A good sin?

"You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride." -Cesar Chavez
"In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes." -John Ruskin
"The truly proud man knows neither superiors nor inferiors. The first he does not admit of; the last he does not concern himself about." -William Hazlitt
"Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us." -Jane Austen
"There is this paradox in pride; it makes some men ridiculous, but prevents others from becoming so." -Charles Caleb Colton
"Pride comes before a fall." -Proverbs

The last five minutes of a thirty plate pickup on a busy night happen in a time warp. The momentum of four or five different stations slowly building together into an all out sprint while everyone rushes to plate, garnish, and clean plates before they head to the pass is one of the most dangerously beautiful things you could ever see. It's where finesse shows it's true face; elegant swipes of sauce, and garnishes placed like they were made of the most delicate material on earth. An efficient cook will take an extra moment right before the plate goes up to give the plate a quarter turn, adjust their gaze, then say goodbye forever. It's a picture of impermanence. Make it beautiful, wipe it clean, send it on its way. Until this happens:

Randy is on hot apps, and is behind on the pickup. He blasts his soup, scorching the bottom a bit, and when he goes to plate, the soup splatters and hisses on the edge of the pot. His plates end up with spots all over them, and he forgets to wipe his fingers off, leaving little fingerprints everywhere. The plates come back to be cleaned, and at the end of it all Randy is left getting shredded by the Chef de Cuisine as he stares at the floor.
"Are you giving up? It seems like you're just giving up. If you don't care anymore just tell me."
"I still care chef."
"Because seriously, I can get someone else. That was fucked."
"No chef, I can do it."
"Look, just care more. Take a little pride you motherfucker."

Pride. It's complicated. A cook that takes pride in their work will put out food that's elegant and delicious. They take the extra time to do things correctly the first time. They taste, and obsess, and relish in the glow of a happy guest. Every now and then, amidst the scowls and glares, you'll see a brief, soft smile flash across their face. You might not realize it, but they're enjoying themselves. Ego has almost nothing to do with their cooking. Instead you get a perfect blend of confidence tempered by humility. They respect tradition, and their fellow cooks. The idea of failing is almost as scary as getting into a fight for the first time. So they ball up their fists, puff out their chests, and go in swinging.

A cook that's prideful is a different thing altogether. They spend all their time in past (the last place I worked did this blahblah) or in the future (when I have my own place im gonna go in the dining room and tell the guest to fuck off!) and little to no time in the actual moment. A prideful cook feels a sense of entitlement, and believes they are the standard bearer when it comes to sanitation, mise, and life in general. They believe that they should be sous chef, or chef de cuisine, and will do anything to undermine those above them. They have a hard time believing that they could have made a mistake. (but I made it, how could it be wrong?) When things get busy an aura of hatred surrounds them. Care and love go out the window--if it was even there to begin with. At the end of service, theirs is the loudest voice; quick to point others failures and their own triumphs. In their own mind they are the image of what a cook should be. And this is just the tip of where the problems lie.

Throughout your career you're going to work with an unusual cross section of people. Social deviants, trust fund kids, and registered green party voters. Pride won't come easily to all of them. There will be too many distractions and pressures for them to focus in and just cook. They will forget why they got into restaurant life in the first place--if the even knew in the first place at all. In time, as they find their place in the kitchen, and their own style, pride will start to show its face. And as long as this person's goals stay in place, and their successes are coupled with humbling failure, there will be a beautiful, natural balance. And there is no other way.


quotes and conversations. extended sexy tv pop culture science fiction folsom street fair edition.

"Never trust a cook that wear cologne."
-Corey. Prefers a natural musk.

Ponder: Fuckin' Stand By Me. Makes me cry every time.
Me: You are the corniest tattooed punk guy I know.
Ponder: His boy gets stabbed in the throat and dies.
Me, to Merrell: Will you dab that up for him?
(Long pause)
Merrell: Oh. Did you mean his vagina?

Gerardo: I was trying to be gentile.
Me: Gerardo, gentile and gentle are not the same thing.

"Usually you give me four more inches and I don't have to bend over as much."
-Ponder. Likes a taller prep table and cutting board.

Me: So there's this show called Moonlighting. And it starred Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepard. They ran a detective agency, and got into adventures, and it was great because they never slept together. It was just platonic with this sexual tension. Until the third season where they fucked it all up. So why am I telling you this? Because sometimes its better to have the platonic friendship. Sometimes it's better not to sleep with the girl. Got it?
Camaal: (Nods)
Me: Paulie, you catch all that?
Paulie: Bruce Willis with hair?
(45 Minutes pass)
Me: It's like Scully and Mulder on the X-Files.
Camaal: Si, claro.

