“…there is no logic.”

http://www.nowness.com/day/2010/8/4/856/el-bulli-the-golden-ticket

“For humanity, the two most universal languages are music and cuisine. Every town in the world eats and every town has music.” ♥

Alexander McQueeeeeeeeeeeeen

I was inspired to draw a connection with the recent Spring/ Summer 2010 Alexander McQueen runway.

sp-about-mainimageHE IS AMAZING.  His conceptual response to fashion and the runway is major with it’s Avante Garde staging as an installation.   Going through his archival of runway shows I find myself saying over and over again “WOW” or “Oh my GOD!” even “WOWIE” was proclaimed.   Each show is  a meeting of massive multi dimensional morphing! Pure visual imagery and pleasure.  MY GOAL is to go through each runway show and create a multi faceted menu:

Just read the didactics from Fall/Winter 08: “

Based on the British Empire, the Queens of England, the Duke of Wellington, toy soldiers and punk princesses, this fashion fairy tale is dominated by an ancient tulle-wrapped tree referencing the work of the artist, Christo. For the first half of the show our heroine is dressed in beautiful rags: nipped waisted jackets, Victorian-line dresses with S-bend corseted tops, textured, hand-knitted mohair and washed tweeds all in dark or neutral colours lend a make-do-and-mend feel to the proceedings. It isn’t long, though, before our Princess meets her Prince Charming, at which point she descends from her treetop habitat and finds all the riches of the world at her disposal. Her clothing duly explodes into colour and references everything from the wardrobe of the young Princess Elizabeth –crimson velvet New Look dresses, ermine wraps and a bastardised Union Jack print – to the palaces of the Maharajas – a draped, predominantly empire-line silhouette finished with paper-flat embroidered slippers, each pair bespoke and created to complement its own outfit.”

Brilliant!  Is there a possibility that food and the runway can go hand in hand?  Of course!  The dark into bright juxtaposition of layers and layers evolves and just conjures up so many ideas that I could play with.  But with my food knowledge being only so modest what will I conjure up?  His details and his thoughtful selection of staging is just so inspiring.  The other day at work someone offered me a taste of Vietnamese yogurt to which I replied “It tastes like Hello Kitty…Theres that artificial sweetness” . I often times will taste and see food, which is why I have to close my eyes from other distractions and to focus on my palate…

In this link is McQueen’s 2010 line titled PLATO”S ATLANTIS I find playful inspiration sparking up inside me again. Haunting and awe inspiring, it revives my imagination so that it doesn’t relocate to a less creative space…and that BUILDUP!

YUMM.  This futuristic, reptilian, aquatic and hedonistic, fetish bound concept of this particular line sparked a vision of what I would be able to do with food.  Most the time food at its purist form is the most attractive and this connection with wildly exotic can conjure up rich stews, pastas, bountiful and beautiful greens layers of flavor, seafood game meats…It’s beautiful really, it evokes a playful passion that imparts the same attraction when viewed, and surely enough thats relevant with food.

Spellbound. WOW

VIETALIAN

I fell in love with Italian cuisine when my father used to take me to this small family owned and operated restaurant in our hometown.  Now granted I didn’t venture far from home at the time so my experience with Italian food was very limited. A saucy and tangy tomato sauce topped with 2 large and moist meatballs. Yum yum yum…

I endlessly watched Lydia Bastianich when I was growing up with all those old and classic PBS cooking series.  I love love loved making pasta at home for my brothers, and experimented constantly with different ways to wrap flavor around and through strands of pasta.  I dreamed of studying Italian food with an old Italian grandmother.

One day I discovered risotto and I slowly expanded my repertoire.  What I definitely like about this recipe is its warm and rich characteristics.  The root vegetables lends a wonderful sweetness and the butter and parmesan add another level of flavor and richness. I wanted to marry the idea of Italian and Vietnamese cooking.  So on a cold and foggy San Francisco summer I decided to make an Aborio Rice Porridge.   In Vietnamese we call it a Chao…Here is the rough recipe.

Root Vegetable Chao

For the Stock:

1/2 Left Over Roasted chicken
1 Large yellow Onion
1 cup stalks of celery
1 cup  carrots
1 cup rutabagas
1 cup turnips
a good size rind of parmesan Cheese
olive oil, Salt & Pepper,
1 1/2  cup Aborio Rice
4 cloves Garlic
The rest of the reserved Root Vegetables.
4  cups Chicken stock
1/2  cup White wine
1 T Marjoram
4 T butter
olive oil, Salt & Pepper,
Garnish-Cilantro, Scallions, limes.

