Category Archives: Eat

A Living Wage


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.


Chef is always right, and yup, he fucking is


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…


Children of the corn


Despite being panned by Siskel and Ebert in 1984 when this Stephen King-adapted movie was released, I was surprised to learn that “Children of the Corn” made more than $14M (on a budget of $800k), and there were seven, yes seven, sequels! The original movie is terrifically awful, but more recently the title makes me think of kids today who are probably now made from 99.99% corn. Bread products, meat fillers, frying oils, breading for fried things that go in frying oils, ketchup that goes on the fried things fried in frying oil, soup, pudding, yogurt, baked goods, milk, and mayo. And, the showstopper, feed for the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) animals most Americans eat. They all have corn.

I have this picture in my head of scary children dressed in drab brown farmer’s clothes running around a small town being eaten by corn plants or killing one another by forcing feeding each other large quantities of soda. The children of the corn are going to get you with their high fructose corn syrup – run, run for your lives!

In Nutrition class, I was surprised to learn that in 2014 nearly half of the sugar we ate and drank in America came from corn – up only about 280% since 1966.

Sugar, I just want to warn you in case you haven’t gotten the memo, you have target on your back, and the American food media monster is coming to consume you (is that just too bad of a pun?!). Ok, the American food media monster is coming to eat you!

Sugar is the new fat…as Mark Bittman wrote, “butter is back.” Sugar, you are our latest beelzebub – one of the princes of hell itself. Run, run for your lives…AGAIN!

As usual, we are properly freaking out about sugar. Just in February last year, the FDA proposed an update to the Nutrition Facts label printed on foods, partly to include a breakdown on sugars. You would see total sugar grams, and then under that grams of added sugar. From this, you could then know that that large, approximately 223 gram apple you are eating has 23 grams of sugar, but zero added (well, unless there is a caramel coating). You can see a sample label here:

With such sarcasm in my tone, you may think I’m going to go on and proclaim that sugar is fine, especially from corn – hooray! I’m not.

Here is another sugary fact I learned in Nutrition class: sucrose is the combination of fructose (the sugar found in fruits) and glucose (the primary energy source for our cells). Every type of added sugar is some combination of fructose and glucose, although some have more fructose than glucose in their sucrose. Are you ‘osed’ out yet?! The issue here is that all sugar, if eaten in excess, is stored as fat and fructose is more likely than glucose to make that fat.

So when you go to your neighborhood, big box grocery store and think you deserve a gold star, A+++ for buying agave syrup over granulated sugar, you may be just making yourself fatter. That is because agave syrup can be as much as 4:1 fructose to glucose, depending on the producer, where beet or cane-derived sugars, and yes, the elephant demon in the room, high fructose corn syrup, are 1:1 and 1.2:1, respectively.

Another, and significantly more major, way we are packing on the pounds with sugar is not even the sugar we eat. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR…according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (produced by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services) 50% of the sugar we consumer, WE DRINK!

Let’s reflect on that for a moment…35.7% from soda and energy drinks, 10.5% from fruit drinks, and 3.5% from tea. Good lord, people – you are drinking yourselves to death and you’re not even getting a buzz!

There are so many angles and approaches to this topic it makes me nauseous. Sugar bad. Butter good. Corn sugar bad. Carbs bad. Whole grains good (no matter if they refine them first and add back five good nutrients when they took out like 40! I guess that’s for another article.)


Come on, America, I know you are busy, but you are also fat and lazy. When will you realize that you, damn it, can’t have your cake and eat it too?

Health doesn’t come in a food label or from the government or from not eating high fructose corn syrup. Stop demonizing food – it’s the best thing on this f*#king planet – so start enjoying it…in moderation.

Oh no, not that! I know that’s not at all what you want to hear, but when is moderation and variety and enjoying food (especially with others) going to be at the top of the MyPlate Food Guide and trending on food television instead of the latest food ingredient demon? What next? Someone is going to figure out how protein is bad? Go for it…

I’m guessing you’d like a corn recipe right about now – ’tis the season!


Why do we cook?


I survived midterms, and with those tests, two of my classes actually ended. Food Safety class prepared me for a successful ServSafe Food Safety Manager exam. It’s good for five years, and allows me to take a management role in any restaurant nationwide. Not that anyone would give me such a job considering I have now nine weeks of culinary school and four days back-of-the-house experience under my belt, but the key is the five years.