Eddie: Dude, you didn't tell me boning down with 400 people would hurt so much.
Me: Well have you ever boned down two times in a row? It hurts.
Goose: Yeah, but sometimes you just gotta push through.

Me: It's like Bosom Buddies. Only you guys hate each other. But im not sure who's Tom Hanks, and who's the other guy.
Corey: Peter Scolari. Don't ask me how I knew that.

Merrell: I just don't like that they think they can act any way they want because they're pretty.
Me: But look at Ponder.
Goose: Look at me!
Ponder: I'm not sure if we just made our point or lost the argument.

Me: Don't you feel like you have more energy now that you're eating better?
Merrell: About the same.
Me: Don't you feel like you have more energy now that you're drinking less?
Merrell: I'm not really drinking less.

"What kind of dom are you? You're not into leather??"
-Eddie. A good leather loving dom.

Eddie: Next time I want to see you pound that cheese like you fuckin' mean it.
Me: Who's being the dom now?
Eddie: Tables are turned huh?
Me: Yeah. I will slap you right in the face.
Eddie: On my giant chin.

Me: Did you just say sci-fi fantasies?
Eddie: Yeah, sci-fi.
Me: Well, I did write that erotic fan fiction centered around Princess Leia's copper bikini.
Eddie: Did you really?
Me: Yes. That's what I did yesterday.
Eddie: Well? You are a writer...
Me: Go cut a flatbread you whore.

Ponder: Where's Stevie Wonder? I don't wanna get caught staring.
Me: Dude, he's blind.
Ponder: I know he's blind!!

"You're looking a little yellow. No, not racially."
-Merrell. Racially sensitive.

from top: eddie's 28th, sauerkraut, alinea style, merrell's dumb ass nachos, menu writing, black cod, dinner, family menu, safe word, pray 4 dylan



I used to love it.  Getting off work after a busy night, salt still sticking to my forearms, I would head to the bar with my crew.  Once there we quickly put away a shot and a beer, and another, and another.  Then Kevin, the server that had almost 2k in sales (half coming in wine) would show up, start buying rounds, and the night would melt into oblivion.  Sometime around 3:30 I would find myself stumbling out of a dingy cooks apartment, wondering how to get home without killing myself.  The next day we would all wake up in absolute pain, head into work, and sweat it out on the stoves with few laughs between us.  There was a pattern to it, and we rarely strayed from it.  It was our right.  We were cooks. 

The thing is that once you get into the cooks lifestyle: the heat, the stress, the camaraderie, and the eventual reward at the end of it all...it becomes hard to let go of.  It starts to become less about a reward for yourselves at the end of the night and more about your nightly plans.  Everyone's sharpness becomes just a little more dull...but you tell yourself that its ok.  The team is stronger now...closer.  Isn't it?

Eventually, things start to fray.  Your grill guy, who already has a nasty habit of a liter of Pepsi and blunt to the head in the parking lot before work starts making frequent trips to bathroom during service.  His eyes are alert, but his jaw and edgy demeanor tell a different tale.  The food runner that cant remember table numbers was up until 5am with him doing coke, and they're both starting to make your evening very difficult.  Manuel, your fastest sautee cook has started asking for booze mid shift to quell his hangover, and by the end of the night everyone has had a sip.  Two months later you're dumber, slower, and fat.  But fuck it, because you're a real cook, right?

But here's the rub.  There are a lot of cooks out there that are smarter, more talented, and far more driven.  And they didnt stay up until 5am last night doing coke.  They don't drink on their shift.  They are so singularly motivated to be the best, to move up, and move on that with every hangover you get, they're leaving you behind.  Think about the crew at Alinea, or Laundry.  How can there be room for the fog of a big night out when you have a 15 hour day and the standard of perfection weighing on you?

By nature we are indulgent people.  Our jobs center around taking care of others.  We're surrounded by great food, lots of wine and booze, and like minded folks that got into this job because the monotony of a nine to five was never a viable option.  Cooks that think they're just doing whats expected are at best, a cliche.  At their worst, theyre alcoholics, or drugs addicts.  There is such a great deal of discipline in our work.  Why isn't that carrying over into our free time?

It's important to find a balance.  It's important to not take yourself too seriously, and not let the pressures of the job cave you in.  I think it's also important to remember that at the end of the day there is a greater responsibility to your craft.  It's not just about the daily drudgery--there has to be a bigger goal.  Life isn't just decaying slowly. 

