Category Archives: Eat

Roasted Peach Compote

Nerdie gave me a half a flat of peaches from Gold Country where his dad lives. There were pretty ripe so I didn’t think they would hold up being baked in a pie.

Instead, I envisioned a sweet and savory chunky jam that would go equally well with cheese as it would over vanilla ice cream. My vision come to delicious fruition! Here’s the recipe.

6 lbs ripe peaches, leave the skin on, pitted and quartered
2 Tbsp grassy California olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp lemon juice, or more to taste
1 1/2 cup brown sugar, dark if you have it, or more to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. On a large sheet tray, lay the peaches skin side down in a single layer. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt.
  3. Roast 15 minutes, then turn on one flesh side. Roast 10 minutes more and turn to the other flesh side. Roast a final 10 minutes and remove from the heat.
  4. When cool enough to handle, peel the skins off and discard.
  5. In a medium pot, combine the peaches, lemon juice and brown sugar. Cook down over medium-low heat for 25-30 minutes.
  6. Mash with a potato masher until you have your desired chunkiness.
  7. Taste for acid, salt and sugar, and adjust to your taste.
  8. When it’s cooked down and reached your desired thickness, cool and store in the fridge for up to a month, or preserve longer by canning.

My First Kill

The winery I work for part-time doing estate tastings and sales also has a 40 acre farm on one of the mountains in north Napa Valley. After a bunch of us at the winery took an official tour of the farm this past summer, I expressed an interest to the Farm Manager that I’d like to volunteer to help cull, i.e. kill, chickens and turkeys, if they needed help. I got an email last week that took me up on my offer.

I had Friday before Christmas off and arranged to be up there by 9AM. It was a cold, rainy morning. Dressed in paint-splattered pants and work boats with a baseball cap and hooded rainy jacket, I arrived at the farm without a soul in sight. I walked to the garage area, turned and saw one of the farm workers sharpening his knives. In broken communication back and forth, I was able to tell him I was here to help with the chickens today. He motioned to the 4-wheeler, I hopped in and away we went to the chicken coop.

The Farm Manager was there preparing for the event. There was a simple wooden scaffold shaped into a rectangle with a long board stretching across. Screwed to it were two inverted metal cones and two white 5 gallon paint buckets. Below the metal cones where two more white buckets. Next to it, a large pot was heating water with a camp burner. Another plastic tub nearby was filled with cold water. Behind all this was similar wooden scaffold with several ropes hanging from it, each with a small noose-type tie at the end.

I was nervous, absolutely unsure of how I was going to feel about all of this. I just knew I wanted to see it, maybe even kill a bird if I got the nerve. This was an important food journey for me after having been a vegetarian for 13 years. I gave that up to go to culinary school about three years ago. I knew in school the animals we cooked everyday weren’t well sourced, sustainable nor humanly raised. When I graduated, I created some rules for myself about meat-eating.

First, don’t buy meat, only eat meat when you go out. Do your best to find out its source. Then, if you order the meat, eat all the meat. I believe one of the most disrespectful things you could do to an animal is allow it to be raised for food, handled by people who cared for it, cooked by people whose passion is bringing flavor to that food for your enjoyment, and then let it be thrown away…even for compost. And lastly, try and use all the animal. If you are offered meat and accept, use the bones for stock as well as the meat for food.

There were four birds in a cage in the barn. They weren’t given food for the previous 24 hours. He went in to one cage and pulled a hen out by her feet. He tucked her under his arm and carried her to the metal cone. He put her head through the cone, with the breast facing the rounded side, and while the other man held her feet, he pulled her head out through the bottom just to expose her head and neck.

He plucked a few feathers from her neck and, with one quick motion, sliced her neck. Her blood spurted out and then into an arced stream. I quickly moved the bucket underneath to catch it. He held her neck and the other man continued to hold her feet.

The blood slowed. Her body jerked. Her eyes dimmed and closed.

We repeated the process using the second metal cone. When the second bird had closed its eyes, we took first bird and swirled it in the hot water for about 20 seconds. This loosens the feathers and makes it easier to pluck them. A quick second dip in cold water, and then she was hung by her foot over a large trash can. All three of us started plucking. Her feathers pulled out quickly and easily. In less than five minutes, with the three of us at it, she was ready to be eviscerated.

The farm worker, who grew up on a farm in Guatemala, made quick work of cleaning her. It took him just five minutes to cut her head and feet off, clean out the insides and find her liver and heart, which he neatly cut out, washed and saved.

