2 minutes please.

Hey dude, we gotta talk. You're not going to like what i'm about to say, but at a certain point a person decides to move beyond the bullshit, and today i'm that person. Do you want a glass of water? Let me get you a glass of water. OK, here we go.

I want you to look at everyone around you. You're surrounded by smart, talented, motivated people. At times, you are one of these people. At at other times you get so consumed by your own fears and insecurities that it seems like the entire kitchen is passing you by. The difference between them and you is that they have goals. Obligations. A compelling feeling that they need to do something--something important...if only to themselves. Your days seem like they're devoted to maintaining the status quo. Granted, maintaining the status quo can be difficult at times, but what would be really nice is to see you push. I want to see you put yourself out there, and take risks, and be able to fully absorb the heartbreak of failure. Your fear of failure is what's holding you back. Your embrace of complacency is the very reason you're not moving up.

And the negativity. Oh, the motherfucking negativity. You see, if you came to me with ideas and solutions about how to fix things, we might start to move forward. Instead, you come to me and you bitch, and whine, and complain. If I didn't know better I would think that you were perfect--otherwise how could a person criticize others so passionately? You start shit with others, and come across with a harshness usually reserved for 3 Michelin star chefs. You, my friend are no 3 Michelin star chef. You need to learn how to communicate with others. This shit is simple; show respect, get respect, say please all the time, and if your co-workers are really letting you down, tell me and I will get your back.

I tell you all this because I want you to succeed. I want you to be good. No, I want you to be phenomenal. You have these little flurries of brilliance, and when those happen, it's almost hard to look you in the eyes--it's like staring into the sun. There is nothing sadder in life than wasted potential...unless you're talking about misdirected potential. Craigslist could fill a million terabytes with all your "missed connections" with greatness.

So starting now, everything is different. I still like you, but in this kitchen we are committed to progress. Get on board, or fuck off.

  • joellen from blue bottle makes the best fucking coffee ever
  • wow, I feel much better now
  • speaking of which, caleb (jr) at nopa makes espresso that tastes like dark chocolate
  • consider this next time you leave a shitty tip
  • if you want your head to hurt, try to imagine how the hell the pixies made surfer rosa and doolittle in the 1988 and 1989. (granted, daydream nation, straight outta compton, it takes a nation of millions, and and justice for all came out then too)
  • white asparagus from dirty girl this year?
  • pick your three favorite people in san francisco, and tell them you love them
  • if we can smell your perfume in our kitchen, you might be wearing too much
  • you should really see our new dance move. everyone puts their own little touch on it
  • wondercon and coi this weekend!
  • amy, corey and I want to do a mission street food night
  • my wife is snoring away next to me on the couch. she is the fucking sweetest thing i've ever seen.

quotes and conversations:

Al: She has problems with her legs.
Kim: Oh, now I feel bad!
Al: Yeah, you should. Yeah.

Maritess: Hey Richie, can we send Paulie an extra sopapilla?
Me: No.

"I look like Kermit and Beaker's love child."
-Amy. Done with the funny pictures.

Me: Al should run for mayor.
Chef: Of Tijuana.

"A nice hairless chest with my underarmor shorts on and Chinese flip-flops."
-Goose. Lounges in style.

"Sassy. Hey Sassy. Smile Sassy. Dance Sassy."
-Kamaal, who would be right at home directing models at a fashion shoot.

"People want to hear about the poor kid from Puerto Rico that came to America and became a chef."
-Corey, who should write Al's biography.

"Fire torta's! Oh, that's a man."

"I like the Pixies. All girls, right? Oh, that's the Dixie Chicks."
-Goose. Loves the rock n roll.

"No dude, i'll punch her in the throat. You want it rough? Go sleep outside!"
-Corey. Into the rough stuff.

"It's a space pen. Nitrogen filled. You can write upside down in zero gravity."
-Eddie. Has a fancy pen.

"If I haven't had my eggs, it's too early for prostitution."

