Pocast #7 - Things Get Rowdy

The Real You.

Last week I wrote about the transformation that happens during service;  cooks stepping out of their own bodies as adrenaline and stress and heat took over.  A 7 hour ride, where the barest, most naked emotions came through.  A place where it was acceptable to cuss violently, but not acceptable to put up an ugly plate.  It made me start to think about all the cooks i've worked with over the years--cokeheads, stress cases, alcoholics, amatuers, and in rare instances bad ass pros.  It was this mix of personalities that made me start to wonder:  Who was it that I was seeing?  Is the person in the kitchen, in the heat of service the real "you"?  Or is it some amalgam of emotion and circumstance and experience?

Let's take Jake for instance.  Jake was a 4 year vet of the industry.  He could throw down on sautee like a four star pro.  I never saw him freak out.  I did see him do an excessive amount of cocaine, and i'm not sure that he ever started a shift without smoking a blunt in his car.  Who was I really seeing?  Outside of the kitchen he was boisterous and loud--a mysoginistic borderline racist that loved Mac Dre and never hesitated to instigate a fight.  In the kitchen, intoxicated as he may have been, he seemed to find some kind of peace...even if that peace manifested itself in an aggressive way.

There was also Sergio.  Sergio was mostly quiet--a polite, soft spoken cook from the hills near Guadalajara.  He made cooking look so easy.  I would show him a new technique that I could barely grasp myself, and he had it down two plates later.  He was also an astonishingly functional alcoholic.  There were some nights where he would come to me and ask for booze--which then left me with the choice of enabling his behavior and having a smooth service, or trying to "help" him and watching things go down in flames.  Something strange happened away from the kitchen though:  the drinking continued, but his humanity slipped away.  He became shy, cranky, and angry.  I started to look forward to seeing him intoxicated at work.

And then there's me.  Who was I when I was on the line back then?  I remember being scared and humiliated and confident and cocky.  As my skill set grew, it seemed like my social skills were retreating.  Was cooking making me into some sort of J.D. Salinger-esque recluse?  The first time my beard grew all the way out I freaked and shaved it and my head--which probably ended up making me look far crazier than I had before.  I became so deeply obsessed with cooking and kitchen life that I found myself feeling shy around my own friends.  If we weren't talking about food, what were we supposed to talk about?

Cooking does strange things to people.  The person that you think you are and the person that others see is rarely one and the same.  Everyone has a dark side; and a lot of times it's hard for a cook to distinguish between that dark side and themselves.  Some cooks find sanctuary in the kitchen.  It's their place to let all of their problems and concerns slip away and just focus on something that they love.  Other times the kitchen becomes a place for like minded misfits to plan their next criminal enterprise.  What's it like in your kitchen.  Who is the real you?

  • my to-do list is never done
  • stop playing it safe
  • wow the podcast was rowdy this week
  • when it's nice in SF, you will see some very pale people wearing very little clothing
  • one gibraltar is never enough
  • the nopalito 3* review is out.  i won 2$
  • my stolen iphone is back.  good triumphed evil
  • losing your parking ticket will end up being very expensive
  • pearl jam's 10 on rock band.  it's mastered very strangely
  • i keep seeing more and more blogs with notes and quotes on them.  interesting
  • according to twitter, the cooks had to dump their asahi's, and eddie almost choked to death this weekend

quotes and conversations:

Me:  Hey Ponder, do you have onions that aren't the same color as the panties you're wearing?
Merrell:  That's funny, because i'm wearing pink underwear today.  Wanna see?
Me:  Yep.  Those are the same color.

"Any girl that I know does NOT look that clean.  Except my girlfriend."
-Goose.  Knows dirty girls.

"I could move to New Mexico.  And be a New Mexican."

"I like when you call me senor."
-Edward.  Likes to be called senor.

Al:  Corey, I had a dream and you were in it.
Corey:  Was it about me laughing at your Gucci wallet?

Hui:  I want to get a taco truck, do dumplings out of it, soup...
Corey:  You could call it dump truck.

Me:  You might say Paulie is the Ray Charles of flatbread making.
Corey:  Why, because it looks like a blind dude made em?

Me:  Ponder, what should we do with Violet's burger?
Ponder:  Well, I left my dildo upstairs in my locker, so...

Me:  You've got an artichoke.
Goose:  Hey...
J-Lo:  I got it.
Goose:  You got it?
J-Lo:  Yeah, i've been doin it all night you fuckin puto.

