Phoenix isn't the right word, but...

Sometimes an event happens that forces you to re-examine your priorities.  Often this comes in the form of tragedy;  something terrible happens to you or someone very close to you, and all the bullshit and drama gets swept aside.  You look at your own problems and annoyances and take a step back.  Juxtaposed against the big picture, you get a new appreciation for the things that really matter:  family, friends, and life in general.

On Saturday this is exactly what happened.  During our prep period, about a half an hour before the bar opened, there was a strange noise--like a jet engine.  It's rare that everyone in the kitchen stops what they're doing to pay attention to the same thing--but this sound made everyone pause.  In a matter or minutes there was smoke, and a call for a fire extinguisher.  In the time it took me to run to the back to grab one, then run back down the line past the mist of the fire supression system firing off, a black line was crawling up our exhaust vent.  Jeff yelled for everyone to get out, and time seemed to slow down.  He cleared the staff out, and by the time we turned around to look in the front window, flames were leaping out of the vent.  Thick black smoke curled out of the building.  The feeling wasn't exactly like heartbreak, but that's the best way I can describe it.  Minutes later the fire department showed up and put it out.  Hoses spraying, men on the roof, no one talking.  Helplessness, despair and sadness tumbled around inside me until there was a grapefruit sized knot that wouldn't go away until the next day.

When we were allowed back in, the kitchen looked like a friend that had just been in a very bad fight;  all their normal features are present, but battered, blackened and beaten.  A whole days worth of prep ruined, water mixed with ash mixed with the ansul spray mixed with the sheet rock the fireman had ripped out of the ceiling.  Not a second was wasted.  We started cleaning up--sloshing around, water dripping from above, no one really saying anything.  It was dark.  All the lights but one were out--something that just seemed to add the the eerie feeling.  Im not sure how long we cleaned for, but in a short amount of time the kitchen started to look familiar again.  When I peered into the wood oven I had to laugh--there was the wood Paul had set up, ready to light, perfectly dry.  A snapshot of what was happening right before we ran out.  Danny would tell me later that in his haste, he carried his calamari outside with him.

Our owners, Laurence, Allison and Jeff decided that we should have a party the next day--a way to un-wind, eat up some of the food that would spoil otherwise, and celebrate each other and Nopa.  We brainstormed over what places were closed on Sundays--who would lend us their kitchen for a night?  Then Laurence asked "Can't we just do it here?"  It was one of those times where you want to yell out "Fuck yeah!" in response.  Everyone went their seperate ways to have a drink.  Chris mentioned that Nopa was his second home.  Someone corrected him--it's actually our first home. 

The next day we all met up again.  The kitchen was surprisingly clean--even more so than we had left it.  There was almost no sign of a fire except for the ripped up ceiling and damaged vent.  We picked out what needed to be used that night, and what could be donated to a food bank.  A fire was lit in the oven, and we started cooking again.  The smell of smoke was quickly replaced with the smell of roasting chicken and warm tagine.  Staff, family and friends gathered and ate and drank and laughed.  It was a beautiful thing.

Nopa doesnt stop for anything--it's constantly moving and alive.  Every now and then a new cook will ask which nights are slow.  The answer is that there are no slow nights.  It's easy to get caught up in it all and forget that out there, beyond those tall glass windows that life is happening.  The world doesn't begin and end in our kitchen--it just feels that way to us.  Life handed us a bad situation, and in true Nopa fashion, it was turned into something positive.  We realized whats really important.  Some less fortunate people got some very good food Thanksgiving week.  Everyone was forced to decompress, step back, and appreciate.  It'll be nice to go home again on Friday.



Every restaurant you work in leaves a mark on you. Sometimes it's just a scrape, sometimes it's a scar, and sometimes it leaves you tattooed--you're changed forever. Your scrapes are probably few. The impact of these kitchens may have hit you hard enough initially, but in time those marks will fade, along with your memories of these places. What were the dishes we were cooking there? Who was that guy I worked pantry with? Was there even a chef there? Often these places were your stepping stones. These are the places that didn't inspire you....or they did inspire you, until you realized that Thai/Mexican fusion wasn't your thing, and you split. These places don't really remember you either. When you go by for a visit (if they're still in business) you recognize no one. The menu is full of the same stuff you were cooking years ago. The only change is that the floors are a little more worn, and the kitchen has a new layer of grease. The lessons you took away with you seem remedial now; learning what the sanitizer dispenser looks like, what a 600 pan is, and how to dice shallots to name a few. You might even leave this place off of your resume.