"If I had pepperoni nipples it would be one thing."
-Ponder. Tiny nipples.

Me: When you do the Jedi mind trick, you're supposed to do this. (waves hand)
Chef: I did!

"You look like Jesus Christo when he was carrying his cross."
-Al, who likes the way I carry the ladder.

Me: Necessito ayuda.
Christian: Yo tambien!

"They fuck guys like you in prison Paulie."
-Ponder. Ex con.

Nopalito Kelly: How's things here?
Me: Things are good. You know, i'm on the mother ship.
Nopalito Kelly: Where ya headed?
Me: No, here. This is the mother ship.

Me: Have you ever heard of a blood clam Paulie?
Kitty: It sounds like a dirty sanchez.
Matty: I've had a couple of bloody clams. I didn't mind.

from top: coco, i love torta's, lamb, amy's last pic, short rib, puto, nopalito, bacon!, fernet, lights.


Skipping Culinary School. A Guide.

podcast #2 is up.

So you like to cook.  You harbor dreams of owning your own restaurant some day.  Something small, rustic, neighborhoody.  Your friends tell you how great your food is.  Their compliments are nice, but in the back of your mind is the nagging voice that keeps on telling you that tough times lie ahead.  You've got a lot to learn...and almost zero money for school.  Well friend, help is here.  This is your skipping culinary school guide.

The first thing you need to do is mentally prepare yourself for whats to come.  Things are going to be hard.  You're going to push your mental and physical limits, usually far past your breaking point.  You will have almost no cash; so whether this endeavor means saving your pennies, or getting some financial help from family, just know that whatever you spend will be far less than what going to school will cost you. 
Mainly though, you need to submit to many things at once;  those that will teach you, your desire to have some me time, and the urge to talk back when you don't like the way things are going for you.

For me, culinary school was all about learning the vocabulary of the kitchen.  It was about having a knife in your hand every day.  It had nothing to do with becoming a chef, or making up recipes, or discovering your own personal style.  Mimicking this is fairly simple:

  1. Buy either the Cordon Bleu or CIA textbook.  Read THE WHOLE THING.  As you go through the book, practice the cuts, recipes, and techniques.  Buy bags of potatoes and carrots and onions and dice and julienne and brunoise.  When you've completed your reading and are starting to feel comfortable with the knife, you'e ready for the next step.
  2. Gather your tools.  You need an 8" chefs knife.  Stick with Wusthof.  You'll also need a bread knife, a paring knife, a peeler, and a microplane.  Pick up Becoming a Chef by Andrew Doreneburg and Karen Page.  It's a little dated, but the overall idea of the book is good.
  3. Pick a restaurant you like, and go to the back door.  Ask the chef if he/she will let you hang out for a night.  Let them know that you will do anything:  peel garlic, wash lettuce, sweep the floors.  If they let you hang out, and you like it, make it your sole purpose in life to become a stagiere in that restaurant.  Offer to work for free.
  4. Once your stage has started, don't give in to your urge to just work the 8 hours then go home.  You need to put in extra work.  Stay during service.  Watch the cooks on the line.  Offer to help anywhere you can.  Around this time you need to pick up On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.  This book is not for reading cover to cover, but more as a reference.  If you're making vinaigrettes, read his chapter on emulsions.  If you're making stock, read his chapter on gelatin.  There is a section in that book that corresponds to every facet of the kitchen.  Your understanding of the science in cooking is important.  It's not magic.
  5. If you've put in a couple of months, sit down with the chef and ask them for a review.  What do you do well?  Where are you weak?  When does the chef think you'll be ready to give the line a shot?  Don't let yourself get stuck in one place.  Chances are that if you're doing a good job, they'll want to hire you on anyways.
  6. Read The Making of a Chef and the Soul of a Chef.  Kitchen Confidential is great and all, but it is not required reading.
  7. Take everything that you've learned at work and start cooking at home.  Go to markets.  Cook for your friends and family.  Read local restaurant reviews.  Don't be tempted to watch Food Network--by this point it's time to cut that tether.
  8. Self evaluate yourself every day.  Go back and re-visit all the books you read in the beginning.  If you're not astonished by your progress, you need to get back to basics.  Learn every day, and never settle.  Don't get caught up in the lifestyle of a cook...learning is your only purpose now.
  9. Around the 6 month mark, branch out on your days off and stage in other kitchens.  If you or your family had money saved for school, take that money and save it for a trip to New York, or San Francisco, or France, or Spain.  This will not be a vacation--it's strictly business.  Arrange a stage, or a series of stages.  Again, don't get caught up.  This is not a vacation.
Coming up as a cook is hard, but if you can dedicate yourself and focus, the way up will be rewarding.  You'll look back on these early days with a smile.  Just realize that the learning never stops.  Things never really get easy.  There are always more books to read, new techniques to absorb, new flavors to taste.  With this guide though, you have a 12 month jump on the kids in school.

