dying and growing.

Of being thankful,

and often times full of sorrow.

You meet us there, in that field.

I read that once in a poem.

I imagine you there always,

some great peace in the midst of all the grinding

and working wheels and decaying dark things.

 

Yep.

I see the seeds I’ve planted starting to burst out of the ground,

because the conditions were just right.

I can’t help but feel so green and raw with them,

hanging on for dear life because it is always so new!

Whatever it is we feel, it’s always something new.

 

But honestly, what I really want right now?

Hmm.

Peace, mostly. In my heart and for everything,

but actually, if I’m being true to this one moment,

I want to rip open a flimsy brown bag full of steamy hot crawfish

and wipe the sweat from my forehead.

 

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heat.

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It is cold and dark when I leave the house.

Achey cold. It is so hard to unwrap myself from my blanket and take the short ride to work. But I do it early this morning because I have to work a little harder on this day.

I open the kitchen door and turn on the oven and warmers. It’s a welcoming sound as I know heat is on the way. I kick the heater on in our dining room and try to organize my brain. It’s hard to organize yourself that early. That 6am sleepy dreamy scattered thing.

I work on the quiche and the grits and the soup. I decide I need music and for some reason Grimes is on repeat for an hour and a half. But I am by myself and she is fun and wakes me up. I put on a pot of coffee and I can smell it brewing through the kitchen.

A million things run through my mind (as they always do). What if we are too busy on this already busy and hectic day? I put it aside because the older I become the more I learn worrying is the art of suffering twice. I will still do everything I can to make a thing run smoothly, but I know as the day moves forward, so do more people. People are chaos, always.

And maybe it was a little bit of chaos. But I slip into it like a warm bath.

At the end of the day, I take out the trash and look at the new building we are moving into in a few months. I find it equal parts daunting and beautiful. Some days more beautiful, though. I am in a constant state of wonder how it ended up this way. How I pushed myself a little harder to be good at something, and it magically turned out to be my thing.

There is a certain level of luck and chance. I know the risks of this kind of work. Burn out and margins and hazards. I got it. I hear you. But I don’t often have the luxury to think too much about it. Unfortunately it has affected my writing and I miss it!

And I miss you.

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It has always been about cooking and writing. And I don’t seem to be growing out of it, but I am also a person who knows how to shed a skin and feel raw and stingy.

It all feels too big, sometimes. Like there is a version of me out there that is prepared to do it all beautifully and that version is so not me right now.

I guess maybe that’s how it always feels. But eventually, you do become that person.

I don’t know.

I feel as though I’m about to shed something heavy. I know because something big is on the horizon and I am steady on it and I know I cannot carry both.

It all feels so good right now. Showered and warm and about to crawl back into the blanket I will have to peel off in about six hours again. But it feels good, and I feel strong.

Ready to open the doors,
flip on the oven,

and do it all over again.

 

eating last.

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It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.

During my last post and this, a lot has happened y’all!
I moved (into quite possibly the coolest cottage in south Mississippi).

I got an award.
And I got nominated for another award.

In the midst of all of this, we’ve had three monstrous catering events and our little shop is getting busier by the week, it would seem at times. Certainly at times more hectic, at least.

Now, these are all great things. Growing pains and things, perhaps. Things I thought wouldn’t happen for at least another year. Certainly not now. I saw my name mentioned with a few other local chefs who basically run entire restaurant groups and thought to myself,

“Damn. All we have are two hot plates, a sandwich press and an oven that functions well about 70% of the time…”

I feel really proud about that. I feel proud for my crew, as I don’t believe they asked for any of the attention or what becoming busier imposes. Higher expectations. Different crowds. More pressure to perform consistently.

How do you ask that of people? How do I ask that of myself?

I think the answer is why.

Maybe why is the question, as well.

