creation.

Uncategorized

I love watching the painful process of people creating things.

The “making of” on TV shows and movies. I love watching artists, directors and producers thinking their work is garbage and having to question everything about where they are.

Mostly because it doesn’t make me feel so alone.

I do not consider myself an artist. I do think that I am someone who creates. Not sculptures or things made of glass. Honestly most of the things I make turn into shit, eventually.

However, I do think humans are persistent animals. A lot of us are stubborn. A lot of us have always been our own worst enemies.

Self-love goes out the window when I begin to work on something. I often think it’s the worst thing I’ll ever do.

“Why do I keep doing this to myself?”

No matter how good a thing is and no matter how many people tell me how good that thing is, I go home and I doubt myself into a corner where I really don’t want to turn around and face it. I wish I was being dramatic, but there’s not a dinner that goes by where I imagine I did everything I could to make it my best.

And then the pendulum swings back the other way. I take a step back and look at the things I’ve helped create. I look at the sweat and blood and bones of a thing. Hard work doesn’t often pay off for people, but it so many ways it has for me.

I’ve had some luck.

There have been more than a few times in my world where I have left a thing when I’ve needed to leave, and maybe times that I’ve should’ve stayed longer.

You don’t always get the opportunity to know these things in a lifetime.

a-theology-of-creation-in-12-points-leqnfraz

Most recently, I received an award for being ‘Best Local Chef’ in my city, and other surrounding smaller cities. It was an award I had been nominated for a few times in the past years, but lost to folks who had bigger followings.

I got kind of lucky this year. Granted, most chefs believe they deserve it and they do. We all work hard. We all sacrifice for the things we want to create. I wish people knew the creative process that has to unfold for us to make things happen.

There isn’t a lot of self-love in the industry. I think maybe that’s why we do it sometimes. It feels good to love others and sometimes it’s harder to love yourself. After all, we don’t know the minds of others.

It’s easier to take care of others than it is myself. That has always been true.

That’s why burnout happens so much in my world.

Lately I am thinking about other ways to be creative with the things I am made of. Perhaps this ooey-gooey heart of mine won’t always be able to stand up to the stresses of a kitchen or the weight you have to carry.

I would love the words, “I’m tired” to not always be the first thing out of my mouth when catching up with a friend.

Being tired is like a coat.

It is just a thing that I wear. (more often for other people to see.)

When I won that award, it was fun and terrifying to speak in front of all those people. But it always feels good to win, right? It feels even better to shake hands and receive hugs from people who told me “You deserve this.”

My sister was with me that night, and as we drove home I put the windows down and put on the Cranberries, “Dreams” – because it felt a little like heaven. My sister has seen me at my darkest and I was so happy to share with her in my light.

Perfect things rarely occur, but for a moment, it felt good to have my mind rest on the things that were good and that I was good.

It all takes time.

In fact, life is harder as it goes by. But there are plenty of surprising moments where a pure joy exists and things feel elevated. Lighter.

There is breath and forgiveness,

and in between,

the creation of all things.

 

pressure.

Food

Walking back and forth between the two dinners we were working, I could smell the way the sun warmed the flowers that grow in between the movement and stillness of wood and brick and people that walk around the walls of this building.

I used to lean against these walls years ago, wondering if the hustle was worth it — barely making enough to pay my bills and have a life here. Those are the times that define you the most. The sink or swim moments where you are so grateful, but also so tired of taking people’s money — food — personal time. Sometimes I think luxury is not having to bother people for their things.

The conversation in my industry, especially now, is not so much talking food or trends, but stress, anxiety, addiction and depression.

On my drive to Louisiana today, I listened to a few chefs talk about their demons and the demons that haunt the restaurant world. The pressure to perform and what that pressure does to the cooks they employ. Cooking has never been an easy thing. In fact, it’s always a lot of work, you just get better at doing it and doing it faster than anyone else.

There’s the pressures to compete, to transform expectation and to evolve with the people that eat your food.

At what cost?

That’s the question now.

kitchen-fire

I am currently battling a lot of anxiety. Do I feel stressed? Sometimes. But now this toxic stuff has become a bit more of my life — recently working a 12 day stint on the line got me a little fried. Every day, you work to outsmart your customers. To prepare for their questions or their worries about what they’re paying for — often times you feel successful. Most of the time, you learn to be flexible and to just move on.

Sometimes, it’s easier to give the customers what they want, but sometimes it’s at the cost of something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Tasting. Testing. Running through the mill.

There’s so much pressure in that.
There’s pressure in people wanting more and knowing you may be one of the only people who can give it to them.

I’m not sure of the cost of coming home every day and collapsing on the couch, forcing myself to take deep breaths to calm my pulse and come back to Earth as quickly as I can. I know I that I have to, and that I have to focus on bringing myself down in order to function.

I walk fast. Everywhere. A lot of times impatient. Things I feel are so unlike me.

Some days, I walk away feeling sad that I push for so much hustle — so much performance. I fight the line between wanting to be the best and wanting to be realistic. I am always trying to find the balance of healthy and hustle. I’m not sure if there is one, at least not to me right now.

I listened to these chefs speaking things that brought tears to my eyes. They were right in saying that food and cooking is the easiest part of our jobs. Other things like conflict and interpersonal relationships are hard, hard, hard to navigate. It gets hot and fast and you have to remain a good person. You just have to. IT IS JUST FOOD.