"All things in moderation, including moderation."

  • there was talk this week of mongoose on all fours, wearing a leash and collar, being held by ponder.  
  • no, there was no writing in blood on my mirror.  but thank you for your concern.
  • oh snap.
  • who knew that pork bones are so hard to come by?
  • congratulations to Ryan Farr and Cessaly on the birth of their new baby boy!
  • im down for composting, but this little green bin the city gave me just isn't cutting it

quotes and conversations.

I'm pouring molasses into a pot.
Me:  Black tar heroin...
Goose:  I smoke that stuff in rehab one time.
Me:  Goose, rehab isn't for smoking black tar heroin!  It's for picking up on vulnerable women!

"Abuelita.  I like Grandmas."

Corey:  Hey dude, if I were single would you bone down with me?
Me:  No.  (long pause)  If I were single would you bone down with me?
Corey:  Hell yeah dude.
Me:  I thought so.  Sorry about that.

Me:  What color is that guys fixie?
Dega:  He doesn't ride a fixie.  Didn't you see how fat he is?

Goose:  Who got the plastic wrap?
Merrell:  Yo mama.
Goose:  My mama didn't use plastic wrap.  That's how I came to be.

"I not that beautiful, I not that handsome.  But I am fucking chingon."

"I guess for some people it would feel good to hold someone's cock, but for me it would be really, really strange."

from top:  soba, moleskins, farms up/hoes down?, figs and walnuts, snails in the spinach, they match, pappardelle, vongole, jellyfish, sloppy joe on bread, ramen stock, family meal showdown, ramen, noodles, a clean kitchen


Podcast 2.2 - Just the Two of Us.

Here's a change.  Instead of last season's multi-guest podcasts, this time around it was just Amy and I.  We've only done two other podcasts like this (with Corey and Speez) but they have a nice feel to them.  Topics this time around were changes in kitchen dynamics when cooks and chefs leave, cooking for self vs cooking for the guest, chef cliches, and many twitter questions answered.

3:35 - Calling Corey
6:00 - An email/Changes in the kitchen
15:39 - That question I asked you earlier.../Cooking for self
21:08 - Look at all the people on the Twitters
23:03 - Chef cliches
32:55 - OUR twitter friends?

No podcast next week, but we'll be back the first week in October.

Opening song:  Robots In the Garden by Autolux



Question of the week: Is there such a thing as a "perfect" dish? Have you eaten one? Have you cooked one? What was it?
libertyhuangIcon_lock@linecook My Uncle Jerry's braised pork belly is my fav dish ever.
Gingerthegirl@linecook I could wax all poetic on a lot of dishes I've had, but I what know is this: the hungrier I am, the more "perfect" a dish tastes.
shepdave@linecook no such thing as a "perfect" dish. 4 me every dish is an evolution 2wards the best possible dish. that said:sushi@tsukiji =perfect
JessPav@linecook There's no such thing as a perfect dish. Just like there's no such thing as a perfect poem. It can always be improved on.
RFaucette@linecook yes I think you can make a "perfect" dish. It may only be perfect to you though. I don't think it can be perfect for everyone.
rupski23@linecook I think perfect meals can be acheived more often than we think. Often, it's a question of being perfect for that moment
sfmongoose@linecook yaaaaa........... my calamari dishes hahaha
Pav1ov@linecook I got brain lock thinking of an answer! Ass kickin question. Simply put, the answers are all no. But it's something we are all ...hollowspring@linecook The best is wild strawberries just picked from the plant.
MatthewSievert@linecook I feel good when I execute good food for others. Obtaining perfection or eating perfection can be a curse and a goal.
CNrecords@linecook the perfect dish after surfing is either; a) smoked fish sandwich w/ tomato and cold drink or b) burger and a cold drink.
HeatherHAL@linecook I think perfection lies in the simple things, like a roasted chicken. I'm getting there!
dianasaurusrex@linecook I think a great BLT w/avocado can be the perfect food. I had a sous vide lobster once @ The French Laundry that was perfection!
tablehopper perfect dishes: the watermelon pickle/pork belly number at fatty crab, and the cha ca la vong version at betelnut haunts me.

