6.30.2009

What happened in Vegas.

I had plans to write about clashing personalities in the kitchen, until something happened in Las Vegas over the weekend.

I was inspired.

Most chefs seek out inspiration;  they travel, and stage, and eat.  The thinking is that total immersion in great kitchens and dining rooms will bring a spark--hopefully a new technique, or flavor combination...something progressive that can be expanded on and used to further their cuisine.  Coming back to their own kitchen, some chefs push to bring their cooks up to speed.  What would happen if these new ideas and inspiration somehow passed them by?

This was not what happened to me over the weekend.  I did not see progressive cooking.  There were no techniques that I had never seen before, and all of the flavor pairings played it safe.  To go even further than that, I mostly ate what I could only assume was largely frozen/bought in/pay-no-mind-to-how-fucked-these-ingredients-are kinds of items.  And it was here, amidst meaningless celebrity chef restaurants, poor ingredients, merchandising, and an overt "I don't love this restaurant but I love the money" attitude that I found inspiration.  It's always in the most unlikely place.

After 6 years since my last visit, I was hoping that Vegas had possibly progressed a bit.  There are farmers markets there, an endless stream of money, and a long line of young cooks eager to step off of the buffet line.  The town had moved beyond Emeril, Puck, and even Mina (kinda.)  How could you go wrong with chefs like Guy Savoy and Robuchon stepping into the mix?  There has been countless Travel Channel shows extolling the amazing balance of big volume cooking meets deeply passionate chefs topped off by brilliant efficiency.  And yet, I saw none of this.  It was as if all the name chefs were just signing over their names and sending a vague instruction manual on how to operate their concept.  And they were all eating it up.

Vegas has an illness, where the food is either dirt cheap or insanely expensive.  Dining at L'atelier--where the food was beautiful and tasty--I couldn't help but be taken aback by the prices.  $25 for a single egg, with button mushrooms and asparagus?  $38 for 4 pieces of kampachi, with olives and tomatoes?  And even Burger Bar got in the mix.  $16 burgers, with frozen fries, and a .45 cent charge for aioli.  It would seem only the desert outpost of the Carnegie Deli got it right, with massive sandwiches for around $20.

And what about the ingredients?  Never once did I see the words organic, or local, or seasonal. No doubt the endless throngs of weekend revelers could care less about these things...but isn't there virtue in trying to do the right thing?  Couldn't a hotel group find an angle behind selling good food?  Instead of the ubiquitous farmers roll call found on so many California menus, I only found an ad for Hubert Keller approved Burger Bar thongs.  What kind of girl wants her underwear to say "Burger Bar" on them?

All I could think of was coming home, and cooking great ingredients with people that cared.  I longed to be in a place that was loved.  I had been inspired by what not to do...which was followed quickly by a renewed appreciation for my previous day to day inspirations.  Looking at all of the money and extravagence of Vegas, it all seemed so silly.  I refuse to believe that these hotel groups have their fingers firmly on the pulse of what America wants...instead I think that they're better at forcibly telling them. 

Every meal--good or bad, brings you closer to a better realization of what you want and why you cook.  You need to look at every aspect...from the time you're greeted to the time you pay the check.  Is the place clean, even where the guest doesn't normally look?  Is there someone there to say goodbye on the way out?  Do the ingredients taste like what they are? (turnips at robuchon, im looking at you)  Are you left with a deeper appreciation of where you come from?

 
notes:

  • In the "which chef would you punch" survey, Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsay were the big winners
  • Nightclubs are ridiculous
  • Getting to know a new knife is kinda like having a new boyfriend or girlfriend
  • 3gs is very awesome, but I look like a crazy person using the voice command feature
  • I would also like to punch Shia Lebeouf
  • A fun game in Vegas is "porn star, stripper, or hostess at Chili's"
  • When the somm said she had a nice wine pairing to go with the foie gras burgers, she failed to mention that said glasses of wine were $35 each
  • Probably the best Spanish i've ever spoke was with the very drunk man from Guadalajara
  • I suppose it was a good thing that I didn't wake up and bet $50 on the US soccer team
  • To everyone that responded to the vegas tweets, thanks.  You guys are pretty funny


quotes and conversations.

Me:  What about you Goose?  You ever cry after you bone down?
Goose:  I would like to...when a guy bones down, there's not a whole lot of feeling.  Well, there's a lot of feeling, but not a whole lot of emotion.