Me:  Ponder, if you do a Joey from Blossom again, i'll stab you in your asshole.
Ponder:  I said that then immediately regretted it.

from top:  carbonara, al, pork jus, no pancetta?, merrell's milkshake according to violet blue, seriously?, dont put all yout eggs in one basket, my knife sticks, baby danger, ricotta, pancetta @ 30+ days, beer at joes, instructions, linden, al when he was in danzig, stolen iphone comes home ftw.


Why we say goodbye.

It's 5:30.  It's hot.  Prep period started calmly, then slowly built into a frenzy of chopping and reducing and cussing and sweating and a constant stream of "How we doin boys?  We gonna make it?"  The dining room is packed.  Stoves are full.  The oven is making a horrible sound, and the sautee guy isn't happy about it.  The wood isn't burning nicely, and as each minute ticks by, it seems like you can actually hear everyone's blood pressure rising.  Line up is a mess, and the grill guy didn't know that he had the fish special tonight.  In the minutes before service starts, everyone gets very quiet.  My heart is racing, and a scowl has appeared on my forehead.

At 5:58, there is no looking back.  The cooks race around, filling their water cups, washing down stations, or going to the bathroom.  As we pass each other, we take a moment to look each other in the eye, and slap hands. 
  • "See you in seven hours."
  • "Have a good ride."
  • "Try not to fuck it all up tonight."
  • "Love you long time big boy."
And sometimes it's just a nod, or a pat on the back.  But why say goodbye?

When a cook is in service, they change.  The basic traits and qualities (or flaws) remain, but they are amplified.  Adrenaline starts to flow, and the rush doesn't stop for hours.  Everyone bounces around, and all sorts of ticks start to show.  (I flick my fingers back and forth, Ponder twists and dances, Paulie spins)  This combination of overt confidence, adrenaline, and fear makes a sickening stew that manifests itself though cussing, insults, and glares.  It might look like a ballet to you, but to us it mostly feels like a fist fight.  If you were to take your favorite sports team, and have them bone down with an expert carpenter and a talented architect, you would be left with the bastard quintuplets that make your food.  And they aren't always nice to each other.

The good news is that once the first few tickets start to come in, everyone settles a bit.  Hopefully a rhythm develops, and by the end of it all there are pats on the backs, and smiles.  Every now and again though, things go sour, and two cooks that might be great friends outside the kitchen turn on each other.  Or the sous might light up a cook, and hours later the aftershock of that interaction can still be felt.  At the end of the night though, a pro knows that the service is ancient history.  It's time to move on, chat casually and have a beer.  An amatuer holds onto all the bad feelings, and you can see their spirit collapse as time goes on.

We say goodbye because we're excited for the moment when you get to see our friends again.  We say goodbye because it's a sign of respect and friendship.  And it's comforting, because you know that the other cooks want to see the real you at the end of it all as well.

  • Merrell turned 40 this week.  Happy birthday Merrell
  • If your purse is as big as a duffel bag, it might be too big
  • You just don't hear Flowers For Algernon jokes every day
  • Ask Corey about his sex chicken
  • You're fucking out Larry and Terry
  • If the Mongoose thinks you're running a scam, you probably are
  • tights are not pants.
  • Carrots and ras el hanout are best friends
  • If you end up chatting with an AT&T mobile phone policy maker, kick him or her in the shin for me
  • When you get home from a strip club, the first thing you need to do is take a shower
  • I'm in this article about twitter with Ruth Reichl and Daniel Patterson

quotes and conversations

Corey:  If you do a good job, come over and we can play anal tongue darts.
Merrell:  Can I go first?

"If this turns out to be a throwdown with Bobby Flay, i'm gonna be pissed."
-Chef.  Food network visited this week

Me:  Should we ask Al to be on our softball team?
Corey:  Yeah, we could use a scorekeeper.

"I was looking in SFGate to see if anyone got murdered last night."
-Maritess.  Concerned about guests.

"Some words I have a hard saying."
-Goose.  Has a hard saying sometimes.

"I don't have a penis!"

"You know what I did today?  I woke up, made oatmeal.  And coffee.  Boned down, then went to Outer Sunset for dim sum.  Shaved, then came here."
-Goose.  Had a busy morning.

Me:  What are you taking pictures for?
Kim:  You take pictures all the time!
Me:  Yeah, for my website.

from top:  tools, salty duck pancetta, spill, pasta, leg of lamb, spring is here, ponderdinner, cupcake, i love salad, the dr., radishes, food network, cozy, maritess, calamari



"Creativity means not copying."
"Creativity means changing your mind every day."
-Ferran and Albert Adria

"Producing new dish is not really creativity is it? Is it is the intangible thoughts leading up to that dish that is the pure definition?"
-Grant Achatz, via twitter

Oh creativity, you fickle bitch.