My Food Safety class has become Nutrition and the other class, Product Knowledge, has become Gastronomy. Both extremely fascinating, but Gastronomy more so. Last week, we started the conversation with some very elementary, but little thought of topics, such as ‘what is cooking?’ and ‘why do we cook?’ We got into a long classroom discussion about the application of heat, seasoning, chopping, marinading, and how, at its most fundamental level, cooking is the transformation of food into energy and nutrients. Somehow we even ended up talking about the 50 ways to cook and eat carrots.

Of course in these discussions, there are no wrong answers. I agree with these assessments and everything everyone said was valid, but somewhere in there I tuned out the back and forth between my classmates and the teacher.

I don’t cook to eat.

I’m not good at communicating my feelings, and neither is anyone in my family. I’m not sure how my sister and brother knew they were loved, or how they felt it, but for me, it was through food. This is a surprising statement because no one in my family is particularly passionate about food. Nobody’s careers have even remotely touched food in anyway. Unlike many of my classmates, I didn’t grow up in a restaurant or on a farm.

My parents divorced before I had self-awareness, so my memories are with them separately, and for some reason they are all about food. This is the only reason I can possibly point to for why I’m so into food.

I felt their love for me through food.

Crystal clear childhood memories of when my parents still lived together; me and my dad on the back patio in front of the grill. It’s summer, after work, sun is going down, humid as hell. Thankfully, I wasn’t quite tall enough to be towering over the grill so I escaped some of the additional heat. On the grill were Oscar Meyers, and if I was lucky, the kind with the cheese piped through the middle. Processed foods in those days were so simple and elegant. Not like today. Case in point: Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancakes and Sausage on a stick. I can’t even come up with anything to say about that so I’m moving on.

Back to the dogs. They were burnt to black, crispy perfection on all sides. Toasted bun with sweet as candy, green as neon relish. But the best part was standing next to my dad, grill utensil in hand, and every so often I’d get a sip from that cold Bud can in the faded cosy.

With my mom, it was all about Christmas cookies, and ‘Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis.’ We’d start out on a Saturday and bake all damn day. When it got dark out, I remember the twinkling multi-colored Christmas lights from the fake tree in the front window when I’d go to flip the record over. In our house, the fake tree went up right after Thanksgiving. Oh, we’d still buy a real tree – from a farm right down the road (see Fierce Jersey Pride post). Walking through the rows of fresh cut trees smelled like Christmas. To this day if I get around too much rosemary, those tree-picking memories come flooding back – Christmas at home in Jersey. We’d bring that fresh tree home, and care for it in the cold garage until Christmas Eve when we’d bring it out and decorate it together.

The cookie baking with mom was epic. Spritz cookies from an ancient cookie press gun from the 1960s, I think – anyway, it was puke green so I’m guessing ’60’s. It jammed a lot, but we pressed out zillions of shapes and sprinkled food coloring-dyed sugar on top. Then there was Peanut Butter Balls. These no-bake guys were just peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter and Rice Krispies mixed together, rolled into a ball, then dipped into melted chocolate and frozen. When you bit in, the chocolate layer pleasantly cracked and froze your mouth at the same time. Oh gosh, we must have had a dozen more kinds of cookies and bars going – too many to remember – but we were careful to lay a big plate out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve after the tree decorating. And P.S. I still love Johnny Mathis and have seen him in concert a bunch of times – makes me feel so young!

When holidays or vacation rolled around, my dad always wanted to let loose and gave me money for candy, and bought huge gallon tubs of ice cream and boxes of junk cereal. My mom, on the other hand, was all about no preservatives and healthy foods, which in retrospect, was pretty cool for the ’80’s. Somehow, though, this didn’t seem to rub off one bit on my sister or brother. When the candy came in, my mom always solicited me: candy for shiny silver dollars. I bargained and gave up some of it, but never all. Candy high was the only high back then.

So that’s why I cook – to show love – and that’s why I’m deliriously happy in culinary school. Sure my pants are still on fire, but I love it! Cooking is how I communicate with people I care about. I love you if I cook with you and/or for you. Sorry if I don’t say it often enough – that’s part genetics and part my childhood environment – but now you know family and friends!