Directions:

Season chicken well and roast bones/scraps with salt and pepper, roast on high.

Dice: Onions, Carrots, rutabaga, turnip and celery (reserve 1/2 of each for later).  Smash your Cloves Garlic.

Saute onions (sweat) add 2 cloves smashed garlic, add the diced rutabaga and carrots and add your rough minced marjoram as well as butter.

Add stock and a bit of water, now add the roasted chicken, and parm rind.   Deglaze the pan with white wine to release the drippings add all the goodness to the stock pot.  Season with salt.  Simmer for 1-2 hours.  Deeper flavors will form when you simmer for longer.

When the hour has past, and flavors have started to mingle, in a soup pot heat your olive oil,  Add the 4 cloves of smashed garlic infuse the pan with garlic oil, now add the Aborio rice coat well with oil  add a bit of oil and toast lightly.  Add your vegetable medley that was saved from earlier and continue to stir cook till onions are slightly transluscent.

Photo by Daniel Dent

While that rice is toasting  begin to strain your stock.  Remove your chicken pieces and cool.

Add a good heaping amount of stock to your toasted (not burnt) Aborio rice.  You want to add about triple the amount of water at once and let simmer. Remember you want a porridge not a risotto so add all liquids at once, but more stock can be added as the process thickens.   I think it’s s

o pretty with those sweet root vegetables floating with the Aborio rice.  Add more stock depending on how brothy you would like your porridge.

Season well with salt and pepper.  When chicken bones are cooled pick apart the meat, and leave some ski

n for a nice richness. Add scraps of meat into the porridge.  Stir and let simmer for another 30 minutes. Total give for take an hour or an hour plus+. What about those large chunks of garlic?  By this time they have melted and can be smashed down some more to give the porridge a bit of a buttery soft & savory richness. It just adds to the all around wonderful quality of the dish.

By this time the broth has becomes rich and glutenous but still slightly brothy.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, green onions, and a wedge of lime.

I get choked up.

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It’s the start of a New Year.  Excitement is in the air and so is change and I am looking forward to new endeavors.  With that being said, I am letting go of a $1200 studio apartment.  I am finding it harder and harder committing to such a  heavy workload with such little pay.  I am going to go full force at this in hopes of learning more, without the stress and burdens that rain on me financially…we all know the kitchen is stressful enough.

So…Roommates.  Everyone knows what a task it is to find a room.  Particularly daunting is the thought of having somewhat crazy psychotic or worst a hippie vegan with staunch political views that won’t let me cook in the kitchen with animal products.  Those people exists.  Those people also wouldn’t want me as a roommate.  Roommate postings can range from sane to completely outrageous.  Vegans not wanting to share pots and pans, roommates wanting Taco TUESDAYS, must like this must like that must not do this must not do that.  It gets too much.  Viewings take on another rabid spirit.  When opening a door into a new apartment, there is sometimes that scary screeches from a soundtrack of a horror movie.   Think Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. I don’t want to live with Normal Bates.   Then again it’s San Francisco I also don’t want to live with a Cheech Marin who will wreak of Nag Champa and patchouli.

I will miss my large and new kitchen.  I will miss the oven, where I have created shortbread, and cakes, and roasts, and toasts when I lacked a toaster.

On to a new journey.  More twists more turns.

The other week I cried.  I snorted and blubbered through a moist towel.  I sighed and breathed and got choked up.  I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I don’t obsess over many things, or many humans, but I can sometimes obsess over food.  While watching the episode on Spain, I had a bit of an intense reaction to the beautiful philosophy that a culture had on food.  The innovation the soft beauty that was present in each family story.  Adhering to their roots…their culture, and transforming culinary traditions to create new ones.

It got me to thinking. I wanted to travel.  I yearned to.  I ache to.  I want to taste and savour the splendid tastes and aromas of regional cuisine.  I’ve gone on interviews with various chefs and talked about food, and when asked, “WHY?…do you pursue this…do you want this…what is it about food that you like…”

I’ve stated before that I can get pretty emotional with food, as well with art. But I was not expecting it to suddenly overwhelm me when I was watching the show. It evokes so much emotion in me.  A wonderful spirit.  Maybe it’s my fathers spirit lighting new hope within me ,when at times I thought all there was to this world was making my mother happy, and making money.

