4.25.2009

Naked.

Sunday.  6:01pm.
I'm freaking out.  It's my first day back.  We've shaken hands and said goodbye.  Lineup went well.  And now i'm completely losing my shit.  My heart is screaming at me.  I have to keep taking deep breaths to get air into my body.  My head aches, and all I can hear is a muted, rumbling sound.  Merrell and Ponder ask me if i'm ok, and I don't answer them.
  All I can see on the horizon is trouble, and fear, and failure.  And we haven't sent a single plate out.

Thursday.  9:55pm.
My face hurts, and I still can't breathe--but instead of panic and doubt, i'm brimming with laughter.  It's been a smooth night, and everyone is cracking jokes and having fun.  There are plenty of friends in the house, and service feels less like work and more like a big house party.  I'm so overrun with adrenaline and outright joy that my head is spinning a little.  Service hasn't been perfect--there have been some loss of focus moments...but all in all the night is going well.
  Euphoria isn't the right word, but it comes close.

Friday.  11:15pm.
Is it quiet in here?  It seems quiet in here.  It's been busy--a heads down, deeply focused kind of night.  There's this strange energy in the kitchen.  I think this is some kind of culinary equiavalent of nirvana, but i'm not sure.  My brain won't linger on any one moment for too long--things are happening too fast for that.  Things have been almost perfect...but not necessarily fun.  That's not to say that it's been one of those super intense, no fun nights--it hasn't.  But the focus has just been too deep to dig out of.
  I feel completely calm.

2009 was supposed to be all about confidence, right?  Moving forward, evolving, getting better.  Be smarter, work harder, waste nothing--including time.  Things started off well, and staying focused on that goal has been priority #1.  Now it's Spring, and there's this strange feeling like time is hurdling forward.  Everything seems more urgent, like someone went around slapping exclamation points on everything.  It seems now like all the goals are starting to progress.  We're stronger.  I'm stronger.  What was intense a year ago seems like childs play now.  So why do I still get that Sunday feeling?

I'm not the best cook or chef.  This blog doesn't have all the answers.  I make stupid mistakes, and lose focus, and act lazy.  I cuss, and talk shit, and sometimes wish I could just tell people to fuck off instead of helping them.  There are days when cooking feels impossible.  There are days when i'm so fucking scared and angry and ashamed that I can't even see straight.  On these days I look at myself and ask this:

What if the insecurity and fear and doubt never go away?  What if this is my curse?

Then I realize that it's not my curse--it's everyone's curse.  Life is difficult.  Cooking is hard.  Those deeply focused days are amazing--and if they happened every day, then maybe our kitchen becomes more French Laundry than Nopa.  And that might not be a good thing.  The trouble is in balancing the focus, and the fun, and the fear.  The trouble is in looking at your situation, be it fear or fun, and adjusting back to some form of control.  The trouble is in realizing that it's not important to be perfect--it's only important to want and try to be perfect.

Sunday.  6:31pm
Deep breath.  Exhale.  Shake hands out.  I'm good now.



notes:
  • 8pm on a Friday night isn't a great time for the fire marshall to show up
  • that cute dog almost took my hand off
  • next weeks podcast features ryan farr and eddie lau
  • nopa sold 50,000+ burgers in the past 3 years
  • those pants at rvca were far too tight
  • when a cute girl/guy tells you they like your writing, it'll put a smile on your face
  • i kinda wanna marry blue bottle
  • kick ass, ex machina, and no hero are great comics
  • porchlight was fun
  • dinner at boulette's was amazing.  stuart and nicole brioza = bad ass
  • the one star is almost as rare as the four
  • this blog post title has nothing to do with ponder's new twitter picture

quotes and conversations

Me:  We should call each other by animal parts.  Like duck neck.  Or hambone.
Corey:  How about chicken penis.
Me:  That's a good one for Paulie.
Corey:  Or turtle vagina.
MerrellThat's a good one for Paulie.

"When it's like this, it reminds me of a Twix commercial."
-Goose

"I dunno, if I were dating a guy that was showing naked pictures of me, i'd be stoked."
-Merrell

Corey:  Hey dude.  Some girl said I had on cool ass clothes yesterday.  All I had on were Vans and a hoodie.
Me:  Was she hot?
Corey:  She was eight.

"That's like borderline Mark Summers shit."
-Ponder, on me mopping my kitchen floor.

Corey:  Now I can jump off the roof.
Rachel:  Not until you finish making soup.



from top:  art!, the clash, iced espresso, crazy eating, dom p, bridge, boulettes, nopa empty, do i look fat in this?, sous chefs, goose, amy's stick hands, corey merrell ben al, matty


4.18.2009

Plateau.