I decided I wanted to kill the last bird. I watched the third kill intently. I studied his technique closely and felt the sharpness of the knife. I quieted my mind so as to only focus on the physical act. I needed to be clean and quick. No second guessing.

I went to the barn and retrieved the last bird. She was warm under my arm.

I put her head side down into the cone and the manager held her feet while I pulled her head through. I was surprisingly calm and felt peaceful.

With great focus, I held the back of her head with my left hand and pulled several feathers from her neck. Using a steady right hand, I made a quick slice that didn’t include enough pressure and barely broke the skin. With the next follow through, her neck split open and the blood ran down over her beak and on to my hand before turning downward into the bucket.

The blood shocked me. It came fast and it was hotter than I anticipated. It slightly burned my skin as it ran over my hand.

I sat right there and watched her blink slower and slower until her eyes slowly closed shut.

I felt, somewhat mysteriously, ok about it when I was done.

She lived three to four years on the farm. Wondered where she wanted. Ate bugs and grubs, supplemented with grains and nuts. Covered and warmed when she needed. Cared for with respect. Her eggs were loving cooked by the chefs at the winery kitchen and eaten by locals and tourists who visited the food truck at the winery. She had a good life. She was killed with respect and eaten with respect.

As I finish writing this, I am brought to tears. Not because I’m sad for her, but because I wish all the animals we eat would be shown the same respect throughout their lives.

I’ve never felt very spiritual in my life, but that’s food to me. Food is my art, my god, my earth, my connection to everything.

There is no team in ‘I’

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I’ve seen so many god-damn videos featuring world-renowned restaurants where the chef puts on a show about how great he is (like 99% he) and their restaurants are. I understand that BS and videography are besties…it’s not just restaurants. But, good lord, it’s the same thing over and over again.

Aren’t I so cool?

Isn’t what we are doing here so absolutely and completely different? Nobody else could have possibly come up with our concept?

Isn’t everyone behind me so clean, so busy, and so happy?

I think it’s totally fucking ridiculous.

The most recent video in question was of Rene Redzepi of the famed NOMA in Demark. The restaurant was voted “Best Restaurant in the World” (yes, WORLD) by Restaurant magazine four times in the past five years. I guess if they were a baseball team, you could call them a dynasty (now you know my allegiances).

I fully acknowledge that the restaurant’s concept is pretty fucking cool. They research, grow, forge and experiment with as much Denmark-native edible plants and animals as they can. They preach a high respect for the planet and try to leave the land undisturbed in the process.

I get behind this 110%. Believe me, I fucking wish people would do more of this and stop serving out-of-season, flown-across-globe produce, fish and meats. See my post Cutting This Tomato Hurts My Soul for more on that topic.

Yet, I still become pissed off every time I see this guy on video. It’s cool what he’s doing, check, but the arrogance, yeah, I guess it’s arrogance in the way he and really every other chef I’ve seen on video present themselves is just ridiculous and anger-making for me.

But I guess, what should I expect? Or rather, what should ‘we’ (the industry) expect? Our culinary training machine is set up to create ego manic monsters. The result is not only arrogance, but mistreatment and abuse of the people that work for them. See my post Thank you, chef, may I have another? for more on that topic.

Whether a person attends culinary school or learns on the job, they are told teamwork is good, but it’s not rewarded.

For example, the grade for every cooking-focus class I’ve taken so far has been based on 60-70% individual daily performance – what “I” do in the kitchen. The class is broken up into teams of three to five students, most often with someone identified as the sous chef (the second in charge, the first being the chef instructor).

My team has recipes assigned to us and we divide them up so each person has specific cooking responsibilities. I have zero problem with any of this, except for when the chef instructor drones on every day about teamwork. I have no incentive, if a significant portion of my grade is individual work, to help anyone else.

There is a loop hole though, and yes, I go through it as often as possible. If you have a break in your work, say, something is braising in one pot and simmering in another, you can take the initiative to help others in your team or in other teams. This gets you, guess?…better individual daily performance scores!

So as we continue to churn out ego godzillas from every walk of life, we miss out on creating organizations where people respect their leader, and aren’t just there for enough months to learn what they can before they move on to the next job. Did I mention the restaurant industry has 100% turnover? I shit you not. Every year, any given restaurant will have an entire new staff. Ever notice how you are always meeting new staff at your favorite establishment? Fact proven.