I’ve been reading this book on leadership. Not because it is something I’ve pursued, but somehow something that has always been given to me — and something that I feel proud to take. I walk around knowing that I’m a decently educated, tall, white male — which means I am probably given better opportunities – historically and well, presently.

I say all this because I always want to recognize that privilege before anything else.

Also, I work hard. And work hard to remain kind when I can. And fair. I will also eat last.

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Why is eating last important? I have no idea. But I always find myself, even when I cook for people, the last person in line. Generally by request.

Simon Sinek has a book called, “Start With Why” — and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I eat this stuff up. He interviewed military generals and corporals and came away with a profound truth: Officers eat last.

People feel safe with good leadership. This is something I’m learning. Especially in kitchens where every one is giving it their best for not much reward — they are doing so because they know they are important, and will be cared for in some way. At least that’s the way it should be. Once that is compromised, things begin to fall apart.

It’s also important for people to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. That can be hard.

I’m less likely to give my money to someone who has no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. But if you can show me why — I’m all yours. That in itself makes me feel safe.

In the same way you buy food from us because you know we give a shit about what things look and taste like, you are willing to come back again and again.

When I get days like this, where I am allowed to settle into myself, I feel a lot of things. Definitely being tired is one of them. I haven’t had a real day off in about a month and a half. Therefore, I get to catch up on writing. On purpose. On being better.

I will sit and listen.

Moan and stretch from the weeks toils.

I like being here. I’m still learning how to do this, and I have hopes that we are still working towards something better. That means hustling so my co-workers have jobs and that we continually work to make this city better.

I am happy to be eating last. And as it turns out, it’s made all the difference in the world.

saints and salt.

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I’ve been watching this new series on Netflix called, “Chef’s Table”.

Of course, as a cook, I am drawn to things that shed a little light on my world and why we are driven to do what we do.
For one, the series is beautifully produced.
The music is dreamy.
The food is just. Humph.

I sit in my chair, squirmy and restless.

In the back of my mind, I say “Can I do that here??!!”

Can I become great?
To be honest, I don’t think that’s the right question.

In all of these stories, there are extraordinary highs and gut-wrenching lows. From physical exhaustion and breakdowns to having your biggest client tell you that your food was terrible. There are the empty dining rooms, and being booked solid for a year.

The ebb and flow of being a chef is like this: Response. No response. Doubt. Certainty. And I think that it changes daily.

Each chef has this desire to create and change the world they live in.
I am so drawn to their worlds. It makes sense to me. Deep deep down I will always have a need to create and change.

And I have been so challenged this past week.
Frustrated with the industry. Letting my tired and restless soul get the best of me on numerous occasions.

It is so hard to translate your life’s passion to someone who doesn’t care like you do. It feels a little like being a kid and having the grown ups discourage you from being wild. I think we lose so much of our wildness. We lose our ability to say what we need to say and to communicate it well.

I’ve found myself as a leader. I think maybe because I try not to be an asshole. I try to not set up my people to fail. I try to be good and I try to do good things. It is hard keeping your patience and to not blow up on the occasional (or frequent) slip up.

And I am so hard on myself. And I am so stubborn, even more so in a kitchen.

I am learning what kind of chef I want to be. This has been a season of learning what kind of chef I don’t want to be. At the cost of losing sleep and burning a bridge or two, I am learning still.

I am not here to feel justified.

I’ve been a jerk too many times for that.
But I have a lot in common with these people and the fires that reside in their bellies and their kitchens.

Their love of feeding people and doing it well.
Their passion for life in all its complexity.
Truly, they are the saints that salt the earth.

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Today I rest my legs and my back, getting ready for another week where I hope to make good decisions. I also hope that I have the courage to speak my mind when I feel something is right and to fight for and with the people I work for, and this way of life.

Because I’m not sure what cooking is without conviction and trials,

or the weight that I carry that comes with feeding people.

All I know is that there will be huge highs and lows, and the things I might sacrifice to get there.

I don’t know if I will ever arrive.