"Jerk off into a bowl ten times?  I don't have that kind of stamina."
-Eddie

"I never made sex chicken in the shag wagon."
-Corey

"You're married dude.  Nothing matters now."
-Chef

Eddie:  I had granola and yogurt for breakfast.
Corey:  And you washed it down with a hot dog?
Eddie:  Two hot dogs.

Corey:  Eddie, did you have hot dogs for breakfast today?
Eddie:  Yeah.
Merrell:  Again?
Eddie:  Dude, they come in packages of eight...buying a package of hot dogs is a committment.

"Whoa!  I almost just sat on your head with my crotch!"
-Merrell

Maritess is wearing an "Everyone Loves An Irish Girl" t-shirt
Me:  You're not Irish.  What are you doing wearing that shirt?
Maritess:  Well everyone still loves them...

"I got a sex toy in my pants anyways, why would I need a new one?"
-Corey

Me:  Gerardo, Paulie's gonna give you a hand job
Gerardo:  Right now?

"Did you just imitate me faking an orgasm?"
-Eddie


pictures 1-14 from l'atelier, sushi ball machine, farmers market, hot dogs, Vegas, us, porcini and egg, sardines, canneloni, halibut, twitter buddy, plums, dear hipster, ricotta, spotted parrotfish from Mike Black



6.21.2009

Change?

Question of the week: How has cooking, or being in kitchens changed you? How are you different from when you started? Do people change? (6/15/09 on twitter)
ingridc@linecook:I feel I know myself better from being in a kitchen--my strengths & weaknesses, what drives me not just as a cook but as a person
Tanukipdx@linecook I think people are what they are but chef work brings out the best or worst in people and then exaggerates those qualities.
slow_lane@linecook I've seen change in others,seen them become harder,stronger people. Kitchens are like Fight Clubs, they change your world view.
pnbryan@linecook I used to talkback a lot to authority. now i keep my mouth shut and get my work done when it needs to be done. good change.adoxograph@linecook your questions are too provoking (in a good way) to try and limit answers to 140, especially first thing in the morning.
Gingerthegirl@linecook My hands have felt like sandpaper for 6 years. I guess I will never be a hand model.
MatthewSievert@linecook @ruhlman cooking "on the line" teaches teamwork and accountability in a very rapid fashion.
Annmerrell@linecook loaded question. Hard to think about during sunday rush, but definitely one that makes you step back and think about your life
Mr_Neon@linecook im more at peace. its been an outlet for my stress or problems, aka the dating scene.
GuyArnone@linecookCooking has taught me to listen. The kitchen made me consistent. The kitchen brings out the best in us & shows us the worst in us

I can't remember what I was like before I started cooking.

No, seriously.

I'm vaguely aware that yes, I had a life before the kitchen, and it was full of all sorts of people, and experiences, and jobs, and friends. I just don't remember it. I try to--there was a lot of life there. But all I can see is hazy memories, people I don't know anymore, and what seems like wasted time. And what about you?

It's simple. Look at your life, now. What you're doing, where your goals lie, what's ahead. What was there before? What did you think you were gonna be when you grew up? Was this the path you thought you were going to end up on?

You don't become a cook and change right away. It's a metamorphosis--it takes time. For some people, a lot of time. There's usually a great deal of mental and physical trauma involved. At a certain point a cook comes to realize that they are not sailing on a pirate ship doing fuck all. Seeing that this is not a party--some creative culinary orgy involving loose waitresses, booze and tough guy posturing usually sends most folks running back to the cubicle. For others it's something as simple as the first turn on a busy night. A bewildered look, coupled with a soaked chefs coat, followed by a two weeks notice. Maybe catering is a better choice?

For those that stay in it, an adapt/conform or die approach becomes the daily attack. The dread of daily service, building into nausea around five o'clock...this sends a message to your entire being. Trying to dial yourself in forces you to think in ways you never did before. You make choices every day, usually the wrong ones. And at a certain point you develop a routine that starts to work. These changes start to manifest themselves in your personal life too. After you've slugged your way through your first successful Saturday night, how could you ever look at something as simple as a single minute the same way?

Do you remember the first time you went out for drinks with friends after this change began? Could you relate to them? Did you just sit there, shell shocked? Were you a numb, mumbling stranger? For me my core of friends stayed the same. The guys I had known since middle school were family; they were here to stay. But those folks on the fringes of my life were the ones that suddenly seemed like strangers. But why? Were things moving so quickly, the changes coming so suddenly, that it seemed like they were standing still?

