Here I sit, at the end of 2009, and it feels like everything is different.  None of the details have changed;  I still live in San Francisco, and I still cook at Nopa as a sous chef.  I'm still writing this blog.  But when I look in the mirror, or have a quiet moment to myself, things feel different.  2009 was a crazy year for me.  It was a good year for me.  In 2009 this blog seemed to find its place.  Through things that seem as trivial as a twitter account, or a podcast, I met people and made friendships that are deeply important to me.  Through countless emails I was able to connect with cooks from all over the world.  As everything seemed to be expanding and moving towards one big interpersonal disconnect, the opposite ended up happening.  My world got smaller.  Then I turned 30, and came to realize that I needed to take life a little more seriously.  Soul searching, introspection, whatever.  I made some decisions, and decided to stick to them.  Then I woke up one day, and wow.  Things had changed.

2010 is a little scary to think about.  A friend of mine said to me "2010 is the first year I haven't been excited about."  I had never thought about it like that, and im not sure that's my sentiment.  But it does feel like a giant, scary beast that I have to tackle...like im getting into the ring with a faceless terror.  In the following year im going to to be faced with figuring out whether im a better writer or a better cook.  There's a chance that this blog could end in 2010.  There isnt an infinite amount of topics for me to write about here.  Sometimes I feel like im just regurgitating the same old garbage.  Add to that the fact that im going to be a father, and want to open a restaurant this year, and things start to get very cloudy and scary and im suddenly very aware that nothing feels perfect or right, but things just are.  It's an amazing thing to be faced with the rest of your life.  I thought I knew what it would feel like, and how I would deal with it.  I don't.  And I suspect that's perfectly normal.

The thing is, its not like anything is actually ending.  If anything, things are just beginning.  After a year like 2009, where things were so good and changed so much, I can only imagine what's coming.  It's possible that just being daunted about knowing that you have to make something for yourself is enough to leave you shaking...but maybe its better to try to run through all of the insecurity and bullshit now, before everyone is toasting at midnight.

So whats next?  What's going to happen come July, or next December?  Shit, what's going to happen next week?  Does the fear or uncertainty ever go away?  Do things ever start to feel right, or perfect?  Or is it more important to just let things happen?

My Best Meals of 2009:
  • Coi
  • Flour & Water, every time
  • 5 Points
  • Ippudo
  • Freeman's
Places I Ate At, Often:
  • Flour & Water
  • Fish & Farm
  • Out the Door
  • Katana - Ya
  • Nopalito
  • Arguello Market
Stuff I Couldn't Live Without:
  • A good pen
  • The iphone
  • My pocket knife
  • A Moleskin, even if it is falling apart
  • Friends
  • The Pixies, TV on the Radio, Old Outkast
  • Access to Twitter
  • Flickr
  • My Macbook
Culinary Fantasy League:
My Team:
  • Raw - Michael Black
  • Garde Manger - Jon Smulewitz
  • Pasta - Micheal Tusk
  • Veg/Garnish - Mourad Lalou
  • Fish - Stuart Brioza
  • Meat - Ryan Farr
  • Sous Chef - Daniel Patterson
  • Chef - Thomas Keller
Eddie's Team:
  • Sautee - Charles Phan
  • Veg - Jeremy Fox
  • Garde Manger - Taylor Bottechier
  • Grill - Ryan Farr
  • Pasta - Tom McNaughton
  • Sous Chef - Me (haha!)
  • Chef - Jacques Pepin
Mer-Mer's Team, based solely on looks:
  • Michael Black
  • Brandon Jew
  • Tom McNaughton
  • Jay Foster
  • Mongoose
quotes and conversations:

Me:  There's snowmobiles.  And guns.
Kitty:  Can we shoot guns while we're on the snowmobiles?
Me:  I guess so.
Kitty:  Wow.  It's like a Mariah Carey video.

(Merrell is hitting me in the shoulder, over and over again)
Paulie:  Isn't Savannah a pornstar?
(The hitting continues)
Me:  You know Paulie, not everything has to do with porn.
(More hitting)
Me:  What?!?
Merrell:  It's Ryan Seacrest on seat three!
Me:  Yeah.  I know.  Anyways...

Me:  Do I look like a botanist to you?
Gerardo:  I don't know what a botanist looks like.

"Mer-mer, if I gave you a titty twister and asked you to name five candy bars, could you do it?"

Dega:  You're the boss.
Me:  That's right.  I am the fuckin' boss.  I'm the fuckin' Bruce Springsteen of this kitchen.  And you're my Courtney Cox.  I'm gonna dance with you onstage, which is then gonna turn into a lucrative sitcom career in the nineties, only to have you marry David Arquette and have it fall to pieces in the two-thousands. 
Merrell:  And don't forget the numerous miscarraiges.
Me:  .......