  • go here and subscribe to our podcast.  face it, it beats listening to Rhianna.
  • first Joey Santiago from the Pixies replied to my tweet, and now he's following me.  the word i'm looking for is motherfuckingawesome.
  • expoing with a sore neck sucks.
  • the cookies luis brought.  perfect.
  • sometimes checking the eggs for the pasta dough recipe is like looking into a crystal ball.
  • the lover's delight from plunder.  worth $1000?
  • that guy at work that you don't like?  it would really give him a shine to see you fail.
  • i didn't forget the coconut breadcrumbs, I swear.
  • dear people in SF:  please stop standing in the street when you're waiting for MUNI. 
  • when a guy gets up to go to the bathroom, his date will always check her cell.  it's like a rule or something.
  • if you're wearing sunglasses at night, you're probably a dbag.  unless you're mc peepants.
  • heads up:  i put salt on the fries so you don't have to.
  • my iphone cover is made of rubber.  and it costs thirty dollars.

quotes and conversations

"He's all cookin' like Gilbert Grape and shit!"

"I'm gonna sell this motherfucker, and put a fried chicken salad on the menu."
-Chef, who might someday turn Nopa into a Cheesecake Factory

"I would not want to bone down with seat 2.  He would probably want to put it in my butt."

Goose:  Yim Yam's in the house!
Me:  It's like The Shining Goose.  Yim Yam never left.

"For a moment, I thought Corey was playing Pussycat Dolls."

Goose:  This bitch thinks she knows everything, and she doesn't.
Merrell:  Are you talking about me?

"Hey dude, if I go into Home Depot without a list i'm in trouble.  I'll come out of there with a nailgun and a cashier."

"Smokin' blunts with French people is just as cool as it sounds."

"I'm gonna run a bath and do like the yellow pages.  Let my fingers do the walking.

"I don't respond to shithead anymore."

Me:  Edward!  How was the weekend?
Eddie:  It was alright.  A little weird.
Me:  How so?
Eddie:  My girlfriend's mom gave me a massage.

from top:  bourbon at noon, gibraltar, tecate, nopalito salsa's, flowers from Violet, a case of Asahi, prep list, iced tea, ponder, editing the podcast, corvina, fettuccini, chips, no hands Amy, eating, plate lunch family meal, no!, may I please have an espresso this big?, your station should be this clean, foil chicken, anti cca sticker


Podcast #1 is live!

Our first podcast is now live here. A huge thank you to Violet Blue for making this happen, and to Corey Nead for recording it with me. More stuff coming tommorrow!

yes, it's a little quiet.



"You need to decide if you're going to be a cook, or if you're going to be a chef." -Kelly Degala, my former chef.

What is it that your chef sees when he looks at you?  Does he see a chef?  Does he see a cook?  Does he see an invaluable member of his team?  Does he see a complete shithead?  Is he counting on you jumping ship so he can hire back the sautee guy that's been in Mexico?  Is he counting on you becoming his chef de cuisine in 6 months?  Or does he just see a body that fills a station?

