I didn’t mind it tonight…the climma’ klamma’ of the kitchen. It was a mellow night compared to last night’s wreckage. The other night I had my first mentally challenging night. I worked furiously and to no avail. On the line by myself, with various mishaps. Clearly it didn’t detour me. I’ve been fortunate to come across some reliable and successful kitchens with patience.
Tonight I spoke with one of my sous,and as a student at UC Santa Cruz a professor told him, “When reading becomes a chore it’s time to move on.” So that’s how he ended up in a kitchen…Santa Cruz…New York…Chicago…and San Francisco.
I’ve heard horror stories. For cooking, to become a chore. A haphazard mundane task. So far, a pastry chef puncturing the nerve in her arm with a sharp German pairing knife (her right hand), someone walking off the oven line in the middle of a busy dinner rush, slamming s hand in the walk-in then getting sent to the hospital also in the middle of a busy dinner rush, cases of ringworm, fingers getting sliced on the meat slicer, and this my friend is only the beginning of the cuts and scaring. The other night a fire loomed just 3 doors down from the restaurant. As the fire trucks came blaring down the street and the smell of plastic and burnt embers filling the air, through the lights and sirens we kept working. Mentors have even told me they heard a head cook screaming in the bathroom bloody murder in the middle of a hectic shift because of a kidney stones.
One night after a shift, a couple of us got together for a nightcap, and over a 40 oz and a glass of wine i heard a cook softly proclaim, “I just want to cook”. Simple. His eyes nearly welled up. It was the first time that I came across someone who feels that there is much more to cooking than just heat and chaos, the no frills. It is about nurturing a twisted instinct in us all to feed others, and to do it well. I’ve always wanted to do that.
Maybe it was growing up in a bakery. Maybe it was watching my mother cook. Maybe it was trying to cook for my brothers when my mother wasn’t home from a long work day. Maybe it was that one time I made homemade pastries for my fifth grade class (Chinese crackers chocolate and butterscotch chips), or the other time I had to make my twist on egg rolls for an Sophomore English class;the topic, food from your culture (ground beef sautéed w/mushrooms, onions and garlic, along some spices rolled in won-ton wrappers). I remember thinking, these kids definitely won’t like the grisly noodles and black mushrooms in my mothers egg rolls, so I’ll Americanize it!
In one of my first posts, I had mentioned that I carried my knives in a fancy bag. I no longer carry my knives in my calf skin Marc Jacobs bag. I no longer feel the need really to get such material possessions when now I can’t even afford to think about such extravagances, even before, they were just window shopping dreams. I can however think of foie grois, truffles, black-footed chickens, various charcuteries, cook books, a lovely dinner at Chez Panisse.
I now carry my knives in a fold-able black, hounds tooth lined knife bag. In it I carry 2, 8 inch knives, one western one Japanese, a serrated knife, a 6 inch Japanese vegetable knife, a Japanese pairing knife, a small mandolin, measuring spoons, an ergonomic peeler, Sharpees, Neosporin, and a board scraper. It’s exciting. I find comfort in holding onto my knives… my toolkit. Sometimes admitting that I throw in some chap stick, an eyebrow manicure kit, and even blush and a brush. I see my hands aging and my bruises and scrapes becoming more common.
Maybe I am exaggerating, after all we all tend to become our worst critics clearly hoping that growth and maturing will develop. It all pays off. When you can learn someone new each day, and so far I’ve learned various techniques to cooking meats, pastas, and vegetables, various prep shortcuts, and most importantly appreciating what is immediately in front of you. Focus and determination, just when you think your about to burst, you remember your ability to breathe. The kitchen has revived my sense of self. The kitchen has also shown me how to keep up a sense of cool, and a bit of awareness and confidence.
Travel…ohhh travel is on my mind. I have to admit I haven’t been able to travel much but I find it important for cooks to venture out to new territory, and to explore and cultivate their palate. To be able to get inspiration from other restaurants and cooks. To gain momentum by gathering new ideas and ingredients from farms and purveyors but, to also be able to experience authentic regional cuisine. Paris is currently on my mind…