"I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a
psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a
chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?"
The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's
pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally
irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep
goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.
" -Woody Allen, Annie Hall


What is bad cooking?

Question of the week: What is bad cooking?
@linecook, Bad cooking is usually doing something with little regard to the final outcome, but just to mark it off the prep list.
SpecialDark @linecook What is bad cooking? Not shaving a second off a tedious task. Not learning anything new. Losing respect for the craft.
zellicious@linecook bad cooking-when the food tastes bad and you expected it to be good. chains etc, you know what to expect, bad is unexpected ick
jrnavlag@linecookBad cooking when U not only not care abt wht U're doing, but U dont care abt the outcome. lk getting "steamed" fish frozen inside
ingridc@linecook agree with @Tanukipdx re: bad cooking. Also, for me, cooking and intent have always been connected. Poor intent = bad cooking.
Tanukipdx@linecook BadCooking? It's cooking without thought or care, soul or emotion.Bad cooking & bad fucking have much in common.
swedishmike@linecook Taking good ingredients and making them taste bad.
JessPav@linecook Bad cooking is canned corn, canned green beans and being told "If you don't like it, DON'T EAT IT!"
cloudsandcoffee@linecook when you're in a foul mood and all your negative energy goes into the food... then you eat it. bad cooking!
addycat@linecook bad cooking lacks heart
CraigHatfield@linecook Not honoring the ingredients. Loss of good technique in the face of flash technology.
jcooks@linecook bad cooking is cooking without love or care for the ingredients, the consumer of the food or yourself.
janessao@linecook Mine. ;)
MatthewSievert@linecook"bad cooking" You know the right way, but you skimp and don't give the ingredient, specifically an animal the respect if deserves
KitchenEntropy@linecook bad cooking is lack of passion, care, and self pride. usually found in burn outs and money chasers. oh and applebees and chilis.
ChefinProgress@linecook Bad cooking is when you cease to care what you are doing.
swedishmike@linecook Taking good ingredients and making them taste bad.
pleddy@linecook When you are focusing on new flavor combinations or plating without mastering basic cooking techniques.
laurafrofro@linecook Often it involves underseasoning.
fallwitch@linecook Bad cooking = cooking w/o heart. You don't need passion but you have to want to make the best of the ingredients in front of you.
savorykitchen@linecook Bad cooking is cooking w/out care: either bad ingred, not tasting, forgetting the person who will eat the food you prepare.
m_twang@linecookOr as a very good saucier once told me (repeatedly) "garbage in, garbage out". But he said it with a heavy NY accent which is a +.
m_twang@linecook Bad cooking is a lack of uderstanding. It's the easiest equation quality ingredients and a bit of care equal good results.
swedishmike@linecook Taking good ingredients and making them taste bad.

It's a cold Tuesday night, and you're on a cook's night out; something your crew has looked forward to for days. The plan is to hit a string of new restaurants, eating as much as you can, then topping it all off with bourbon and shameful behavior. Rules are in place: no eating anywhere that anyone has been before. And no salads, pizza, or fancy renditions of mac n cheese.

Things started out well enough. There were some tasty fried bits, the required offal dish, a polite terrine. But the in the past hour, things have taken a turn. There was raw fish paired with fried cheese. There was a risotto that was so rich and salty that your fish cook polished off the wine, straight from the bottle. And the lamb saddle was so over-techniqued that your best-of-friends hot apps cooks started screaming at each other over which part was the meat, and which was the marrow-wrapped tongue and kidney croquette. And it was cold. The night ends with you and the grill guy sitting on a stoop, having a smoke, wondering what happened.

"Maybe they were having an off night..."
"It's only their second month. Did you hear the chef de cuisine came from Mugaritz? Maybe they're just settling..."
"Remember that case of nasty chicken bones we got last Wednesday? Maybe there's an epedemic of bad stocks sweeping the city..."
"I saw that dude Damien in their kitchen. I hate that guy..."


  • sometimes indie music is indie because it completely sucks
  • something I did not anticipate about losing weight: none of my clothes fitting anymore
  • food inc. show it to someone that loves mc donalds.
  • just when you think the tattoo is done, you decide to fill in the rest of your arm.
  • cold. so motherfucking cold.
  • a rabbit's scream is terrifying.

quotes and conversations.

Ponder: Dude dude dude dude. I had a dream I got a tattoo of a purple boa constrictor on my back. It was the gayest snake tattoo ever. I had to wake up and check my back.
Dega: I wasn't going to tell you guys, but I had a dream that Richie put me and Ponder in a muffin making contest.

"I know what a safety word is. I don't have one, but I know what it is. And knowing is half the battle."