One thing that's for sure is that your chef does not see your hopes and aspirations.  He does not see your dreams and goals.  And he doesn't have to.  All the shit going on with him, how could he?  He has people to answer to, and a family, and and endless list of people to call back.  He's got his food cost on the brain, and a stack of special events to sort through, and did the schedule get finished yet?  So how do you fit into this list of priorities?

Like I said before;  you don't.  It's not that he doesn't care--he might if he had the time.  But the way things are going, it's on you to make things happen for yourself.  You need to know what you're working towards.  There has to be a goal, and an unwavering focus on that goal.  You have to believe in your cooking.  You need something worth fighting for.  And when I say fighting, I mean fists and elbows.

You need to be a true believer.  Have you ever been blinded by passion?  A girl or guy that made you so completely fucked up that your friends just couldn't understand?  This is the way you need to feel about your cooking.  Your craft should be sacred to you.  Let's face it, you don't have time to go to church...so if cooking is where you find "God", that's probably not a bad thing.  If you're not willing to make sacrifices on the way up, you might be doing it the wrong way.

Bukowski said this about writing.  You should feel the same way about the kitchen.

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

— Bukowski


  • i don't want for money or fame.  i just want more time.
  • coi on the 28th.  hell yes.
  • new features are coming to this blog - a "next chefs" q&a, and the podcast, which Corey(!) and I recorded yesterday. 
  • two blog posts in one day? 
  • I love Ponder.  Paul is a bitch.
  • Boys night in the kitchen is just as awesome and vulgar as it sounds.
  • One of the worst feelings in the world is feeling like the food isn't coming out fast enough.  I felt it a lot this week.
  • He's neither a fresh water nor a salt water fish.  He's a ponder fish.
  • Some people have grace...and some really don't.
  • After almost buying a second Blue Bottle hoodie, I settled on one from Park Life.
  • Corey, do whatever it takes to get that TV.
  • My wife might make the best BLT's ever.
  • Violet Blue is far more talented at all this tech stuff than I am.  That she helps me is pretty fucking awesome.
  • I said it last week, but Nopalito will blow your head off.  It's that good.
  • I think my rabbit is diabetic.
  • If you come into Nopa, don't be afraid to say hi or give a wave.
  • 400+ followers?  Word?

quotes and conversations.

"Hey Merrell, have I ever told you that your ankles smell like Milk Duds?  And that Milk Duds are my favorite candy?  I ate them at the movies last night.  I like to pour them on top of my popcorn."
-Corey.  Not sure what to say about this one.

"Ann, six months from now you're gonna think 'shoulda busted a move.'"
-Maritess.  Gives good advice.

"A six pack of Pliny, and she has to make me a BLT afterward."
-Ponder.  Ladies, this is what gets him in the mood.

"If i'm still rocking that same look when i'm 50, just give me the Coming to America haircut."
-Paul.  Ponytail rocker.

Me:  If there was one person I could punch in the face, it would be Rod Stewart.
Corey:  What's wrong with Rod Stewart?

Me:  Corey, I have a coupon for a free Grand Slam breakfast for seniors.  I can't use it, do you want it?
Corey:  How about a foot in the ass?  You don't need a coupon for that shit, i'm giving it out for free.

Me:  Are Bolivian's fat?
Alejandro:  Very.  They barely fit on their goats.

Goose:  You don't want her in a Chinese shop.
Me:  A China shop.
Goose:  Oh.

Me:  Paulie, I need lil' gems.
Paul:  I got your lil' gems right here.
Me:  That's what i've heard.

Me:  Hey dude, another person google searched Ronald McDonald blowjob and landed on my blog.
Corey:  You're welcome.

below:maritess and eddie, bloody floor, caamal hearts, merrell and a quart of cola, gluten allergy flatbread, awesome cake!, ernster's nopalito drawing, foil burger, new knives, station, fire!, edward and ponder, v-day blue bottle, j-lo

Farm to table.