I don’t think it is about arriving. It is about the road and pit stops and randomly jumping into an ice cold river,

That is what makes this journey personal,

and I’m excited to see where and for how long the road takes me.

balancing.

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I love cooking so, so much.

In fact, I am defensive of my love for it. I guard it fiercely because it is one of my main love languages and I get to use it every day. It is how I get to love on you.

Unfortunately, I am in a season of doubt. I’m sure most industry people go through this. Some sooner than others who know this type of work truly isn’t for them. Personally, I am glad they find out sooner than later, because there’s nothing harder than watching someone burnt out clock in and clock out wishing they were somewhere else, doing something that makes them feel alive.

I am lucky, in that I found something that I love. I walk this balance beam, holding on to a lot of what I am. That big softy who wants nothing more than to live in Vermont in a cabin under a few maple trees. Perhaps submitting my award winning cheddar in the state fair. All of this, with a wonderful person who may, from time to time, spoil me with a back scratch. Maybe a kid. Maybe two. Probably an herb garden, because my mom thinks they’re fancy.

The other side of this balance beam is standing behind a stove (or anything hot, really) listening to my colleagues moan about a horrid customer or that they’re hungover or that they just burned a two inch line in their arm from the convection oven. The hot and brutal rush of making food and feeding people. The clean up. The decompression. Doing it all over again. It’s addicting. It’s fun. It’s hard. Hard. Hard work.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had numerous people (not directly) advise against opening their own place. There’s the stress on all accounts. The long hours. The constant worry about your business. The strain on relationships. The idea of business itself is a little overwhelming, and I realize one needs to be tough tough tough.

I’ve worked for chefs who inspire me to work harder and cleaner and other chefs who insult their own profession.

I work in an industry that is slowly gaining some sort of weight in our country. Less so, in a smaller Mississippi community. I do not live in an industry city. We are best described as a retirement community. A college town with a struggling downtown scene. One that I wish to invest in.

It has been so hard, as a person who loves to eat and to cook, to not have the things that brought me to cooking in the first place.

This, is the nitty gritty part.

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Being single, and closer to more friends and family has been so good for me. I’ve been taken care of so much and I’m also busier than ever. Which is weird. I don’t remember being too busy. I remember having a lot of time to learn how to cook. I suppose this is the hustle. In between the calm and the storm.

What I want to say, is that food will always be the way I take care of you.

Sure, I have my words. My eyes that struggle to make contact with yours.

I’m trying really f*cking hard to make eye contact. To stand straighter.

To talk louder. To not mumble so much.

I am Josh, the quiet kid who once upon a time, hid behind the legs of his mother and another time forgot his lines in the church play when he was eight, even though there were only three I had to remember.

I am also 6 foot 2 inches and carry a belly. I’m pretty bald and wear a brown beanie because my head gets so cold.

But in that kitchen,

I am present.

I dissolve, like salt in water.

Leaning slightly, wanting more color, more heat.

Tasting and observing the changing of water into air.

I can be both, I say deep in my belly. I have room for both.

Because I love to cook,

and it will always bring me closer to you.

My Top Four Cookbooks of the Past Year (and the dishes I crave the most)

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My love for cookbooks outweighs my love of well, regular books. This was not always so.

At least, if you walk into my room…that’s what you’ll see. And I’m sure once I move in to my new place, you will see them up front. Easy access. Arranged in no particular order. Probably on my night stand. In the kitchen. And on my coffee table.

I will probably have a few Cook’s Illustrated and the latest Lucky Peach magazine in the open air as well. Yes, I am a doofus.

I revisit cookbooks like most of you do with The Giver, and the Catcher and the Rye or Mere Christianity. I suppose that’s what they’re for. They are tools. Only, they have changed over the years. At least from what I used to remember about cookbooks.