We miss out on the community that food brings. We create environments in restaurant kitchens that are abusive, fear-creating and disrespectful.

We don’t embrace that everyone has a brain with good ideas, even the extern or the dishwasher. “You do what you are told, work long hours, get paid shit…and fucking like it.”

I swear if I was about 10-15 years younger, and actually had the drive to do it, I’d create a restaurant that would defy all the standards, and win all the acclaimed awards. Low turnover, good profit, amazing local and seasonal food.

You can’t just respect the land – you have to respect the people on it too.

Non sequitur…speaking of something on it, why don’t you put an egg on it with a Croque Madame?

GET MY CROQUE MADAME RECIPE HERE.

Cutting This Tomato Hurts My Soul

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It’s January. I shouldn’t be cutting a tomato. I shouldn’t be cutting a cucumber. I shouldn’t be cutting raspberries or mangoes. I shouldn’t even be cutting asparagus.

But here I am.

For the past year, I have suppressed my emotional pain when using out-of-season produce. I justified it because I was in culinary school. They have a curriculum and as much as I’d like that they teach my how to concasse a tomato in summer, it doesn’t always work with the schedule. I get it. I accept it…until graduation.

(By the way, concasse is to make an ‘X’ on the bottom of a tomato, plunge it into boiling water and then immediately into ice water to more easily remove the skin.)

Yet, last weekend I was working at a conference assisting a chef from a very brand-name condiment company set up for his demonstration. I was asked to chop a few tomatoes. My heart sank and so did my opinion of him.

We once ate seasonally, but it’s one of those things that got lost somewhere in our ‘instant gratification’ culture. That hurts my soul.

Your and my long-lived grandparents and great-grandparents – what were they doing? They were eating foods that were local and seasonal…and actually a hell of a lot less meat, too. Ok, they didn’t have a choice, but maybe choice is our problem today. Just because we can have tomatoes in January, should we?!

Even though I live in the largest agricultural state in the country, I know those tomatoes I was chopping didn’t grow in California. They most likely came from Florida.

There are multiple problems with this scenario.

Instead of being shipped just a dozen or so miles from a local farm, they would have to be transported more than 3,000 miles to me. That takes fuel – lots of fuel. Not only adding to their cost in the grocery store, but to the cost in terms of environmental damage – huge carbon footprint! There is also environmental damage done by trying to grow tomatoes in Florida’s sandy soil.

Also, its nutrition just sucks. Produce that is intended to go on long truck rides is often picked before it’s ripe and therefore before it can fully develop. It’s robbed of nutrients even before it’s out of the gate.

In addition, the moment something is picked it starts losing nutrients so the longer it takes to get to you, the less healthful it is. Exposure to prolonged oxygen, light and heat can also suck away nutrients.

So by the end of its cross-country joy ride, you might as well skip the tomato and gnaw on your shoe lace. An exaggeration, I admit.

Actually, if you are interested in reading more specifically about how tomatoes are grown in winter in Florida, check out “Tomatoland” by Barry Estabrook – two-time winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Food Writing. Here is a link to an excerpt.

I care so much about this topic and feel so passionate about sharing the benefits of eating seasonally that last year I incorporated this idea into my six-year-old recipe blog, Vegetarianized.com. My growing list of more than 250 original recipes are now searchable by season. As of this post, I have exactly 147 winter recipes.

To find out what is in season in North America or even in your state, here are some great resources:

Here’s just a partial list of seasonal produce for California in late January:

  • Avocados
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Fennel
  • Grapefruit
  • Kale
  • Lemons
  • Mushrooms
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Spinach
  • Tangerines

Ready to get started this winter?! GET MY FENNEL, PERSIMMON AND GOAT CHEESE SALAD RECIPE

Let me have my fear, goddamn it!

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I can’t seem to figure out why people are so obsessed with getting over fears, and telling me I have to get over mine. It’s actually getting pretty annoying. Keep your shit to yourself and stop telling me how to handle mine.

They say, “You’ll grow.” “Challenge yourself.” “You’ll become a better person.” Shut the fuck up, inspirational poster!

I’m sharing this violent expression of feelings because at work now there is a whole, big drama because I didn’t want to use the weedwacker. I got a tutorial and while listening patiently to the instructor I stared with bug eyes at the rusty blade that was only half covered with a shield, and thought two things – either a serial killer is coming to my house tonight with that thing to kill me or I’m definitely cutting off all my toes if I try and use it. I actually started to get physically nauseous and dizzy.