We've only been out the car for a minute, and already i'm starting to realize that my Blue Bottle hoodie and Nike's may have been a bad idea. It's cold--bitterly cold. And raining. Oh, and bloody. We're in Sonoma county, somewhere. I'm not sure exactly where because the map on my phone stopped updating itself 30 minutes earlier. It's early, and i'm tired, and excited, and nervous, and probably far more lit up on coffee than a guy attending a pig slaughter should be.

A couple of weeks earlier Chef told me we were doing a pig dinner. Brandon Jew, one of my favorite chefs in the city would be coming by to help out. Start thinking about what you want to cook he said. This whole idea was very cool to me...I had always wanted to go to one of Oliveto's whole animal meals, but had never had the chance. So here we were, about to do it our way--what could be better? What I didn't expect was Chef announcing a couple of days later that we would actually be attending the slaughter of these animals. Anyone could attend--it just meant waking up early.

As a chef, my whole career has been spent opening cryovac bags of meat, patting them dry with a towel, and butchering. I was aware of where the meat came from, but it was convenient that I didn't have to see it. One time I sawed a pigs skull in half to make headcheese. And for some reason, catching and gutting a fish never seemed particularly upsetting to me. But the pig. Oh, the pig. In the days leading up to the slaughter, I heard from so many people about how smart pigs were...that they would scream...that my level of hell would consist of me and my fellow cooks being made in bacon. However, like Chef said, it seemed like something that we had to do. It was our responsibility as cooks.

Which brought me to the wet, muddy, bloody mess that I was standing in. A short, yet wrong turn filled trip had led us here. Jessie from Marin Roots had been raising pigs and goats, but wanted to get out of the livestock game. We were to take two pigs back with us, but coming up the hill I saw a boar, very dead, yet convulsing and bleeding everywhere. This was not the white tiled abbotoir that I thought it was going to be. We were outside, in the mud and rain, a hunting rifle and scalding tank at the ready. The man doing the work that day was named John; blue collar all the way, with strong shoulders and a gruff voice. He was one cool ass motherfucker.

Watching the precision that he worked with was astonishing. Sadly, he told us that he was the only one doing this kind of work in the area--no one wanted to learn the craft and carry on these traditions. His tools were simple; two de-boning knives, a steel, two guns, a torch for burning hair off, and a hook for pulling the bodies where he needed them. In minutes the boar was skinned, gutted, and split in two.

Next up were our pigs. They were fed, and snorting and sqealing. There were goats in the pen with them looking on warily, as was their mother, who was in the pen next to them. As they were being led away, they screamed and fought, but soon they relaxed and started eating grass. John walked over and would casually say 'here piggy' and then a muffled pop. That was it. No ceremony, no final words. This was business. Collecting pig blood for blood sausage proved to be fairly difficult, what with the animal convulsing and all. Soon John got to work again, working with the same efficiency, but this time scalding, burning, and shaving the hair off instead of complete skinning. (apparently the boars skin is more like armor than hair)

And that was it. We headed back cold and wet, but excited for Monday, when we would be cooking the animals. I came back from my weekend on Sunday. Brandon had already been working stock, headcheese, sausage, and the porchetta's. On Monday, Chef made a porchetta filling and tied them up. They spun away on the rotisserie for hours. Brandon set the headcheese, finished his sauces, and blanched sausage. It was inspiring thing to see, and hard to even picture the animals as they had once been.

The dinner was a success. Nopa was slammed on a Monday night. Pork liver, headcheese, the porchetta, Amy's bacon brittle...it was one of the most interesting nights to be in that kitchen. Jessie came out and ate dinner, as did most of the kitchen crew. It was gratifying, to have seen the process from beginning to end. And I got to have a delicious porchetta sandwich to boot.