timers and reminders.

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My life is timers and reminders.

Look at my phone and you will see them all turned on — all on their specific days with specific times.
They say things like, BREAD! and PRODUCE!

That is my life now. A gazillion little things. Writing menus. Writing emails including menus. Answering catering inquiries. Talking to old ladies on the phone who are worried about MSG in their food. Ordering food. Cooking food. Creating specials in hopes that people will eat them. Teaching people how to cut onions the way I want them cut. Always leaving the kitchen thinking I’ve forgotten to do something. (Which I probably have.)

I remember reading about chefs when I first started getting into cooking. I knew that what you see on TV wasn’t the real deal. But it didn’t sway me. I didn’t run away even when I knew I had thin skin. I just knew that I wanted it.

I will always have thin skin. That ain’t changing.

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So what is this big difference? Well, I am a cook who has to call himself a chef from time to time. Because people want to talk to the Chef. They want to give their business cards to the Chef even when you know you’ll never call them. People want to know the Chef. They want to know who’s in charge. Which is me. And that is terrifying, and there is a lot of power there.

I have a good crew. I have a really good crew. I know I have gained their respect because I see it every day. And they have mine. There is a proximity thing. When you are constantly moving behind people and beside them with sharp and hot objects. We all sweat together. We commiserate. To me, it’s just business as usual.

But there is a clock. Always. Ticking. Until food is done and needs to come out of the oven. Timing on the eggs in the pot and that ever-pressing sense of urgency once a ticket finishes out the kitchen printer.

When I come home, I usually lay down for a while. I listen to some white noise and it clears my head. Sometimes I fall asleep for a few minutes, and sometimes I still hear the kitchen printer.

I am always aware of time and how precious it is. The time I have for me. The time I have for you and the want to have more of it at the end of a long day.

I feel proud.

Always.

And I really try to care in all things. Some things I know I cannot handle, and I think it’s important to recognize that and to share the load. Humans cannot hold everything. Some times it can feel like Atlas holding the world, but I know deep down that I am not capable of this and that I need other people.

That is where all of this comes from. And at the end of the day it is about the other people who are there with you — making you laugh — taking over a station while you lean against a tree outside for some fresh air.

They are truly the powerful ones. And I will give them everything I have.

I never need a reminder for that.

small moves.

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It’s all kind of fragile.

I keep thinking that, as I work and come home and think about the balance created by the stars and star stuff we are made of.

I don’t know what’s holding it (and us) all together. Food systems and water and pollution. It seems like the load is too much.

I mean, yes, it is too much.

There was a time in my life when I thought I could change the world. Everything is so radical and exciting when you feel fire running through your veins. You think if all you had to do was convince enough people, everything would change.

I suppose my passions have shifted a bit over the years. I am still convicted about the lack of justice and equality, and mourn heavily with our friends who live in poverty. That will never change in my heart.
As a cook, I’ve become friends with people who have been homeless, addicts, in jail and are still currently dealing with some if not all of the above.

The kitchen has always been a place for these people. It’s no wonder that I’ve ended up there, to be honest. Yeah, the sudden rise of “how cool would it be to be a chef” has a lot of folks flocking to the nitty gritty, but I will say, things are different here.

I’m struggling a bit.
I grew to love and cook food on a deeper level in Portland. It’s a foodie city. Its economy works (decently well) around restaurants and farms and purveyors. Its markets are set up to inspire people to learn and cook with such wonderful, fresh ingredients.

This is not about me calling out a place. This is only me, moving back to a place with massive potential, and a lack of systems. These things take time, I do realize.

I also want to recognize the folks that are already here doing the hard work. And for the people who have come and gone. For the workers in the fields, under the hot sun not making much of wage either. I write this, in the same spirit as to why you do what you do. I realize I am sort of new again to this whole thing. So I am always humbled, and realize there is a lot I need to learn.

On a daily basis these days, I contemplate what it would be like to own my own spot.
Somedays I get to talk to people about it. I find it encouraging.
Other days people are less so. Saying that this place isn’t ready yet. That it will fail.

I’m getting sort of..antsy.

In the sense that I can’t afford life here, as cheap as it may be at times, on a cook’s wage. I see other friends of mine in the same position. It’s really pitiful, this whole minimum wage thing. And honestly, I’m not learning a ton, and realize that unless I am being challenged, the wage doesn’t compensate for knowledge.
I go back and forth in my head, that if I’m going to change my occupation, this will be the place, because I surely can’t support myself here for too long. It would break my heart to have to move out of the kitchen. It has been part of home the past five years.