Yes, I know it’s all in my head, and I wanted it to just stay there tucked away, nice and warm in bed with my other fears. Go back to bed, fear of weedwackers.

But, no, my boss told another one of my co-workers and so I’ve officially been labeled as someone not willing to try new approaches and techniques. Jesus Christ! And on top of it, my boss is absolutely determined to get me to use power tools all the time now.

Remember as a kid, you couldn’t get up from the table until you finished everything on your plate? Even those hostile vegetables you had been pushing around with your fork during the whole meal?

You are probably thinking right about now that not wanting to eat your broccoli isn’t a fear. But don’t you remember sitting there at the table staring at it. It was going to taste SO damn bad. Mushy, bland, bitter. Caught in your throat. Taste lingering on your tongue. I think that’s pretty much fear.

I witnessed this scenario pass down to the next generation when I saw my brother serve hostile broccoli to his son. You know it well. Frozen broccoli, bowl, touch of water, microwave the shit out of it. Tasted like mushy, wet weeds. GAG!

In fact, that’s exactly what my nephew did! He actually started involuntarily gagging and a few times, my sister-in-law mentioned, he actually threw it up. The kid hated it so much and was so afraid he made his body throw up! But yup, they kept feeding it to him.

So has this approach ever worked? Ok, someone is hesitant, afraid, and/or nervous about something. Yeah, let’s force them to do it – then they’ll like it! The millisecond my nephew gets to choose his food absolutely 100% guaranteed he’ll never eat broccoli again. And that’s too damn bad because broccoli is super delicious – if cooked right.

Instead of the forcing or the mocking of people with a fear, how about trying to find out why it’s a fear. Then maybe together we can figure out how to take baby steps or something. Hey, maybe cook the broccoli some other way, asshole! (sorry, bro – heat of the moment frustration!)

I started doing some online research about facing fears, and found so many bullshit sites with stupid reasoning. “Live a bold life.” The results might be amazing.” “Enjoy the ride.” Kill me now…

After some digging, I came to this website post: The Fluent Self: You Don’t Have to Face Your Fear. Really. This is my favorite quote:

“You don’t have to face your fears. Sure, you can if you want to. If it’s empowering for you and it works. But you don’t have to. There are plenty of ways to resolve fear and even to heal it that don’t involve direct confrontation or meeting it face to face.”

YES, YES, YES!

But then why is everyone’s gut reaction to someone’s fear that “YOU MUST CONQUER!”

Second case in point, I was hiking with my man last week and we came to a high point overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Somewhat afraid of heights I kept my distance from the open edge. Then he noticed a narrow pathway down to a small area jetting out right over the ocean. I got the mocking and the ‘just do it’ and the ‘face your fears’ routine from him so I went out there with much hesitation. When I got to the end, I had to sit down. I caught one glimpse of the edge and overheard people saying it was so scary too many times that I got dizzy and nauseous. Those are really great things to feel on a very steep cliff with no protection from falling – definitely!

I think The Fluent Self has got it – there is just no good reason to face any fear you don’t want to. If I wanted to be a professional weedwacker user or cliff hiker, yup, I’d probably have to take up the respective challenges. But I’m not, and these fears don’t haunt me or stand in my way of anything in life I want to accomplish. They are safely sleeping in their warm, comfy beds.

So let me have my fears, goddamn it!

Just in case you were scarred in childhood by broccoli, trust me, it is really yummy.

GET MY GARLIC PARMESAN BROCCOLI RECIPE HERE.

Massacre at Squash Field

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It was a cool, cloudy day in the late afternoon of Tuesday, November 18th. The sky was dark blue-gray and there was a light, hollow breeze from the south. The grape leaves, painted in fall reds, oranges and yellows, were rusting and letting go of their vine hosts.

I was in the east field dressed in grey cargo pants with dirt-covered knees and worn-in calf-high boots. With shovel in hand I was somberly digging up the last of the squash plants – sad to see summer go. The day before they had frozen in the first sub-32 degree night we had had this fall. Their leaves were limp and translucent from the freeze and then thaw during the day. This exposed their alien-like vines underneath that had grown and twisted their way all through the bed and out into the walking paths over the summer.

Shovel in, stomp of my boot on the blade’s top, lift, yank and drag the plant to a mounding pile of other squash plants.

All of the sudden a rustle under the dead leaves revealed a mouse. It shot straight out from the squash bed and into the mound of pulled plants. I pretended I didn’t see anything and kept working.