Fierce Jersey Pride


This is something I’ve been thinking about writing for ten years. I don’t give a fuck about messing or not messing with Texas. I’d be ok if you went ahead and fenced up your whole state. New Hampshire can live free or die – not sure if I care. Virginia, you’re great, lived there for eight years, but go ahead and keep your lovers. And yes, Florida, you are the penis of America…

When it comes to state pride, I am an out and proud Jersey girl – born and raised in the Garden State. Yes, that’s right – Garden State, like cranberries, tomatoes, peaches and corn that will put New England, California, Florida and Georgia all to shame.

I don’t god damn know what exit I’m from because I’m from the Garden State – the part that grows things. It isn’t near any stupid turnpike, it’s in farm land. The Jersey Devil lives in the Pine Barrens next door, and I’ll sick his ass on you, so don’t fuck with me!

For that matter, it also isn’t near any fucking smoke stacks or industrial wasteland – that’s North Jersey. The Garden State is South Jersey. Yeah, I went there North Jersey!

People, especially out west, have a hard time wrapping their brain around this North-South Jersey thing considering only Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island are smaller in terms of land mass (and P.S. New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are all bigger!). But New Jersey has the densest population in the country – more than 1,200 people per square mile, and they all have lots of opinions and aren’t afraid to tell you (ahem, case in point).

One of those many opinions is about their extremely intense alliance to either North or South Jersey. I’ve always said they should draw a line through the middle at the state capital, Trenton – north of that goes to NYC and south goes to Philly. I’m fierce about being from South Jersey, but against any outsider, me and the North Jerseyan are taking you down. I’m getting side tracked…but North Jersey, I got you.

I’m fierce about being from South Jersey because that’s why it’s called the Garden State (it ain’t that industrial waste). I grew up picking my own pumpkins, strawberries and apples, and no one believes me. I’m really tired of the turnpike thing, the scrunchy, dismissive faces, and the snide comments about our agricultural prowess.

The most grief I get is about New Jersey tomatoes. They are actually the state vegetable (yes, I know they are technically a fruit, and so are avocados and a zillion other miscategorized plants). My first job at 16 was at a family-owned farm market and bakery. They still take those amazingly sweet, juicy summer tomatoes and make a savory pie from them layering cheddar cheese, mayo and Italian herbs – then baked until melty and golden. The Jersey Tomato Pie.

I don’t really believe in callings, but telling the world about South Jersey – the Garden State part – is definitely one of mine. Go to Chatsworth for the annual cranberry festival – the third largest harvest of cranberries in the US. Stop off at any South Jersey farmer’s stand for the sweetest silver queen corn you ever did taste. Pick-your-own pumpkins, apples, blueberries. And those tomatoes – 8th largest producer in the country – that’s with being the 4th smallest state and being saddled with North Jersey!


My Pants are on Fire…For the Next Two Years


I guess the shine had to wear off at some point. Well, that point is this week.

On Sunday, I volunteered to work at a special event. After a brief competition, the event was open to the public. Live music, food tables hosted by restaurants, drink tables hosted by liquor companies.

My job was to be the low man on the totem pole – basically do whatever anyone else from the restaurant or the chef told me to do…for about 10 hours straight.

I was, not surprisingly, fine early on. My main focus, during that first four hours of prep, was just not to injury myself and thereby get sent home for bleeding in the product. I shaved turnips on a mandolin, and when I couldn’t roll up an egg roll wrapper tight enough, I grated root vegetables for an in-season take on tzatziki. You’ll be pleased to know all my blood stayed in my body.

We arrived at the venue and waiting for the paint to dry for a few hours, and then the public arrived. The restaurant had a table and was presenting four small appetizers. My job was to work with another person to plate them. Some were as easy as put on plate, add dollop, garnish and go. That was the fried mini-cake of short rib with that root vegetable tzatziki, topped with a mustard green flower – done. Some had as many as six components, such as cracker, onion compote, shaved smoked pork, shaved lardo, kiss of salt, microgreen.