In my head, I am constantly hearing myself say, “Well, if there’s nothing left to burn, you have to catch yourself on fire..” And while that is the intro to one of my favorite songs, it resonates deeply.

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I am not in this industry to make it rich.
I do want to help change it, though.

I want it to be cool.
I want workers to be respected. I want them to feel pride in what they do.
I want people to open their minds and hearts to different food cultures, and dining experiences.
I want people to support more local establishments.
I want local restaurants to challenge, but also support each other.

Otherwise, it becomes stale and stagnant.

If you’re not going to make it better, then I will.

Somehow, I will.

I am the biggest proponent of time. I’ve only been back living in the south for almost four months. This is tiny. But I am seeing potential, even among the naysayers and those who tell me this place isn’t ready. Or that I will fail. And that it is hard and expensive.

I know, I know, I know.

A place, just like a person, must keep challenging itself if it wants to grow.

I want to grow.
I want to grow here, truly. I don’t want to leave again because I can’t find what I need. The systems are not yet here, in many ways. But they are certainly on their way. You can hear it, sometimes. I see it, in little ways. People wanting more.

The South ain’t in no hurry to change, and I am not here for those reasons.
But it will start small, as it always does. With a few friends around a table with some ideas.

And who knows what it will turn into.

I just know I am ready. I’m ready for people here to live better, stronger lives. I want this for myself. I want this for my neighbor.

I feel the heat rising from my feet, and it’s a nice thing to feel. I know this sensation. Of being a little antsy, waiting for the right time to move. I love it. I love how it scares me but how it feels when you start to move.

Small moves, dude.

small moves.

My Letter to Yelp (And the Aggravated Masses)

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Dearest Yelp (and its users),

First off, I just wanted to write and say that I believe you were created for good.

You seemed to have had the right idea about helping businesses get real reviews from real customers.

I was once a Yelper. I put the livelihood of a cafe/restaurant in my hands. I rated them out of five stars and added my two cents about food and service. After all, we are entitled to our own opinions.

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image courtesy of NPR media

The problem is, people started writing terrible reviews. People would give 1 out of 5 stars to a restaurant because they didn’t offer vegan dishes. People would slam counter service and waitstaff because they don’t understand the difference in overhead.

You write the saddest things about not getting enough napkins, or having to refill your own water cup.

You were bummed when the chef was not present to answer your question about the saturated fat content of your curly fries.

So you wrote a bomb review.

“I was upset at the timing of my salad…”

Meanwhile, the manager of said restaurant is getting talked to by the owners.

“Hey man, we need to work on customer service…”

Okay.

I’ve watched business owners get eaten up with Yelp reviews. They are so incredibly hard on themselves and pass it on down. Misery loves company. (And sh*t runs downhill, right?)

Oh, and what’s up with taking away good reviews when business owners and chefs decide to not give you (Yelp) money? Or paying for good reviews and taking away the bad?

You are a corrupt machine, like so many others.

And you’re taking yourselves too seriously.

You shouldn’t review a restaurant after one experience. Come on, you know that. So stop complaining that the waitress didn’t sit at your table to take your order.

So here’s what I advise.

Do not write a review to hurt a business.

You have no idea how hard it is to make a restaurant run smoothly. Often at the cost of so much more than that plate of food on your table. Give it some space to improve. If it doesn’t, spend your money somewhere else. Do not tear down a restaurant because you have a personal vendetta. Businesses fail all the time. You don’t need to add to their suffering. In the way of natural selection, the strong will survive.

If you do want to write a review, know that there is a manager or owner probably taking it into account. Be constructive.

Don’t expect a response.

I know some owners who respond to Yelp reviews. I used to be a manager who would respond. Especially after making a personally driven attack on a co-worker. But I’m over it. People who write nasty things generally aren’t interested in dialogue.

People actually use Yelp when determining where to eat.

I discourage this. But I know your money is precious and you want to eat somewhere knowing you’ll get what you paid for.

Give the place a chance.

If it sucks, give it some time and try it again. If it still sucks, well, I think you should probably let it be. The dining public tends to sort those things out. Research the restaurant a bit before you go out. Know what to expect. Know what you might be getting into.

If you give a cafe a bad review based on their Wi-Fi connection, you should seriously question your goodness as a human being. (Sort of kidding, but not really.)

At the end of the day, we do actually care about what our customers say and think. It’s why we do what we do. So know if you write a scathing review, it will hit us hard. It takes 100 compliments to make up for one bad.

And really, is anything ever that bad?

Yelp can help and hurt businesses.

Believe it or not, there is power in your words, so don’t just throw them around.

But then again,

that’s just my opinion.