"Sometimes a dude's just gotta bone down and make chili dogs."

"The bacon does not have the drip. Unlike Dega."

(Eddie tells me his girlfriend has a crush on Jake Gyllenhall.)
Me: Jake Gyllenhall? Really? He's such a pussy.
Eddie: (Laughs, shrugs, and points to himself.)

Gerardo: You haven't seen my sex tape yet.
Me: Does it involve you getting your asshole eaten out?
Eddie: ...I want to go home.

"I ate a valium one time and pooped my pants. It was awful."

"I make sex jokes and stuff!"

Me: You know what bad cooking is? When shit falls out of balance.
Merrell: Did you just say shit balls ass?

Merrell: This is a stupid conversation.
Me: We're cooking. What else are we supposed to talk about?
Merrell: Sex.

"If you were a boy Gerardo, I might've molested you by now."

"What's that Steven King movie? Sleep Walkers? Where they turn into cats and are fuckin' all over the place?"

Me: If she had her way, there would be a 50 foot high fence between here and Mexico.
Merrell: Who, me?

"Are you too sick to tell me inappropriate stories?"

from top: clementine, radish, service, a cold restaurant, bully, aaliyah's text, missed connections, cara cara, duck


You can't go home again. But you can eat dinner there.

It's two hours after service, and Joey, Angelo and I are standing in a cold, quiet kitchen.  Angelo is layering cured duck legs into confit, while Joey and I de-vein foie gras for terrine.  There's a hotel pan simmering on the stove with a thermometer bobbing in it; our poor attempt at sous vide.  We drink beers, and talk food, and even after a busy service there's a buzz in the room.  Everything feels good.  Simple.  Around 1am we cook eggs for each other, plan the next day, and walk out with a lightness in our step and our heads held high.  Everything is exciting, and constantly changing.  We're line cooks.  In a year everything will be different; but at this moment we're like a child taking their first steps.  We have the whole world ahead of us.

That year passes, and our collective faces have been washed over with a hard gaze and a stack of clipboards.  We're still killing it on the line and learning new techniques and flavors...but things have changed.  Instead of inspiring late night projects, we inventory, and code invoices, and drink.  Heavily.  Day to day operations have become less about growth and more about grinding away.  300 covers is no longer a challenge.  We take on new dishes, and try to out-technique each other, but for the most part the spark has faded.

The adolescence of your cooking career is a lot like your own adolescence.  You're confused, excited, your joints ache and you're probably horny all the time.  You feel like you're falling in love, every day.  It's scary, and fun, and your heart is racing so much that you start to worry about high blood pressure.  You obsess over cookbooks and websites the way a teenager obsesses over pop music and corny vampire novels.  You're just trying to survive, every day.  Is there any way to get back to this place?  To the excitement and hunger you had then?  Would you be regressing?  Is it even possible to re-capture that old feeling?

Every cook wants to become the chef; they crave the responsibility, and the control.  As you move up, you begin to notice something else:  Every chef yearns to be back on the line, cooking again.  They see their cooks, making constant progress, learning so quickly...and its almost painful.  Were you a quick learner that just feels average now?  Are cooks doomed to become that jaded chef that only has those sweet memories of the days on the line?

  • buddha monk training.  not as easy as you might think.
  • best western has a completely different meaning in our kitchen.
  • one year on twitter.  dang.
  • you ever go back and listen to the music you were into when you were 15, and realize that there are layers and lyrics you never understood?
  • podcast season 2 sometimes feels like throwing confetti into the air and just kinda seeing where it lands.
  • writing this was maddening, and part of me kinda hates it.
quotes and conversations.

Me:  OK Gerardo.  Who would you rather bone down with.  Adam West Batman, or Christian Bale Batman?
Gerardo:  Adam West?
Me:  Yes.  Adam West.  Batman.  Adam fucking West.
Gerardo:  Adam West?
Me:  If you were my kid, I would beat you.  I would just beat the fuck out of you.
Gerardo:  Who's the other guy?
Me:  Christian Bale.
Eddie:  Trick question Gerardo.  George Clooney Batman!
Me:  Of course it's George Clooney Batman.  I hate you Gerardo.

Me:  I had yogurt, granola, a bartlett pear, and 2 cups of coffee.  Then I ran three miles and did 200 push-ups and 200 sit-ups.
Eddie:  I had cassoulet and I boned down.  I win.

Corey:  Hey dude.  Can you help me make pumpkin or squash pasta?
Me:  No.  That would be...wait, really?  Pumpkin pasta?  I mean, I can help you make spinach pasta, or tomato pasta.  We could have tricolore pasta.
Corey:  Hey dude.  Fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you.
Eddie:  Hey dude!  I brought you chips!