Speez comes in for dinner with John, another manager from Nopalito.  They sit at the bar and have some food and drinks.  I go over to say hello, and knowing my love of graphs, they've drawn me a few.  Mostly they're silly, but there's one that catches my attention.  It's simple:  x/y, with a line that starts at zero and goes up, then flat, then up, then flat.  John explains it to me:

"It's an employee.  They get better, then they plateau.  You kick them in the ass, then they get better again.  Then they plateau."

It stuck with me...mostly because it was so true.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought about what my own graph would look like, or kitchens I had worked in.  What were those moments where we moved up?

Cooking well takes time.  Practice.  Repetition.  Focus.  There are times where you feel like you're absolutely killing yourself.  You tell yourself "there is no fucking way I could push harder than I am now."  Then your chef throws two more dishes on your station.  Graph goes up.

But what about the plateauing?  Why does that happen?  Sometimes it's because the kitchen hits a good groove.  Why fuck with a good thing?  Things start to click, service is smooth, the food looks and tastes great.  And in a progressive kitchen, the team knows when they've played it safe.  Time for new recipes.  Move some cooks around.  Push everyone out of their comfort zone.  Graph moves up, food gets better, guests get a new experience.  Or you stay on the plateau.  Everyone stays in the comfort zone.  Things are good, and the standard is maintained.  Then it starts to get stale.  The cooks get to a point where they can work their stations with eyes closed...and sometimes they do.  Some restaurants spend their entire existance on this plateau.

So here's an idea.  Imagine your own graph.  Where are you on it?  Where is your kitchen as a whole?  Are you making progress upward?  Does your complacency outweigh your progress?  Are you playing it too safe?



notes:
  • nervousaboutmonday.com
  • alejandro is the sous chef
  • referencing blade runner and 2001 in the same conversation = big dorks
  • bottle rockets are just as fun as i remember them
  • killzone 2 is like an abusive spouse.  i hate it, but keep going back
  • that's a big stack of Spanish cookbooks
  • everyone's apartment should smell like bacon
  • sometimes writing is hard
  • happy 3rd birthday nopa
  • i'm bad at interviews
  • porn stars look surprisingly average in real life
  • does technorati even work anymore?


quotes and conversations.

"Which one was it?  I was a little drunk when I read it."
-Merrell, who missed her own quotes last week.

"Al doesn't know what's funny!"
-Maritess.

"I like that.  I like the trail in to that song.  Vogue, vogue, vogue..."
-Ponder.  Likes Madonna.

"Any food thing that has the word 'awesome' in it is awesome."
-Corey

Me:  Oh Merrell, what would you do without me?
Merrell:  Have a little self esteem?

"You wanna feel this lump in my back?"
-Merrell.  The answer is no.

"I love hot dogs!"
-Eddie

"I thought that was the morning after pill."
-Amy, on the restaurant RN74

Me:  You been smokin' weed?
Amy:  I don't need to.  It's all natural.

"You know, i'd be disapointed if any daughter of Hulk Hogan didn't have a pito."
-Ponder

Me:  Make her a Hogwart's dessert.
Maritess:  I could make her booger beans.
Me:  Huh?

Me:  So J-Lo says you've done 200 burgers in a day before?
Camaal:  Yeah, but in a microwave.




from top:  sous meeting, JoEllen's gibraltar, the pixies, fish sticks, tools, fava's, dinner, london broil, beef jus, cherry blossoms, house made butter, good handle vs bad handle, 45$?, ferry plaza blue bottle, whiskey smash, fiddleheads

Podcast #9 - In Response to "I Was Wrong"

This podcast features the return of Matty Conway, along with Corey and Amy.  The main topic is the blog I wrote last week called "I Was Wrong", which elicited some strong reactions.  We also cover foie gras. 

We recorded using 2 usb mics for the first time, which ended up being a bit of a disaster.  The sound quality really sucks this time.  You can hear our dinner cooking in the background though.

The music is "Hybrid Moments" by The Misfits.





4.11.2009

Podcast #8 - Your Emails

Ah yes, our return.  We built up a lot of emails, so this podcast was focused on answering them.  Topics covered were Mission Street Food, Healthy SF, and the correlation between savory and pastry menus.  We also rant on twitter, facebook, etc. 

Our intro music playlist:
  1. No Music
  2. Newlyweds - Boom Bip
  3. Bridge - Amon Tobin
  4. Can't Seem To Find Him - Barry White
  5. La La Love You - The Pixies
  6. San Francisco Nights - People Under the Stairs
  7. Police Truck - Dead Kennedy's 
  8. Electric Shake - Be Your Own Pet
knife resources from Aaron Margulis:
http://shop.niimi.okayama.jp/kajiya/en/index_e.html
http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/





I was wrong.