Finished plates only needed a short taxi ride to the table, but as soon as you put two down, they were gone. For two solid hours, the chef was “encouraging” us to work faster – “let’s sell ‘em!” “let’s go!” “faster!” “go, go, go!” By the end I was so wired I couldn’t calm down. Everything I did was faster, faster, faster. Go, Go, Go!

I knew about this fast-paced, constant stress, wide-eyed environment from my days waiting tables back in my teens and twenties. It’s actually what made me put cooking on the side for the past 15 years – well, that and having to work when everyone else is having fun.

It’s like your pants are on fire and there ain’t nothing to put them out. Chicken with head cut off scenario – you get it. For a second, did I miss office life?! AHHH!

Well I obviously didn’t get enough break between then and class on Tuesday because I felt defeated even before we got started. Sitting in lecture I was dreading the pants on fire to come. The running from here to there, crap I have the wrong pot, who took the strainer, where is my butter, seven knife cuts in 50 minutes, how much stock do we have…repeat for six hours.

Our individual production for the day was mayonnaise, hollandaise, blanched broccoli, and consomme. That doesn’t count the team and class production, but I’ll forget that for the purpose of this post. Mayo – wrong bowl, wrong whisk, result: too thin. Blanched broccoli – under seasoned water, result: tasted like crap. Consomme- it’s difficult to describe the process, but the result was undercooked garnish with an undesirable fat layer on top – it’s supposed to be crystal clear.

Then there came the hollandaise. I was so scared that I psyched myself out before I even got started. The first time, miracle!, it actually came together, but the fatal, fatal, fatal flaw…held it warm, or rather I held it hot. When I grabbed it to plate up with a generous pour over my broccoli…broken, broken, broken.

I went through all the fixes I knew – add warm water, add warm water and another yolk, but alas it was done.

I put up my other dishes, rinsed my broccoli and started again. This time I didn’t cook the yolks well enough before adding the butter – disaster number two.

Now my eyes start welling up – really? Am I starting to cry because of fucking hollandaise sauce!? But I couldn’t stop the welling!

At this point in my previous office job, I would have just gone in to my office and closed the door, had a good cry, fixed my make-up and then rejoined society. But here I’m with 18 other classmates in a huge teaching kitchen and I have to get this stupid hollandaise up in the next 15 minutes!

Right now I’m in a team with four other guys, and they were so cute. They so didn’t want to see me cry that they ran around and got butter and pots and bowls and lemons and salt, and helped me through it – thanks, team!

At lunch, I sat pretty silent amongst the classmate chatter. Is this really what I’m in for – two years of pants on fire?! Feeling out of control for six hours straight, twice or more a week? Man, I just want to learn how to cook, not feel my ass burning.

Somebody out there…HELP! Parents, nurses, EMTs, teachers…I’m open for suggestions… – seriously…I need a drink…


Greener Than Neon: My First Stage


Stage is pronounced like ‘Dodge’ – really like ‘sta-dge.’ It’s basically an opportunity to work for free in a restaurant kitchen. I say ‘opportunity’ because even though the chef is getting free labor, you are are getting a crash course in what a real restaurant kitchen is like. I’m about to tell you below that it isn’t like what I’ve been describing about school.

I’m not sure this establishment would like me writing about it on the world wide web so to protect the innocent I’ve changed all the names.

I met a head chef while enjoying a cocktail with Michael one recent weekday evening. I mentioned being a culinary student, and he invited me to come by his restaurant. The next day after school I did so, and he spent almost two hours giving me a tour of the restaurant. He also talked to me about how soft culinary schools are and how they are turning out whiny, self-righteous brats who can’t stand real hard work and putting in their dues. During that chat, I was both really intimated and really intrigued – this could be some interesting out of school learning time.

He invited me to come stage that weekend. I reiterated that I never worked in a restaurant kitchen and reminded him it was Valentine’s/President’s Day Weekend. He said come by Saturday at 4PM, and I’d be working with the Pastry Chef. Yes, of course, at the very least it would give me this post to write – at the worst, I’d get kicked out within the first 10 minutes. Why not give it a go…fuck!?!

I wasn’t really nervous until I arrived, and the only way I can think to describe the next six hours of my life was from the perspective of an office. I just left 15 years working in various offices so office dwellers out there, follow along with me.