It didn't stop there. Moving up in the kitchen, with hours growing longer and contact with the outside world melting away accelerated this disconnect. My patience did a strange dance between short fuse and overwhelming compassion. Calls stopped being returned, emails were never answered. Everything looked different. I felt urgency in my life. Those little moments mattered now. Leaving people behind didn't happen purposely. It was just the way things went down.

People do change. Choices are made, sometimes by circumstance, often by necessity. Anyone that thinks an old dog can't be taught new tricks is probably a person that you don't know anymore. And then there are always those that never change. You can still go back and find them cooking the same station, plating the same food, and keeping the same daily routine. Maybe they find comfort in normalizing what feels chaotic to them...I really don't know. But have you ever done it? Have you gone back to your old kitchen, or ran into a cook you came up with? Are there those lifers there that you used to look up to, or respect, or fear? How do you feel about them now?

The me before I started to cook, followed by the me in culinary school, which led to the me as line cook....every step of the way there was change. Becoming a sous chef only accelerated things. And changing kitchens? Forget about it. Sometimes I think about all the people I used to know, and all things I used to do. It's foreign. There is little to no nostalgia involved. My only memories are what feel like someone elses war story. So where are you now? Who do you know from your past life? How has cooking changed you?

notes:

  • Drinkup at 15 Romolo was the shit. It's making me question ever going back to Friday night podcasts. Highlights: FiDi dudes getting spanked by their escort, Amy and Justin dancing to The Doors, and all the sweet treatment from Scott Baird and crew. I stopped ordering and just took whatever they brought me...tasty bites and phenomenal drinks. Go. Now.
  • Thomas McNaughton from Flour & Water took his first day off in 2 months and ate dinner at Nopa. I like that guy.
  • The Wire the third time around is even better than the first time.
  • The chicharrones/hotfoodporn/linecook/coreynead BBQ is going to be the shit.
  • giving wine to a 4 year old. don't do that.
  • Where do you go to eat good food in Vegas?
  • I more or less laughed my whole way through this.
  • there is no culinary underbelly. just the industry as it is.

quotes and conversations.

"Hey dude, there might be some bones in your taco party."
-Corey. Throws a boney taco party.

Merrell: Stop staring at my breast.
Camaal: It's not your breast, it's a cupcake.

Me: Gerrardo, if a cougar pounces on you, you have to make a loud noise, clap your hands together...
Gerrardo: If a cougar pounces on me, i'm gonna be happy!

Me: Snack it up fatty. You want some ranch to go with that?
Merrell: You got some?
Me: Yeah I do. Extra special batch from my Hidden Valley.
Eddie: Oh no.

Gerrardo: I can smell that cheese all the way over here.
Me: It's Merrell's farts dude.
Gerrardo: Well it makes me hungry.
Merrell: Ew.

Goose: That's a tall glass of water.
Me: It's a tall drink of water.
Goose: Oh. You knew what I meant.

Me: In first class they serve you an ice cream sundae and a chocolate chip cookie.
Justin: I have to fly first class cuz' i'm too fat for coach.

Al: My master says to soak for ten minutes.
Me: My master? You should be saying that wearing a happy coat.
Chef: Or chains.

Ponder: Reeaaacch around.
Me: Ah, reach around. If you make a fee-fee you don't have to give a reach around.
Goose: But you can use the fee-fee to give the reach around.
Ponder: The visual won't go away. I'm trying to use baseball or kitties and it's not working.

Amy: We're gonna put cameras in your station...
Maritess: You're gonna see the inside of my digestive tract then....

"I've got my elephant banana hammock on today. It keeps your junk in one place the entire service."
-Ponder. Underwear aficionado.




from top: sauces, clean cut boys, postcard from Cosentino, glazed squash, osso bucco, halibut, squash blossoms, savoy cabbage, gibraltars, awesome cake, il cane rosso


6.06.2009

What cooking is.