Two squash excavations later, I heard a sudden scamper under the weeds moving away from me toward the end of the squash bed. Then silence.

“Tony, a mouse, a mouse,” I yelled to my co-worker seeding a nearby bed with mustard. He dropped his bag of seeds and came running over.

“There, there,” I said pointing to the end of the bed, “under those weeds.”

He immediately started moving around frenetically pulling the weeds and leaves around him. It quickly revealed a mouse with short brown-grey hair fattened on summer radishes and carrots.

Bam…bam…bam! With no other weapon but gloved hands, Tony began punching the ground with both fists. Weeds and leaves were tossed into the air along with the lifeless body. He paused to see if it was dead. Observing from a few, safe paces away, I saw it laying on its side motionless.

Then another rustling in the weeds in the next bed. Tony leapt over and began the routine again – pulling weeds and squash plants to expose the ground. Something jumped and Tony raised his fist again, but when his eyes focus he stops just in time before he would have wailed on a fat, green toad. He picked it up and tossed it into the next bed.

Just then, a scurry. Tony yanked my shovel from my hands. “There, there, under that overgrown radish,” I yelled. Whack…whack…whack! The shovel obliterated the radish plant and the mouse beneath. Little red mouse guts hang from its underside.

“Ahhh, I see two more running toward the other end of the bed!” I yelled. This time Tony started digging into the side of the bed and what seems like a Ratatouille-amount of mice come running out in all directions. Whack…bam…whack…whack! Tony became the terminator of mice following their scurrying this way and that as I kept yelling directions at him.

All in all, six mice lost their lives that fateful afternoon.

I scooped each one up individually with the shovel and placed them gently into the wheelbarrow. I apologized to them and then walked slowly to the compost pile. I felt bad for having to kill those little guys, and so violently too, but in the garden mice, voles, gophers and birds are the enemy. They dig holes under beds, and eat everything in sight – radishes, berries, carrots, turnips and micro greens all succumb to their big appetites.

I dug a shallow hole behind the wet, pre-chipped compost pile to ensure they wouldn’t accidentally get chipped themselves. I found two sticks and tied it together with a fresh, long weed. Sorry, little guys.

Walking back to the bed with the wheelbarrow, I suddenly remembered the first mouse that scurried under the pile of pulled squash plants. The lone survivor…the one in the horror movie that the serial killer lets live so the tale can be told…The Massacre at Squash Field.

What’s best with horror movies? Caramel popcorn, of course!

GET MY CARAMEL POPCORN RECIPE HERE.

Thank you, chef, may I have another

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The more and more I work in the restaurant industry the more I am dumbfounded by the unprofessional and down-right abusive behavior that goes on and is accepted by everyone as the way things are.

Why is it acceptable for a chef to make abusive and even racist or sexist jokes, yell, or even throw things at their employees? Yes, throw things! I haven’t seen this firsthand, but I hear stories about it all the time. Why do line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers take it as just another day at work?

One day I arrived at work at 4PM and began setting up my station as was everyone else on the line. The head chef walked right up to one of the line cooks and began reaming her out because he heard a rumor she might be leaving for another job. Now, granted she was dumb to say anything to anyone about it, but it certainly didn’t deserved a public lashing. And way to make her want to stay! I would have accepted the other job as soon as my shift was over…

Recently I met a young woman who was new. She told me she had moved to the area and had been staging for a month at the restaurant in hopes of being offered a job. In case you may not be aware, a stage is an unpaid, hands-on interview that is the norm in the restaurant industry. I get it being a hands-on, cooking interview; the unpaid part, not so much, but that’s another post. So to clarify that earlier statement, she left wherever she was living, got a new apartment here and was working for free for an entire month with just A HOPE of being offered what would probably be a $12-14 an hour job. TOTALLY NUTS!

On another day at work, the chef was verbally abusive, it seems, for his own personal shits and giggles. Here’s how the conversation went:

Chef: “Steve…”
Steve: “Yes, chef.”
Chef: “Fuck you. I hate you.”
Steve: No response, just kept going on about his business.

I did change the poor line cook’s name to protect his total innocence. But why is this behavior acceptable and even considered a routine part of the job!?!

I have some theories…

First, some stats. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Restaurant Association, restaurant and food workers make up about 10% of the U.S. labor force – that’s about 13.5 million people. Of those, nearly 61% are minorities, including women, Asians, Blacks and Hispanics. In fact, Blacks and Hispanics are the largest minority groups accounting for more than 36% of all minorities.