Take a second to imagine your work space. Think about your physical space or office, where people are in relation to you, and where stuff is – the printer, your computer, office supplies, files, cabinets, and how far you have to go to places – the lounge, the bathroom, your boss’s office. Think about how you function during the day – how you work on different projects, how you interact with people in meetings or on the fly.

Ok, got a good picture? Now imagine this office:

  • People more senior to you come and start working in your space and have the right of way, so if you have papers spread out, you need to collect them and wait until the person is done doing whatever they are doing before you resume your project.
  • You turn for a minute to grab something and when you turn back, someone is working in your space. Depending on their rank, you either have to wait, can politely ask them to move, or you wait until they aren’t looking and move their stuff aside.
  • After you go home for the day, other people arrive and use your stuff – it may or may not be there when you return in the morning.
  • Oh, and to get to your desk, you need to walk right through the middle of six offices filled with people having meetings, on the phone, etc. One or two of them are your superior and they are not to be disturbed.
  • In order to get new supplies, you must walk through the six offices to get them. These supplies are in four different locations, all down stairs and some outside.
  • And if you need to go to the bathroom, you have to walk through the six offices as well.
  • While you are working on a project, more projects can come at any time and you always need to drop what you are doing to finish the most recent request.
  • All the time you work, your clients are sitting and watching you work.
  • You are also standing during the entire day.
  • People are also talking all around you – constantly.

Ok, I’ll admit some of these sound like offices I’ve worked in, but sound like a fun place? Well, it kind of was.

The evening sure went fast, and I was just trying to not screw things up. In the process, I actually made creme anglaise and caramel (which I had never done before and turned out pretty well), quarted up a bunch of different product (that is, to put in plastic, washable quart containers for storage), helped to make chocolate dough for tarts, plated a few desserts and made carrot cake batter.

Six hours of that intense of a mental focus left me totally wiped, but with a strange sense of accomplishment plus wanting to try it again so I could do it better.

When I stopped by the following week to thank the chef for the opportunity, I asked him what everyone I worked with said about my performance. He said he thought I did fine, but of course I was ‘greener than neon.’ I think I need to go back for more…at least just to change shades.


The tyranny of bacon

bacon hush puppy post

I recall an old woman in the Ken Burns’ Dust Bowl series remarking how the dirt and sand got into everything. You’d keep sweeping and sweeping and sweeping, and cleaning and cleaning and cleaning, but it was in vain. The dirt got into everything. It was in your hair, in your clothes after you washed them, on your plates in the cabinet, and under the rug.

This is how I feel about what bacon has become.

It’s everywhere and thrown in to dishes without thought. We are barreling down the roller coaster hill exponentially gaining speed with our use of bacon. Sharp turn to the left…bacon and cheese in pizza crust. Shoot threw a tunnel…bacon in mac & cheese.

I find the average American’s relationship with bacon is like my 16 year old niece’s with Justin Bieber. I bet you have a homemade t-shirt that says ‘bacon’ on it. I bet you post pictures of eating bacon with your friends. I bet you have a wall poster in your bedroom with a sexy, scantily clad, juicy slice of bacon.

Bacon is just a culinary crutch right now – and we are in deep, blinded by any other potential flavor that may bring smoke, salt and/or crispy. It’s just bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon.

These past few weeks, I’ve been trying all kinds of things with bacon – all of which made no sense to me.

First, I had a cod cake that was wrapped in bacon and served with a mayo-dressed slaw. The cake was warm and soft, pleasantly fishy and herby. The slaw was a bit heavy on the mayo, but it was fresh and crunchy – a nice foil for the soft cake. Then, ok, the bacon held it together, but that’s all it did for me. The flavors totally clashed – fresh, ocean, crunch brought down by heavy, greasy meat.

The next day beautiful brussel sprouts roasted in olive oil and salt were corrupted with chunks of bacon. Why?! They were already salty with crispy…burnt outer leaves and a touch smoky from the high-temp roasting. But I guess that’s too boring to eat vegetables by themselves – gotta add Justin Bieber…

Then came this total lunacy (see photo)! There was a gorgeous spread of New Orleans foods. All the favorites were present – jambalaya, dirty rice, étouffée, and gumbo among many other well-known dishes. On my plate was a mini oyster po’ boy with a cucumber slaw stuffed in to the cutest, tiniest parker house roll; lightly barbecued shrimp with creamy grits; three bean salad; and I also grabbed a hush puppy.