Cooking is/Cooking is not:
  • cooking is passion, cooking is not a job - @thedanbrown
  • Cooking is a craft. Cooking is not about shortcuts. - @savorykitchen
  • cooking is humbling and cooking is not for the weak. - @coreynead (Corey)
  • Cooking is gritty. Cooking is not glamorous. - @chefmatthew1
  • cooking is everything. Cooking is not for everyone. - @randomplacement
  • Cooking Is Lamp, Cooking Is Not Batman. What did I win? - @hotfoodporn (Eddie Lau)
  • Cooking is meditation, not cooking is aggrevation. - @m_twang
  • Cooking is washing the dishes. Not cooking is ordering out and an empty dishwasher. - @leonardstinks (Leonard Shek)
  • cooking is good when there is heart and soul, cooking is bad when it's forced - @chicharrones (Ryan Farr)
  • fun, fun - @cnewton9
  • cooking is Risky Business, cooking is not Top Gun - @CNrecords
  • I hope someone says, 'Cooking is all about me. Cooking is not all about me.' I wish all cooks knew this balance. FOHers too. - @ckell79 (Chris Kelling)
  • cooking is amazing. Cooking is not a sport. - @RFaucette
And here is my thesis: Cooking is a career. Cooking is not a lifestyle choice. Got a minute? Great. Let's chat.

Cooking is not about acting out your own personal version of Kitchen Confidential. It's not an excuse to drink to excess. It's not a license to behave badly. Cooking should be an all emcompassing means to an end; a chance to express yourself, further yourself, and learn every day. You should cook because you have to. It should well up inside you until you're twitching and shaking, and when you're sitting there at the end of the night, it should feel like someone sucked gallons of venom out of you. Cooking should fill you with pride, and terror, and a longing for something new every day. You know the feeling you get when you meet someone new? That overwhelming excitement/nervousness/lust? Yeah, you should feel that all the time.

Cooking is not about winning, although in certain cases it can be all about losing. Cooking is not a fistfight, or a staring contest. Cooking is not about looking cool--because the truth is, almost no one looks cool in an apron. Cooking is about sacrifice, and dedication, and telling hundreds of complete strangers that you love them, every night. And cooking is knowing that almost none of them will say it back.

Cooking is where you should find peace. Cooking is not about releasing your agression. Cooking requires focus in the midst of chaos. You should crave the noise, and the heat, and mess of emotions you see. Cooking is not about you, even when it is. You should never take any credit, for anything. This does not mean you should act like a martyr; everyone has worked with the martyr cook, and he/she is always a complete asshole.

There is no phd for cooks. There is no masters program. It's one of the last places where who you know means almost nothing--you get in what you put in. Cooking is a place to prove yourself. Cooking is a place to connect with people you would otherwise never know. You should hate cooking sometimes. Jolts of frustration and anger and sadness should crawl right into your bones. And they should stay there--a constant reminder that this is not a game.

Cooking is whatever you want it to be. If it's about money, fine, it's about money. If it's about your ego, that's fine too. But ask yourself this: What are you to cooking?


notes:
  • being called a wannabe Bourdain was all at once confusing and hilarious
  • a sous vide rabbit failure will break your damn heart
  • Jesse wrote this about our exploding beer on last weeks podcast. either way, the beer was great
  • i wrote this, and it features Merrell and Eddie
  • someone please tell me how to fix the broken zippers on 4 of my hoodies
  • fuck, marry, kill chef edition: alice waters, thomas keller, ferran adria. go
  • 7.1 surround sound might be excessive. im doing it anyways

quotes and conversations:

Me: Gerardo, it's not a cookie, it's fruited cake.
Gerardo: O.K.
Me: It's not a cookie...
Gerardo: I never said it was a cookie, I asked if you wanted a Fig Newton.
Justin: It's their slogan, dog.

"You add cheese and tortillas to anything, and people like it."
-Eddie

Me: Was that the sound of a dolphin?
Corey: Yeah. That's the sound I make when I make relations.

Me: You're used to that, aren't you?
Merrell: What, getting sprayed in the face?
Me: Yeah.
Merrell: Yeah, just not usually with oil.

Al: There are no more chocolates. They're extinguished.
Me: Extinct.
Al: Yeah.

Me: You sounded like a gay tenor just now.
Gerardo: Is that good?
Goose: You could make some money that way.
Gerardo: I could make some money a lot of ways.
Goose: That's the spirit.

"If I have a burrito right before I take a nap, best dreams ever."
-Gerardo


from top: dirty girl strawberry, gibraltars, speez, ultravac, rabbit failure, cucumbers, lamb, fresh garbanzos, halibut, dinner, torta thursday/boys night