In addition, the path to line cook and that amazing hourly wage I mentioned above really only requires a high school degree. Now my sample size is small, but I’ve never met a line cook or even a chef with a Bachelor’s degree. At most, they have an Associate’s degree from culinary school. To qualify, I’m not saying education makes you smart, but it often it gives you perspective, and I think more importantly, it teaches you critical thinking skills.

Potentially controversial, but I’m gonna say that cooks are willing to deal with shitty supervisors because they don’t have a lot of other options. Many are first generation (and I’ll say it, maybe even illegal) with little education and sometimes little English. I work with these types of cooks every day. God love ‘em, they are fucking busting their asses for shitty pay to make a better life for themselves and their families, but why does this have to include verbal, and possibly even physical, abuse? This shit pisses me off!!

So then WTF chefs?! Why would you abuse your employees? You are just cutting into your own narrow 3-5% annual profit by creating unnecessary turnover (Yes, that’s how much a successful restaurant can expect to make. I’d say you are better off investing in the stock market and cooking for pleasure, but I digress). You are also creating a shitty work environment and people who will never be loyal. I once ran into a former co-worker who told me he thought the head chef was an excellent teacher, but that he just couldn’t deal with all the yelling and abuse. He now does landscaping. Congrats, brother, for breaking the abuse cycle!

I get it – with a 3-5% profit margin, shit is pressurized, but why would you ever take it out on the people that work for you; that produce food that reflects your reputation; and that help you make that 3-5%?!

Besides treating your fellow human with some ounce of respect, this would N…E…V…E…R, never, never, never, never fly in the business world. HA! If I told one of my former employees to fuck off, I would be so fired, so fired, so fired that I would immediately burst into flames.

I also get that the restaurant industry is different in that it is so fast-paced. When it’s the middle of dinner service, shit gets crazy. Tickets are flying, plates are flying, people are flying. But again, why does that require yelling?

One chef told me that yelling was the only way to motivate people – yelling and riding them hard. Damn, dude, you need to take a business class! There are a million, zillion ways to motivate people…

This will never happen in a million years, but business class is actually one potential solution – to require some leadership/manager/business training while chefs qualify for or renew their national food service managers certificate. As chefs become certified or renew, they would be required to get some formal training or continuing education in managing people – hell, maybe also managing a business. Perhaps chefs could learn better techniques to cut costs or be more efficient as well as learn to be a fucking human.

The way these certifications work is that the National Restaurant Association administers a program called ServSafe. There are three types of certifications: Alcohol, Food Handler and Food Safety Manager. Some states require the certification, while others are voluntary. Yes, voluntary, which means any yahoo in Oregon can walk off the street and make your dinner. Check out your state requirements.

So my grand theory (and it’s only one idea of tons) is to require some new and continuing business training for people seeking new and renewed Food Safety Manager cards – at the expense of the restaurant. Yup, I said that right – business training for restaurant managers at the expense of the restaurant. I know every chef who would ever read this would laugh in my face and tell me I’m an idiot – surprise, surprise.

But my bet is that the time and expense of a little business and management training every 3-5 years would MORE than pay for itself in lower employee turnover, better efficiency and lower costs. The real obstacle though is to change the “it’s just the way it is” attitude that infects everyone in the industry…

This topic makes me want to drink…heavily…both to all the restaurant workers who take shit everyday to improve their lives, and because there is no end in sight to it…I’m heading for an Old Fashioned…

GET MY OLD FASHIONED RECIPE HERE.

Help Wanted: Executive Chef

POSITION SUMMARY

This position provides experienced culinary leadership, training and support to the BOH (back-of-house) staff while maintaining fiscal management over the entire Restaurant.

PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITIES

Job responsibilities include, but are not limited to the following:

Leadership, Training and Human Resources

  • Possess the exceptional patience to train, retrain and retrain again BOH staff on culinary techniques, basic cleanliness, and labeling and organizing containers – likely with multiple and/or the same employee(s) daily or several times per day on the same task.
  • Must have loud, commanding voice and willing to use it in front of mixed crowds; free with graphic profanity as well as sexist and racist comments and/or sexual innuendoes a plus.
  • Ability to manage the schedules of staff who don’t want to work weekends and constantly have reasons not work, including legal requirements to report to jail.
  • Ability to look and act intimidating and unapproachable; mood swings and experience as an alcoholic a plus.
  • Willing to work with an ever-changing BOH staff who may at any time or simultaneously be insubordinate, lazy, wasteful, unsanitary, and/or lying; must be willing to step into an employee’s station if s/he should suddenly walk off the job.