Five minutes into the meal, I go for the hush puppy. I split it open first before I pop half in my mouth and what did I find…come freakin’ on! RIDICULOUS! Why is there bacon in my hush puppy!?!

Even though I grew up in New Jersey, I’ve spent time every year of my life in the south and lived in Virgina for eight years. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have I seen bacon in a hush puppy!

When will we heal enough to remove the bacon crutch?! I’m ready to move on…


My brunoise don’t stink

small dice onions

One of the things I was a bit concerned about before starting school was my knife skills – well, really my lack of knife skills. One of the requirements to be accepted at CIA is six months of either front of the house (hostess, waiter) or back of the house (in the kitchen) experience. Mine is four years of front of the house…more than 15 years ago! Most of the people I’d be in class with worked in restaurant kitchens like last month.

Day two in the kitchen we started daily timed knife cuts…uggg, the dread in my stomach the night before! There are eight cuts we must master: 1/4” dice onions; 1/8” julienne onions; minced garlic; 1/8” shallot brunoise; mince/rinse parsley; 1/4” batonette potato; 1/8” alumette potato; and two concasse tomatoes. Thank you, Google videos! I studied videos the night before and made notes, which proved so helpful the next day when the chef gave a demo – I had a freakin’ clue…amazing!

The first day we were only tested on two cuts: 1/8” julienne onions and 1/8” brunoise shallots. Each student prints out a score card that s/he includes on the tray with the cuts so the chef can quickly give you a one to ten score and circle any number of pre-printed comments for each cut – LY = low yield; L = long; S = short; F = finer, etc. I rocked a 6 on shallot and 7 on onion with both marked R (random shapes) and INC (inconsistent), which I’m guessing is kind of the same thing. The best part was he handed back the score cards while I was standing next to a classmate, as we stirred chicken stock sitting in an ice bath, who was one of those “worked in a kitchen like last month” people. And bam…same grades!

On day three of our now timed cuts, I rocked a 6.75 on shallots (bitches were tiring me out!), 7’s on both potatoes, parsley and garlic, an 8 on onion julienne and…wait for it…an 8.5 on 1/4” dice onions. Other restaurant classmates are boasting 8’s and 9’s – and, kick ass, I’m right there with them, almost!

Last week, a sneaky photo was taken of me with said 8.5 onions (above). And tomorrow, I’m coming for those damn 6.75 shallots!


California Dreamin’


I must be dreaming – I can’t believe this is actually my life! I’m doing food 100%, 24/7, all the time, every day, every second. I’m talking about it, eating it, cooking it. I’m learning about growing it, transporting it, and storing it. I’m meeting people who have trained for years, run big kitchens, started food companies, represented the United States in international food competitions, and won major food awards. I’m jumping out of my skin – I can hardly contain my excitement!

I can feel deep inside already that this experience will be life changing. I can’t wait to see how it will all unfold. Will launch into cookbooks? Will I start a food business? Will I have all my fingers at graduation? Will I teach food? Will I write for food? Could this site become a book? What will I do that I can’t even imagine now? Who will I meet? How am I ever going to sleep the next two years?!?

What an adventure! I’m so inspired! Everyone should be inspired by life, and if not, make some changes, take some risks no matter how large or small. Leaving a successful 15 year career to go to culinary school could be seen as a big risk, but I don’t see life as being that black and white. I could always go back and be a professional fundraiser – hell, my Certified Fund Raising Executive certification won’t even be expired before I’m done. Yes, I’m also giving up job security and earnings in a tough job market, but I’ll land on my feet, and I hope in an even better place professionally and mentally than I was a month ago.

It’s cliche, but I believe you can’t go wrong if you follow your passion. Last year when I was applying to CIA and going through the crazy what-ifs about changing my life so drastically, I randomly happened upon this amazing Ted Talk. You just need to watch the first four minutes. The speaker talks about a study done with people in hospice who shared regrets about their lives while they were literally laying on their deathbeds. Those four minutes changed my life and confirmed to me without any doubt that I needed to go to culinary school. I hope you’ll watch it and get inspired – too late for a New Year’s Resolution?!