Customers also have to help us. We all have to shift to make restaurants a place where people can work and not go home every single day to get stoned and drink away their tips just to cope with the stress of other human beings. A lot of the pressure comes from chefs and business owners, but also customers.

We all have the ability to create and alleviate this toxic thing.

I am lucky to have such a wonderful, hard working and kind crew. I am not always the best human being to be around — especially as of late.

I put so much pressure on myself — to be better than the place moving in down the street and to make sure we are staying on top of our game. But at the end of the day, I would give it all up if I knew it was completely destroying someone’s life.

I believe this industry can change. I believe we can be healthy people that also love to cook and eat and serve other people. In fact, we are changing this world. I have so much work to do on myself, and how I see this for myself, but I’m noticing. I’m shifting. I’m growing.

Food is so important to me. People are more important. I am more important.

The future of food is always shifting, and it’s going to ask you to lower an expectation. It’s going to ask you to pay more, sometimes.

But at the core of what we do, is to take care of you. Sometimes we need your grace and you need ours.

So, we invite you in to eat our food and talk to our servers. Let’s disarm each other whenever we can and make this thing work.

We have to.
The future of food depends on it.

I was met at my destination today to my nephew, throwing me a baseball glove to play.

It was just what I needed.

A breeze that moved the trees,

the sun that warmed my face,

and the feeling that everything was going to be okay.

 

cooked.

Uncategorized

I’ve gotten lost in it.

The sound of tickets printing — the inevitable feeling of drowning in the things you cannot control. Lost in the sizzle and pops of eggs frying and timers ringing, knowing that at some point it’ll be over, but it won’t be any time soon.

That’s how it feels, sometimes.

It takes a lot out of ya.

I question myself always, if I’m doing the right thing. Am I doing a good job? Does it matter? Does the hustle really pay off? So many times I find myself running circles in my mind of whether or not my coworkers think I’m a doofus. Or if my silence is hard for them when I’m trying to figure something out.

Truly I am not the best cook. My passion for such things fails, at times. My inexperience shows still and I wish I could always do better.

When food becomes a business, things change. It becomes so much more about the hustle, about as one person calls it his “piece of the pie”. I’m tired of shitty restaurant gossip. I’m tired of knowing who does what. We all have the same bills to pay.

All I want is my tiny corner of the world, to have people eat food and to say it was good, as the saying goes.

I don’t need an award.

How infuriating it is at times to be pressured to want things you never needed to know you had to have in the first place.
Pressure. Pressure to do more, always.

And I am guilty of putting it all on myself. This is what I’ve learned these past years in the times of Great Hustle, as I’m learning to call it. Nonstop, it feels. A few breaks to travel here and there, but mostly building and building and building.

Jul200506_015b

I have failed in some of my relationships. I have loved well, regardless. I have seen so many things I cannot stand in myself. Things like pride and power.

There is a price to pay. That price looks a lot like anxiety. It looks like stress and quiet tempers, all because of this tiny corner of the world.
If you ask most chefs to speak, we groan at the idea of having to be that vulnerable. Partly because we do it on a daily basis. There is no greater vulnerability to me than having someone mess with your food because they don’t like it. It means much more to a cook than you can ever imagine. (maybe that’s why I’m afraid to have kids. :\ )

Maybe I am tired and worn.

I am not shiny and polished. I do not have a good side for pictures. I will not be on TV or write a cookbook. That’s alright, too.

At the heart of what I do is always for you. Even in my deepest lack of patience and exhaustion, I allow you in daily — and some of you I feed and some of you I hug and some of you I get aggravated with.

From the depths of my what I consider my soul, I am here with you for this time.

And maybe we can change what we need for ourselves when the times comes.

But for now —

Let’s eat each others food

and say that it was good.

Podcasts with Everything is OK

Food, Story

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

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

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

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

You can find the newest episode here!

Okay.

I hope you all have a great week.

See you soon.

-josh

1505705520406

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.

 

ramen night.

Food, Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DepotFullRes-27.jpg

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

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

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

To be honest, my head is still buzzing.

We had done something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

let’s do it all over again,

and again

and again.

apples and words.

Food, poem

I once wrote a poem about pots and pans,

and how they lined my wall.

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

How they fed my marriage;

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

and I would wipe my sweaty forehead.

Now those pots and pans are on shelves.

Organized and wobbly. Still scorched. Familiar.

1024px-Apple_tree_leaves_with_insect_damage

I also remember carrying a half pig a half mile.

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

I filled their kitchen with smoke from too much

butter in biscuits.

We laughed, and drank more wine.

Proud of my pots and pans.

oh,

It was a beautiful roast!

for the solstice,

for my friend.

I was half paid in apples and words,

but I was in love with this thing,

and the truth is —

I really love apples and words.

the love [and the weight]

Health, Hospitality Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

welcome to the freak show

Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

anger

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

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

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

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

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

A freak show in its own time.

An island of misfit toys,

a hard and heavy day,

a broken hallelujah.

Yes.

Uncategorized

“Why Hattiesburg?”

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

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

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

“Can you work this event?” YES.

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

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

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

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

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

552269_953595859519_1232018662_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have to have something more to believe in,

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

That is what I want to offer.

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

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

I just hope you’re hungry.

-casper