I couldn’t stop crying.  It wasn’t sadness, maybe it was envy maybe it was jealousy.  I wasn’t there to smell the wood burning, I wasn’t there to taste the seasonal farm fresh ingredients, overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of a different country.  The aromas, the language the sun all tied in a bundle around my heart.  Squeeeezing it sooo tight, that I really thought that my heart was about to burst.

It was just so beautiful.  And I want to experience that.  I love love love that.  The excitement the passion, and the tactile and sensory experiences.

I am exciting about this years change.  With $1200 of rent away…with getting my deposit back.  I am ready to move with no excuses.  With no looking back, no regret.  To be able to travel, catch that bug that my friends talk about.  Focus on expanding my palate with travel.  I can’t wait.  It will be a bit till I am able to save up for my culinary journeys, but it’s definitely going to happen.

I hail a toast to 2009 and beyond.  May the wine be bountiful and aromas be bright and warm.

Gateau Victoire…

I realize no matter where you’re at in life, what’s most important is your ability to adapt.  In the kitchen I find it so important to do just that…adapt.  As I had mentioned before, every kitchen is different…the staff…both front and back…managers…the ideology…the ethos…the menu…the attitudes etc.  What’s important is that you find the right place that best suites you. I’ve come across so many kitchens within my college years as well as beyond.  I have met so many facets of the business, as well as personalities.  The clash, the warmth, the oh so many descriptions of what can go on as well as who you come across.   The good the bad and the ugly of it all.

Tonight was my second night at this particular restaurant.   Tonight I remembered why I continue to passionately pursue cooking.  The way a simple pomegranate was being handled seemed completely different from any other restaurant I’ve worked at.  ONE….just one fruit…is treated like a precious gem.  This gem was cultivated by a front of house employees’ father who owns a farm.  This gem was aesthetically unpleasing to the public eye but beneath that rough and beguiling exterior lay tiny morsels of juicy pops.  Pops that resembled large popcorn kernels.  Popcorn kernels that were bursting with a crimson red.  No juices were lost.

Ohhhh, that look of excitement and the tiny giggle that came out of my pastry chef’s mouth.   The bright childlike innocence from her eyes that shook with wonder as she described to me the marvel of this particular pomegranate.  I loveeed it.  I too giggled inside when I stood there picking through the seeds and membranes.  I thought of her glasses and her rosy cheeks and the time she so happily charmed me with her love for that pomegranate.

Profit, consistency, whatever it is, it’s clear that the ones that really succeed do it mainly because the food always will be the stand out piece.  Pleasing the palates of your customers.  Imagine inviting someone into your house only to burn the turkey.  There’s this beautiful satisfaction that one gets from watching their loved ones carefully and quickly savor each bite that you have so lovingly created.

But what makes something stand out?  I don’t know yet. I’ll maybe figure it out one day.  For right now my focus is on the now…with slight dreamy flickers of the future.   I have to focus.

Tonight I realized that there was a distinctly  different air when I walked into a kitchen filled with my own peers who spoke of their similar love and excitement for food, who have knowledge of much of the same experiences that  I have.  To be able to connect and converse with an open dialogue.  To prove yourself in a different way.  Not just with strength.

There is a bit of a brotherhood/sisterhood that is formed when one has that familiar work ethic.   The hard work the sweat the toils of the kitchen.  The smooth movements the terminology, the confidence that one gets when you enter that hustle mode.  The crackle and buzz of the ticket machine, “OVEN!!” “HOT!!” BEHIND YOU!! HOT!!!” “TWO ALL DAY”….etc etc…

What I love most?  Ordering anything off the menu…what customers would pay 28-32 dollars for?  I get it…soup with soft roasted and simmered stocks? You got it…salads still so crisp they can resemble crisps? You got it…fresh from the farm greens with Banyuls vinaigrette and sharp white cheddar and golden raisins, roasted squab with an apple compote, lovely well seasoned roasted chicken with a bread salad and chicory, Devil’s Gulch rabbit with a mustard potato puree and braised garlic, bread soup with delicious imported Olivio Nuovo.  It’s all there and it’s what I have for dinner.   Fresh sushi from the 3 main fish markets in Japan? Never frozen and meticulously prepped?  I got it.  Spaghetti and savory yummy meatballs as large as the size of your clenched fists, fresh pastas, raviolis and all the charcuterie that I can eat…I once ate so much house made charcuterie on my first week of work that I got fever chills from overindulgence.