A restaurant that scars you usually does so physically and mentally. Im not talking emotional scars, although there might be a few of those. Im talking about a change in the way you approach your work...that eventually starts to spill over into your personal life. Your inner clock starts to adjust to your nocturnal lifestyle. When you walk the crowded aisles of a grocery store you say "behind you." Your technique starts to come around, and you start to understand the language of the kitchen. Spanish starts to pop up when you're talking to your friends. Food looks different now. Eating out, you can identify ingredients, techniques, and see a chefs style coming out. These scars are your foundation, and these years are the ones you refer to as the good old bad old days. You pay your dues here, and come away with confidence, and hunger for the next challenge.

The kitchens that tattoo you are the most rare. These places hold a place in your heart reserved for family, your boyfriend or girlfriend, and anything else deeply important to you. After working here you talk differently. You listen differently. Your very DNA morphs into something new. And it goes both ways. You leave your mark, and you can see it rubbing off on others daily. Everyone uses the same phrases, and holds themselves to the same standards. Conversations ramble on and on about cooking. Time spent out of the kitchen is still spent together, as a team, eating out or going to markets. On your days off you miss the kitchen. You look back on yourself before you came here, and that person is almost unrecognizable.

So the question is, how are you leaving your mark? Is your impact something positive? Are you contributing something? Are you a part of it? Or just skirting along the edges? Do the other cooks mimic your style? Do they listen when you speak? Are you able to see the big picture--balancing the personal side and the business side? Is everyone working towards the same goals? Is everyone even comfortable talking about their goals? Will your time spent here be something that influences and changes the other cooks careers?

a quick rant.
are you finding yourself dreading work? do you stand there with your arms folded, a sour look on your face, and a shitty attitude during service? are you just going through the motions, working towards your friday? are you interested in progressing anymore? do you communicate through shrugs and mumbled insults? have you gotten too comfortable? if so, then please fuck off and stop cooking already. if you really do love cooking, then please go cook somewhere that suits you. no one is chained to their job--so stop being a baby and acting like you can't leave. do something you probably haven't done in your entire career and take a motherfucking risk. so what if you fall flat on your face? at least then you'll have perspective. thank you, you may now continue reading.


-Al: "Harissa and yogurt? Yorissa."
-Me: "Or hogurt."
-Al: "Hagurt you mean."

-Corey, talking about the puppy cam: "They're called Shinju's or something."
-Me: "Shinju's a ninja."
-Corey: "Well, they're ninja dogs."

-Corey, talking to Al: "Don't ever write on my underwear ever again."

from top: shaving the whiskers off guanciale, thirteen pork chops at once, dirty girl tomatoes, gibraltar at blue bottle, the blue bottle stand, calzone at dopo, the tuesday market crew, dr feelgood is really old, green vans, my worn out ninja shoes, the bunny primps, an empty ferry plaza, an empty seat at slanted door, some snacks and whiskey at the door.




you just got destroyed. service is almost over--the other cooks are starting to put away mise, wash down, eat family meal. you're paralyzed--a thousand yard stare, a filthy apron, and a burn on your knuckles that's already bubbled up into a painful blister. you did 300 covers tonight, and sold more fish and pasta than ever. and you did it the hard way. no one is really talking, or looking at you. there are no pats on the back tonight. everyone just looks at the ground when they scurry past you. then your sous steps into your station, arms folded, and lets out a deep breath.