Business Goals

  • Create a menu mix, environment and experience that attracts and pampers to high maintenance customers, generates a 3-5% profit, and pleases owners, investors and their VIPs while maintaining low staff and product expenses, managing inventory numbers, and minimizing waste and loss to staff consumption.
  • Cater to an entitled clientele that puts ice in red wine, yells at BOH staff in the middle of service, scares away fellow customers with their drunkenness, and orders “mixed drinks.”
  • Creativity to make a profit year after year on dishes with limited to no control over labor costs and product prices as well as clienteles’ culinary whimsical desires, which often includse shit they’ve seen on food reality TV.

Miscellaneous

  • Must be willing to work 10-14 hours per day, 5-7 days per week, which may or may not include telecommuting to complete reports, human resources duties and answer bullshit emails from investors and vendors; on call at any time a must.
  • Plumbing and carpentry experience mandatory, including ability to unstop toilets, refinish tables, clean drains, and repair roofing, among other tasks.
  • Following after BOH staff to clean, relabel and organize walk-ins, reach-ins and lowboys required.

QUALIFICATIONS AND SKILLS

  • 20-30 years progressive leadership roles in restaurant management.
  • Spanish-speaking strongly recommended if you want BOH staff respect as well as to avoid people talking about you in your presence.
  • Must be omnipresent and omniscient even when not on site.
  • Ability to identify fault in others’ work.
  • Prior misdemeanor/jail time irrelevant.
  • Willing to let one’s self go both physically and mentally.

BENEFITS

  • Starting salary eh, maybe $75,000-90,000.
  • Health insurance!
  • Free food tastings throughout the day, but must be standing. Will never be hungry nor satiated.
  • Work with some incredible product.*

* Available only on the East or West Coasts.

A Living Wage

final

For 15 years I sat at a desk. Working hard was nine or ten hours a day because of a work event or donor dinner, and I would come in late the day of or the day after to make up for it. I encouraged my staff to too because, after all, our salaries were paying us only for an eight hour day.

If I needed a mental health day or had a sore throat, I used a sick day. At any given time over those 15 years, I had three to five weeks vacation, and pretty cheap, damn good health, dental and vision care. My employer paid into my retirement account.

At the time I quit my job this past January, I, personally, was making almost three times the median income for a US household.

I’m very proud of how far I got in only 15 years, and while I’d like to take all the credit for my success, I know a lot of it was luck. The luck was being born white in America into a middle class family. Examining that fact from a global perspective, I hit the life jackpot.

I say all this because for the past eight months I’ve been a tourist in this new food world I’ve entered. I have been working once a week at a restaurant making $12 an hour doing pastry. It’s the least stressful BOH (back-of-the-house) job one could have. I don’t need the money. I don’t really need the experience. But one thing I’ve learned besides how to make chocolate ganache is that it’s fucking brutal for the people who do need the money and do need the experience.

It’s summer break right now, and I’ve been working on campus on a video shot for a cooking show. Days start at 7AM and can go 10 to 12 hours. After four days, I counted up more than 40 hours worked. Ten hours per day isn’t too crazy, but standing on your feet for all that time equals exhausted. Everything on my body was achy. I had no time to exercise. I ate whatever was convenient, which usually meant crap. I gained almost five pounds in a week.

And what did I pull down for all this hard work? Maybe I’ll clear $370. That’s less than $1,500 per month take home or about $18,000 per year. Who can live on that? According to the US Census, well a bunch of people do it everyday. In fact, 35% of individuals in the US make less than $25,000 per year.

My $10-12 per hour is below average in a restaurant, but it’s not like full-time line cooks are bringing in the big money. I’ve heard more senior cooks boast about making $18 an hour average with overtime pay. I also read an article recently that put executive chef pay at individually-owned restaurants at about $80,000 per year. These chefs are people with 20-30 years of kitchen experience running multi-million dollar businesses who routinely work 12 hour days. And for 15 years I was a lazy desk job bitch!

Sure, restaurant work is considered a blue collar living, but not only are these people highly skilled (and I’d strongly argue more highly skilled than FOH (front-of-the-house) staff who are making much more than them), but they are feeding us. It reminds me of the movie Fight Club and this line: “Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on: we cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances, we guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us.”