Never take this for granted.  In the end food is an essential part of life and I realize how lucky I am to experience this.  Even though I have not experienced a restaurant to the likes of El Bulli, I realize that if I ever did I would treat it like the most decadent meal.  If I ever go to the French Laundry? I would tear up with enchantment.  It’s a luxury and so are most forms of art; like theatre, or being able to purchase that Yinke Shoninbare piece, the symphony.  The finer things in life.  To which I think everyone should be exposed to.  As integral as food is to many old world cultures, I can begin to promote it as marvelously as I can to my friends and loved ones.

Oh how wondrous would it be for one to be able to conjure up and cultivate your own larder, with exotic and mind boggling imported items, the freshest herbs, the freshest most delicate and full flavored stocks.

Flickers of my future…I can’t tell you.  It’s really because I don’t know.  Presently It’s a beautiful thing…its something that when you are deep in thought and concentration nothing can mess you up, unless it’s that time of the month, a nasty breakup etc…but in a kitchen when your gunnin’ whole heartedly at it, that bit of ADD that was there all your life has suddenly pushed a pause button.  Your catapulted into your own realm of thought.

Here I stand with those that have been with this establishment for 10+ years.  The newbies…2 years…7 months…9 months…every single person I spoke with had a similar story of why they stayed.  Some culinary school grads, some not.  Many came from a college past, and decided to forgo their B.A’s or MfA’s in order to be in a kitchen.  Most of the chefs that I have had the brilliant time to work with did not come from culinary school.  It was their patience that lead them to where they are now.

Patience and conscious decisions go a long way when it comes to developing a successful entrepreneurial establishment.  Patience for someone who tears up from talking about food, patience for someone who hasn’t had much of schooling for the culinary arts.  Patience for the newbie.  Not many places can have or afford to do so.  With that being said…this was the first time I ever heard this when asked about my job performance…

“It looks like you aren’t green behind the ear”

Is that just more kitchen speak?

Common sense and being able to work in an environment that isn’t micromanaged makes your mental challenge so much more fulfilling.   An establishment that has the craft honed to a crisp from the years of paying attention in various kitchens.  Seeing what could be improved.  Using 4 plastic bins to shell through garlic?  Why?  There is a reason to why a restaurant exists and has stood the test of time.  Ahhhh, but common sense also comes with experience.  I hope to gain more.

“Hey Tina can you plate an anchovy plate”

As I sliced through that vegetables on my tiny cutting board and cut the four slices of cheese, plated the particular number of anchovies, the delicious green olive oil the cracked pepper the 5 nuggets of olives…there was an utter sense of pride and pleasure…

“That looks beautiful”.

I felt so giddy.

I’ve learned that an establishment that allows for questions is a prosperous one.

And as I savored that gooey bite of that mountainous thick rich gateau that layed there along that fresh and soft whipped cream…my tongue tingled with delight.  It smoothly dissipated in my mouth and down throat.   Not too sweet, but definitely a very skilful chocolate indulgence.  Ohhh sighhhhh…

Leather…

You know I’m not 21 anymore…I find that my hustle to get by day by day is getting harder and harder.   My track record right now since my layoff isn’t the greatest as said by one of my close friends, but the catalyst to my breaking into cooking was my layoff; from a great and consistent 9-5 w/ health insurance. Le sigh…ahhhhhhhhh.  Just when I thought that my college education gave me a great job with room for growth–once again I was thrown back to becoming a waitress “just got for a little bit”… so now the journey into the kitchen…

It still affects me–that layoff.  Lately it’s been such a struggle to keep up with finances and bills. But I just have to keep on moving.  The second job? The Third job?  I think of the frivolous spending amidst a couple of months ago, I think of the holidays to come, I think of the new job that will be starting in December the working nights and the weekends.  It’s gonna be quite the transition. 

I’m not writing about anything bad, but in this journey to becoming a “chef” I am currently starting at the bottom when once I was steady stable and often times longing to cook.  Whether I am prepping squash, pears, beets, garlic, pizza dough or frozen calamari, or whether I’m on the line; I enjoy these moments…I just don’t enjoy the bills that come along–and a beginning kitchen staffs wage.   Never do I begin to question if I am happy doing what it is that I am doing.    

In general life is complex: finding yourself, a career, and working alongside that dang passion that I so often talk about is also hard.   Add that together and you got yourself quite the puzzle.  Student loans are also a reality.  

Is it possible to do both, hustle at both. Pursue a longing and long term desire, and to maintain that professional self.  It can happen it just takes time and right now is a great time for change. And of course a perfect example of that change was Tuesday nights Presidential Election.