If you look in some of my mom’s cabinets, you will find cookbooks from church. Usually a congregation compiles some of their favorite recipes from dinner on the grounds, or pot lucks and ice cream socials. “This is Rev. Waller’s favorite pecan pie..”

so on, and so forth.

Of course, there are the classics.
Rambauer’s “Joy of Cooking”.
Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.
Getting a little older,
“Larousse Gastronomique”
and Auguste Escoffier’s “Guide to Modern Cookery”

Since food, and food culture are taking off in the states, there have been a lot of beauties to come off the shelves and into my admiring arms. I admit, I study them like textbooks. Only, these days, they can read like a good narrative. Each recipe gets an explanation, which I like. I enjoy diving into the minds of cooks, not just for the secrets in their dishes, but for the chord it strikes deep in their memory.

I’ve acquired many of them since diving deep into the culinary world, but there are four in particular that I’ve bought this past year that are of importance to me. Also note, many of these were not published in the past year, just the ones I’ve hit hard. **If this is boring, you can probably head straight down to the closing, and call it a day**

Joe Beef 1_Credit Tourisme Montreal, Pierre-Luc Dufour

 

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts
I love chefs David McMillan and Frederic Morin of Montreal.
I believe all industry professionals should own this book. The recipes are outrageous and decadent. Their story, and the early days of Joe Beef are enlightening as a person who wants their own place some day. They are kings of hospitality. They are hopeless romantics, collectors of vintage dining ware and stories, and strive to be excellent dining companions. I hope that one day, I will make it up there.
Dish I dream about: Lievre a la royale

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The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
I feel like if I would have met and/or worked for Judy Rogers, I would have fallen in love. She recently passed away, but the last time I was in San Francisco, I popped in here for a few small plates and a couple of very strong cocktails. It was nothing short of perfect, as the memory of my time still makes me feel all tingly. It’s a staple in the SF dining scene, as classic as it is relevant. Oysters. Fries. Roast chicken. It’s just too much. A warm and inviting homage to bay area cuisine, and fine, simple but exquisite cookery.
Dish I dream about: Zuni roast chicken and bread salad / oysters from the raw bar

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A Girl and Her Pig
April Bloomfield. Swoon. Women chefs are more intimidating to me than male chefs. I’ve worked for both and I can say they all work really, really hard. But, this isn’t as much about her being a woman, than it is her love for cooking. I’ve listened to her talk about cooking, and I’ve watched her cook. She loves eating. She’s hard on her cooks and is particular about getting a dish right. She makes me want to cook better. Her food is just sexy as hell, which in my eyes, makes her just as much. It’s satisfying, rich, and thoughtful. Her passion is addicting, and I hope that someday, I’ll still have the love that she carries for her food, cooks, farmers and purveyors.
Dish I dream about: chicken livers on toast / also: lemon caper dressing

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Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird
Gabriel Rucker and his team are champs. Gah, I know. I know. I suppose I had to make an homage to Portland. There were a lot of incredible cookbooks that have recently come out of Portland. I had the chance to eat there just once, for an anniversary. It’s one of those dinners that a poor couple saves up for and knows they’re going to get $150 tab and be perfectly okay with it. (Like we did.) The atmosphere is dark and candlelit. Open kitchen, beautiful service and the food is rich and sexy, as is the wine they pair so closely. This cookbook is so fun to look at. Beautiful plates, and really just a great story about a chef finding his sweet spot. It’s encouraging to see the community of cooks in a city and how they all found their niches, eventually. Le Pigeon is a shining example of people who always aim to use the best, and who cook beautiful, authentic, really fun food.
Dish I dream about: beef cheek bourguignon, pommes puree and glazed carrots

If I haven’t already made you insanely hungry for your lunch hour, then I must insist you acquire these and have fun with them. Everyone has the right to good food, not just the elite. It might take some time to get where you want to go, but these dishes weren’t built in a day. They take a lifetime, really. They build upon one another, just as we do.

So, I must ask, what is your favorite cookbook and what dish do you crave the most??