Me:  Who doesn't like getting choked when they're getting humped?
Eddie:  (Raises hand.)

Me:  You  ever use that stuff?  Organic toilet paper?
Ponder:  (defeatedly) This morning.

"Go shave your chin and fuck off."

Goose:  See that?  I make a little well..
Me:  That's a really good idea.  You're smart...
Goose and Me:  ...sometimes.

Me:  You never know.  You might like it.
Gerardo:  What's that?
Me:  Sucking dick.
Gerardo:  You never know until you try.
Me:  Well Eddie's not doing anything right now.
Eddie:  Certainly not getting erect, that's for sure.

"I think if I were gonna get a Mt. Rushmore themed tattoo, it would have to be of the bad guys from Superman."

Me:  OK.  You wanna see a tornado and go in the sewers.  What else is in your five year plan Gerardo?
Gerardo:  Lots of stuff...
Me:  Like what?  What the fuck else is in your plan?
Gerardo:  I wanna get my asshole eaten out.

Me:  I just don't get it.  It is spicey.  It says spicey fennel sausage on the menu.
Eddie:  You know who's to blame?  That Rachel Ray bitch.

Goose:  Mer-mer.  Can you bone down right now?
Merrell:  Yeah!
Goose:  Well I didn't know if you were still hurt or not.
Merrell:  Are you offering or something?
Goose:  No.  I just didn't know if you could do it.
Merrell:  If anything i'm more flexible.

"Isn't that narcissism?  When you just fall asleep?"

Me:  You ever hear of that?  People that use a knife when they bone down?
Corey:  Why wouldn't you just use your dick?

from top: cut, mangalitsa, the crew, stained, kozy, gouge away, add spice?, ramen, noodles, pork, where am i?


Podcast 2.6 - What is progressive?

What is progressive in terms of cooking?  Is it molecular?  Is it looking back to move forward?  Is it a bong full of whiskey?  This was our topic on this podcast, which was graciously hosted by Eddie Lau. (hotfoodporn.com) Amy Brown was there, as well as Katrina Dixon. (@ramekinparty)  There was food, and booze, and laughs.  Things were pretty loose for, oh, 15 minutes or so...but its all entertainment.  Enjoy. 

If you want to play our drinking game, take a sip every time you hear the word "progressive."  You will probably black out.

Opening music is Mullet Head by The Beastie Boys

00:30 - Our worst intro ever.
2:43 - Eddie's fortress of solitude.
4:11 - Why are you making me look dumb in front of our friends?
5:15 - Bong sounds.
6:30 - You guys are making my first time really nice.
7:25 - Alright we're at 7 minutes, and...
8:50 - Well, i've never worked in an office, so...
11:34 - No dude.  Im protesting.
14:23 - Annnnd finally onto topic.  David Chang/Chris Cosentino/Chris Kostow 7x7 Panel
17:55 - Oh wow, we've got a subject!  What the fuck is progressive?
23:47 - And they're probably girls.
25:33 - The asparagus problem.
30:00 - We had to bring up Achatz.
33:45 - What's not progressive?
42:58 - I don't like looking at cookbooks...
44:30 - If you take a drink every time you hear the word progressive...
47:06 - Second devil's advocate of this podcast...
56:03 - Why would you buy the cookbook if not to cook out of it?
1:00:50 - Michael Ruhlman is a bad ass.
1:06:14 - I was typing angrily.


Podcast 2.5 - Jon Bonne and Kevin Kelley. Wine!

We've only done a couple of off site podcasts, but this was the first time we left the 415 altogether.  Amy and I had an interesting drive up to Santa Rosa, where we hung out at Salinia with wine maker Kevin Kelley and wine writer Jon Bonne. 

There is an absurd amount of information crammed into this podcast...If you cook, and you feel like you dont understand wine as much you would like, this might help.  And of course, we cap it off with plenty of sillyness at the end.

Opening music is "Damaged Goods" by Gang of Four.

2:45 - We're not talking wine...I don't know if there's any wine on this table.
4:20 - I just shot it.
10:55 - It's similar to cooking....
17:30 - If I made the same wine year after year...
19:32 - This is hurting the case for the Nopa frozen food line.
22:29 - So we won't see your wine in Vegas anytime soon?
27:42 - The case for whole clusters.
35:33 - Most of them are under twenty dollars a bottle...
42:42 - What Wolfgang Weber does at restaurants to get a great bottle of wine
46:15 - Jon's favorite wine varietals and regions
49:45 - It's easy to blow off a category of wine, but...
57:20 - What restaurants do you go to for interesting wine?
1:00:00 - Enough wine...
1:10:21 - Are we in the 707? 
1:14:40 - I feel uncomfortable where this conversation is going...
1:18:56 - Calling Corey.