Why don’t we ever want to pay for the things we value most, like eating? I know that’s a can of worms kind of question so I’ll leave it untouched. My point is I feel guilty for being a tourist. This is a little, fun adventure for me. It’s a life experience that I hope will take me some place in food, but it doesn’t matter if it goes nowhere. In short order I could call a head hunter and find a six-figure job again just like that.

I get to leave this behind anytime I want, but the millions of people working 10-14 hours a day in food, teaching, garbage collecting, mail delivery and/or childcare making not much more than minimum wage can’t. They are slaving away sacrificing their own health and well-being to make a better way for themselves, and for a majority of them, their families too.

This all makes me sad because I feel powerless to change it, and when I get sad I cook. This sadness reminds me of New Orleans Red Beans and Rice. When I was there a few years back, a local bar offered it for free on Mondays to locals. Even vegetarian, it’s cheap, easy and packed with protein and fiber.

GET MY NEW ORLEANS RED BEANS AND RICE RECIPE HERE.

Chef is always right, and yup, he fucking is

maitai

I didn’t actually mention after my Green Than Neon post that the head chef offered me a job. I’m pretty impressed with myself that after my first night in the back of the house that I got hired! I shouldn’t get so cocky though, because he said it was not so much my prowess with a whisk, but rather my humble attitude. He finds that many culinary students think they are god’s natural-born gift to the kitchen, whereas I freely admitted that I know nothing. Note to self for future interviews.

I have been working every Thursday from 4:00PM until close running the pastry station under the direction of the Pastry Chef and the head chef. Four weeks in, I am maybe, just maybe, starting to get a handle on things and feeling comfortable. One week I had a fight with the industrial stand mixer. It beat me the first time with its broken arm lock, confusing turn on requirements, and slightly frayed extension cord that had to reach over the hand washing sink, but the next week I came for it, and kicked its metal hunk of an ass!

I have found all my Chef Instructors at school are constantly testing me – judging my answers for the just perfect mix of intelligence, knowledge, skill, humility, and confidence. Chef Colin is no exception, and I think especially so in my case because he wants to know, ‘what exactly are they actually teaching me.’

Case in point, I clocked in at 4:00PM a few weeks ago, and got down to business. I checked the note from the Pastry Chef with the production list for the night, and started getting my station set up. At this point the production I’m doing is all for the first time so I’m always a little anxious until I complete it (or redo it) successfully. That particular night I had to make granache from scratch – something I have never in my life done. She left the recipe and instructions, but again, until I did it and it came out ok, I was a little nervous.

I was reviewing the recipe when the chef approached and inquired, “How’s it going? Feeling comfortable?” AHHH! My mind raced like it was at the Grand Prix. If I say yes, I’d appear too cocky. How could I possibly feel comfortable on week two? If I say no, I appear clueless and lost. I tried to compromise by replying, “Comfortable is strong, but I’m ok.”

That’s an X for you, lady! Go directly to jail…He quickly quipped, “Well, you should never do anything unless your comfortable. Here let me see what the Pastry Chef gave you.” AHHH! Epic fail…when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!

I thought I was in for a talking to, but he gave me a really fantastic lesson (and no, I’m not kissing butt in case he reads this, wink, wink). He said the key to starting any project in the kitchen is planning. When you sit down with a recipe, you need to think about all the items you need to gather, how you are going to get them, and what you may need to get them. Then you think about the equipment you’ll use and any pieces and parts you need for that. What might you need during the production? Whisk? Scrapper? Sheet pans? Parchment? Grab that as well. Then what are you going to do with it once it’s made? What is it going in to? Where is it going?

Holy crap – mind freaking blown! This makes a ridiculous amount of sense. Restaurant kitchens are always small with too many people and not enough equipment and supplies. By planning everything out like that you can run a tight, clean and efficient ship. I’m just walking around thinking I’m Ms. Efficient, but nope, this is efficiency. I had no idea this is the way restaurants were run. Wow, super impressed.

There is actually a French phrase for this high level planning and organization, but I had never heard it until I arrived and never truly knew it’s meaning until Chef Colin gave me that lesson. It’s called mise en place – translated: put in place. I totally get it now. You have to ‘mise en place’ everything – not just the ingredients, but equipment, supplies, locations, people.

Damn, wish I had this years ago, but overwhelming sense of satisfaction at getting it: nailed. I deserve a drink…

GET MY HAWAIIAN MAI TAI RECIPE HERE