"so...what do you think happened tonight?"
"i dont know. i was slammed."
"did you feel prepared going into service? are you still having problems with the fish?"
"no, i felt fine. the fish is ok...i just need more practice with it."
"let me tell you what i saw. you looked frantic. you seemed disorganized, and i saw you call the prep cook over about a dozen times to get more mise for you. you didn't get any re-fires tonight, but that was because the guests opted for something else than have you cook another plate for them."
"well im trying as hard as i can."

well, no, you arent. you think you're pushing as hard as you can. but at the end of the night, when your energy is spent, and you don't think you can cook one more plate, have you ever asked yourself "how could I have been better?" a cook that believes they are trying as hard as they can is also a cook that shuts down when things get hard. they stop calling orders back, they stop calling out their movements, and they throw up their arms in surrender when the tickets keep coming. do you remember that feeling? the feeling that service will never end? the feeling of complete helplessness? like you just want to let out a primal scream, throw all your sauces on the ground, walk off the line and apply for a job at a bookstore? have you ever looked at that printer, endlessly chattering away at you and yelled "FUCK YOUUUUUUUU PRINTERRRRR!!!!"

if this is happening to you, you need to evalute every service. look for those moments when you were really under pressure, and ask yourself where you started to take shortcuts. where are you weak? which dishes give you that heartbreaking feeling when they come in? are you setting goals for yourself? are you truly focusing completely on the task at hand? have you prepared adequetly? are you using the right tools for the right job? and lastly, the hardest question to ask yourself: are you the weak link?

when a cook shuts down, it means everyone else is now having to adjust their routine because of this one person. since the communication has stopped, the cooks around this person have to watch them now--is the food being cooked? did he hear the order? is she close to picking up? did they forget the garnish on that app that just went up? the sous chef has to call orders over and over again--diverting his or her attention from the other dozen things going on at that moment. and the chef has a red light going off in their head now; that base trust on the dishes that are 'easy' is gone. every plate has to be scrutinized now. the rhythym of the kitchen has to change. the tempo slows down. ticket times grow. mistakes become more frequent. you get so wrapped up in your own head that you forget to stab the new tickets coming in and cook old orders twice. your sous chef and chef will ultimately take the blame for this service--but you know who the blame really belongs to.

the solution is simple: you never leave the line--physically or mentally. you do not shut down on yourself, or your fellow cooks. you always call back your orders, even if you won't remember them two minutes later. you focus on every task, no matter how small. and you commit to perfection. not actually being perfect...just trying.

photoblog - october/november

for halloween, all the nopa cooks dressed up like the servers. there were strange hats and donuts involved.

above: sg-120 at blue bottle, western addition pancetta, lamb, corey's guanciale, lamb sammie, rabbit 2 ways, drying pancetta, a typical nopa pickup, and my rabbit.

i fucking hate sugary fries.


  • le tigre is better than bikini kill
  • being just barely sick is annoying. id rather be full blown spinning and puking.
  • mission street food is still looking for guest chefs. this means you.
  • want.
  • there are many unwritten rules in the kitchen: dont call in sick, hands off my mise en place, always call your movements, an extern yields right of way to a more experienced cook. what else?
  • life is beautiful, even when it's not.
  • when a guy google searches a cute girl, its stalking. when a cute girl google searches a guy, its awesome. sorry, thats just the way it is.
  • socom confrontation for the ps3. a $50 bluetooth headset that comes with a $10 game.
  • i need new shoes. preferably nike. any suggestions?
  • ryan farr has a cool blog.
  • top chef has someone doing global small plates. that sounds familiar. it also has an overtanned cougar, and a douchey miami guy. in the first five minutes a guy refers to himself as a queen. if it were staying on my tivo, (which its not) i would be pulling for jamie lauren (go sf) or the hawaiian or finnish dude. and since when is brunoise the hardest knife skill?
  • just got called into work. gotta go.

  • "I used to work at a pizza hut call center. That job sucked." - Corey
  • "I used to go there a lot." -Merrell in reference to Q-Zar lazer tag.
  • "Can we please stop talking about my va-jay-jay?" -Merrell

the playlist, rock band edition
  1. she sells sanctuary - the cult
  2. just what i needed - the cars
  3. pda - interpol
  4. here comes your man - the pixies
  5. my best friend's girl - the cars
  6. lazy eye - silversun pickups
  7. psycho killer - talking heads
  8. anyway you want it - journey
  9. bad reputation - joan jett
  10. territorial pissings - nirvana