When we cook together, I spend most of my time confused.  You talk so much shit about cooking well, and wanting your own place someday.  The lifestyle that cooking affords you seems like it was taylor made just for you.  You can throw down on the biggest nights, and most of the time your food looks and tastes perfect. 

But maybe I have been wrong about you all this time.

For the longest time I thought that you just needed some work.  Special attention.  I thought that maybe making a personal connection with you would help motivate you.  We were friendly with each other.  I looked at you and saw promise and potential and talent.  A person on the verge of something great.

Then things started to turn.  Your focus started to dull faster than your neglected knives.  I realized a few things about you:  You don't read about cooking.  You don't eat out.  You have almost no idea what's going on around town, much less New York, or Chicago, or the world.  And when I try to relay info to you about these things you act like you couldn't care less.

So I have to admit that I have a hard time understanding how you plan to make a go of it in this industry.  Did you ever consider that maybe there is a finite amount of talent in the world?  And that maybe, just maybe you got a lesser share of that talent?  Did you ever consider that maybe you're just too stupid, or lazy, or average to make it all come together?

Look at your chef.  He never takes time to himself.  He can cook anyone on your line under the table.  And his menu ideas make yours look like they were lifted from an old issue of Food & Wine.  He never complains.  And he's tried to get your back, and motivate you, and shape you.  You've only ever given him disdain, and excuses.  The thing is, you could probably go out on your own, get a chef's job, make more money...but wouldn't it nag at you?  To know you went about it the wrong way?  Wouldn't it keep you up at night knowing that you were being average?  A perfect C in a city filled with 4.0 gpa's? 

Does a person have to just come to terms with the idea that they may never be great?  Or is that just giving up?  Are you going to look back on all this and think you were wasting your time?  I have a hard time understanding why someone would go through all the pain and stress and hard work of cooking only to just barely give enough.  I have a hard time watching potential being wasted.  Are you really as average as you act?



Notes:
  • I hate sweetchuck
  • To anyone that's been waiting patiently for this update thanks
  • That torta isn't looking at me, she's looking at Ponder
  • DQ loves BJ
  • Meeting Lote Thistlethwaite was awesome.  He gave us booze
  • Violet gave us (sexy) books
  • If you cook, and you order your burger MW, we need to have a chat
  • According to Corey, worlds are colliding
  • Fry Flecks are the french fry equivalent of Dippin' Dots
  • I'm not a violent person, but I wanted to punch that sous chef in the nose
  • Reality cooking shows need to go somewhere far away
  • Maybe enigma is the wrong word
  • Free POM is kinda awesome
  • Preeminent Ironist.  Google search that shit.  Or explain it to me


quotes and conversations

Merrell:  I don't want to say I make the best potatoes, but I kinda do.
Me:  Is that what you want?  The potato crown?  Because you can have it.  Maritess, tell Merrell she makes the best potatoes.
Maritess:  You make the best potatoes.
Merrell:  I hate you.

Me:  I listened to DRI on the way to work today.
Corey:  I listened to Rod Stewart.

Amy:  I used to know this girl that was really into gang bangs at the power exchange.
Me:  I don't understand how you get really into gang bangs.
Amy:  Well you can.  You can really get into anything.

"It's a lose-lose if i'm boning down with Paulie."
-Merrell

Corey:  Hey Merrell, what's your new nickname?
Merrell:  DQ.  Dairy Queen.
Corey:  How come?  You got poops goin on or somethin?

"It's like our periods are in sync."
-Ponder

Me:  She kinda looks like a muppet.
Mongoose:  Yeah.  Muppets are cool though.

Merrell:  I don't like it when you shaolin finger me.
Me:  God, when you say it like that it sounds dirty.
Merrell:  Yeah, I realized that as soon as it came out. 

"I just make pizzas and burn bread."
-Mongoose

"Mrs. Doubtfire is the reason I hate Robin Williams.  And I don't care if that fucker dies."
-Corey

"Doesn't listerine work?  And whiskey?"
-Eddie

Amy:  Seriously?  You're about to have a kid and you just spent a shit ton of money on a tv?
Corey:  Yeah dude, that's how I roll.

"Sarah and Meredith gang banged that chocolate cake the other night.  I felt like I was watching a threesome.  But I was on the outside, and the cake was the third person."
-Ponder

Me:  Hey Eddie?  When you have to do 30 to 40 cumshots a night does it wear you out?
Eddie:  Of course.  I'm not Mongoose.




from top:  squab, dinner, leg of lamb, tagliatelle, ricotta salata, ribs, artichokes, agretti, beets, pig butchery, stock, line-up, ras el hanout, porchetta, walk-in, slayer, the boys, ann's soup, asparagus, halibut, london broil, goose, no cumshots, mr fabulous, april fools, april fools tweets, jeff's response