Remember when you first started cooking? Experiencing those little creative bursts? A constant stream of incoming knowledge and inspiration, tumbling around in your head, and somehow manifested through something that you just had to cook--for family meal, or at home, or when your chef wasn't looking. Chances are that your dish sucked, but that feeling...translating your inspiration into something that you could experience with all the senses...that was fucking magic. And sometimes it was that feeling that helped you get through a hard spot.

I remember seeing the Michel Bras Essential Cuisine cookbook for the first time. I had seen the French Laundry cookbook, and it was amazing. But there was something about the photography, and the plating, and the peculiar approach to cuisine that Bras took. He wasn't just cooking--he was trying to give his guests a connection to the land his restaurant was on, to place terroir on the plate. I had never seen anything like it...so I immediately bought the book and cooked my way all the way through it. In the following weeks I had my nose glued to Art Culinaire, the Into the Fire episode at Trio, and food blogs and message boards. Data streamed in, and jumbled around, and food was made, and studied, and dissected. It was culinary puberty.

The goal was to learn everything. I wanted to understand every technique. And in reading all these books and menus, I was forced to go back and look at the classics to have a complete understanding of all this material. Getting to talk about all this inspiration with like minded cooks that shared my same passions only furthered the whole experience. The food we were making was good. Everyone benefited. And then we all went our seperate ways.

It was this seperation that first made me really question where creativity came from. Was it enough to just read a recipe, re-cook it, and try to put your spin on it? Did there need to be an inherent contribution to cuisine in order for someone to be creative? How important was it to try to be out front, to be doing something that no one else had attempted? Was this even possible?

Now that i've been immersed in Nopa for a year, I think that my opinions on creativity have changed. In our kitchen, creativity comes from inspiration, and tradition, and conversation. The same like mindedness leads to a natural progression of ideas and inspirations and practicality. I still look at the cookbooks, and eat out, and check menus and web sites, but at the end of the day, your ideas belong to you. And your creations, no matter how much you contributed to them, belong to the team and to the restaurant. And if all goes to plan, the day will come when all my opinions on creativity and inspiration change.

  • that may have been the worst ferry plaza trip ever.
  • this article talks about whether or not fine dining is relevant anymore. daniel patterson is in it, and it's awesome
  • adesso will change your life. best prosciutto ever, and it's make locally, from local pigs
  • i like to gamble on how many stars bauer will give
  • there is no such thing as medium rare to medium
  • watchmen. hurm.
  • thankyouthankyouthankyou ryan farr for the cichearrone. they were amazing
  • if i ever wear a leather jacket or have a ponytail, please make me stop
  • luis comes in with hot ass all the time. wtf luis, where do you meet all these girls?
  • verge winery gave me a bottle of wine because they use "notes" on their blog!
  • forming voltron. come in on a thursday at 6 and you might see it
  • ponder thought he saw snoop dogg eating a bread bowl at fisherman's wharf
  • eastbound and down is awesome
  • my twitter account went fucking banana's this week
  • i've got eggs and vegetables on the mind. a lot
  • damn it feels good to be off myspace and facebook

quotes and conversations, a little more adult edition.

Goose: It's called a fee-fee. You take a toilet paper roll, then you put a bag in it. And put lotion in it. And squeeze it. It's called a fee-fee.
Me: That sounds like more work than I want to do to jerk off.

Me: Your breast milk has a very strange color to it.
Merrell: It's all the ketchup I eat.

"I've seen your clothes Chris, and they are not going to go out of fashion for at least 2 weeks"

Eddie: I guess it all depends on whether or not she had an awesome personality.
Me: Isn't that always the case?
Eddie: No. No it's not!

Me: So when you guys bone down, does he slap your ass, or do you slap his?
Al and Merrell: Both!

Me: Paulie and Ponder have to vote on it.
Goose: Paulie don't count. Paulie hasn't had sex for four years.

Me: Hey Eddie? If my dick were made of cracker jacks, would you take it to a ball game?
Eddie: Yes.
Merrell: You could put a foam finger on it.

Me: Where's Al?
Merrell: I dunno. I bet he comes out with his hair all fucked up. Oh, there he is.

Me: You know why I think i'm cool? Cuz i'm a fuckin dork.
Goose: You know why I think i'm cool. Cuz i'm a fuckin idiot.

from top: adesso, adesso counter, angie, hanger steak, amy, chicharrone, dick beans, raab flowers, heart, black cod, shaolin finger, meatball warning, asparagus, guanciale, goose