I've only experienced it a handful of times in my life--about the same amount of times that i've been in love, gotten into fistfights, or felt rock bottom misery. The times when it's shown itself were quiet, almost terrifying. In the heat of service, going a million miles an hour, you stand up from being crouched over your plating. Looking down, you're not sure whats going on right away. You turn the plate to the right, then to the left. Then it dawns on you: the plating composition is perfect. Every element is resting perfectly. This becomes your model for the rest of the night. At the end of service you cook the dish for yourself, and call over all of the other cooks. There are mutters of "fuckin nice plates dude" and "you frills motherfucker, look at this thing." As you all dig in, everyone goes silent. Your grill guy breaks the silence.
"That's a bad ass dish. Everything works. It's just...."
It's the kind of dish that you never get bored of cooking, or eating. After a few weeks of running it, you decide to take it off the menu--if only to give your guests something else...and then they start demanding that you bring it back. In an attempt to re-capture the magic of that plate, you push and stress and obsess. Mostly all you end up creating are poor amalgams of the original...until, if you're lucky (or insanely talented) you find your way back to something truly beautiful.

It's something that ive wondered about for a while. How does one attain perfection? For the longest time I was convinced that I wanted a 4 star restaurant. A place to make an attempt at being perfect every night. But lately i've felt like perfection has more to do with the people cooking and eating, and less to do with the people talking about it. Cant perfection be found in a taco, or a bowl of pasta? Isn't a fresh sand dab, or a warm pizza fresh out of the oven perfect in its own right? Have you had Tom McNaughton's cappelletti with crescenza, corn, and truffles? It's perfect. Have you had Daniel Patterson's "Earth and Sea" dish? Perfect. Have you had Oysters and Pearls at Luandry? Yes...its perfect. Shit, even Ryan Farr's zilladog flirts with perfection. Im inclined to think that perfection has less to do with composure and ingredient, and more to do with focus, commitment, and love.

Ruhlman wrote extensively about perfection in The Soul of a Chef. There's that quote from Thomas Keller about attaining it...how when you reach it, it becomes something else. Most chefs will tell you that it doesn't exist. Im inclined to disagree. You see, what really matters is that a dish is perfect to you. Even if you're the salad guy at The Olive Garden. If you can find beauty...harmony...and peace on the plate, then what others say doesnt mean shit. For years ive told my cooks that I didnt care if they were perfect--I only wanted them to try to be perfect. Now I can see just how much I meant that. At the end of the day, what's really important in your kitchen? Are you cooking for critics? Are you worried about yelpers? Or are you doing it from within? Are you doing it out of love? Are you doing it because you cant see doing anything else?

  • buzz aldrin and buzz lightyear. not the same.
  • maritess loves it when I wear v-neck t-shirts
  • broccoli di cicco and a soft boiled egg = the perfect mid shift snack
  • go buy the morning benders ep. right now.
  • podcasts are back next week!
  • only eating vegetables for dinner doesn't seem so crazy anymore
  • i get the feeling im going to have a lot of news for you guys in the following months
  • more thunder and lightning please. just not striking nick and janessa's house.
  • the twitter bbq was great...met new folks, saw old friends, drank a wide variety of booze, and passed around an enormous bottle of sparkling wine. thanks to everyone that came out--it was a fun day. Again next year? Re-caps are here (boobs4food) and here (lickmyspoon)

quotes and conversations.

"You wanna see my bare minimum? I'll show you my sugar lumps too."
-Corey. Wants to share.

Dega: New rule. If you call me Dega, you have to say "Degaba."
Me: Why, do you have swampy pants?
(that's a star wars jokes for the uninitiated)

Me: Did you know that if you plant a lobster in the ground you can grow lobster mushrooms?
Eddie: That's gross.
Merrell: That's not true. Is it?

"You should be pounding Gatorade right now. Or something."

"Coyotes saved his life."
-Camaal. Has a hilarious story about Gerardo being raised by coyotes.

Me: Gerardo, come massage Ponder's ass.
Gerardo: Deep tissue?

Me: How about a nice garden salad, or some whole grains?
Corey: I had a green salad for dinner last night. (pause) I lied. I had pizza and melted brie on crostini.

Me: Dega, I see you returned to the look.
Dega: What? What did you say?
Me: I said you're a stupid hipster and I hate your guts.
Dega: I hate you even more!

"Hey dude. I pooped on my pen."
-Corey. He really did poop on his pen.

Me: We should grate it on a sharkskin.
Al: I have one of those at home. I have a whole shark!

"If you wear an Ed Hardy shirt, that's a deal breaker."
-Mongoose. And he's right.

from top: figs, roasting, apples, fruit, snoopy, oakland, 4505 dogs, stay up late, dega, eddie, serg, kate, luis, anne, matt, ryan, joey, brandon, corey, the scene, cupcakes, porchetta, lengua, @coreynead