Category Archives: Eat

Cutting This Tomato Hurts My Soul


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, 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


Let me have my fear, goddamn it!


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.”


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.


Massacre at Squash Field

It was a cool, cloudy day in the late afternoon of Tuesday, November 18th. The sky was dark blue-grey 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 that 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 now 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 the 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 hung 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 seemed 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 and gophers are the enemy. They dig holes under planted 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 compost pile to ensure they wouldn’t accidentally get chipped. I found two sticks and tied it together with a fresh, long weed. Sorry, guys.

Walking back to the bed with the wheelbarrow, I suddenly remembered the first mouse that scurried under the pile of pulled squash plants that I had ignored. 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.


Thank you, chef, may I have another


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…


Help Wanted: Executive Chef


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


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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

The Tourist

For 15 years I sat at a desk in an office. Working hard was nine or ten hours a day because of a work event or 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 employers paid into my retirement account.

At the time I quit my job this past January (2014), I, personally, was making almost three times the median income for a US household.

I’m very proud of how far I got in 15 years. Working in the nonprofit sector, I wasn’t making as much as I could if I was working at a for-profit company, but within my chosen field, I felt accomplished financially and intellectually. While I’d like to take all the credit for my successes, I know a lot of it was luck – starting with 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 culinary world I’ve chosen to travel to and explore. 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 have a prep list of things that need to get done during my shift, but I’m not working on the hot line smashed in with the other cooks crazily trying to fulfill orders for a room of hungry diners. I actually don’t think I could survive one hour on the line, which is exactly why I chose pastry even though I have little to no experience or interest in making desserts.

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 shoot 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(er) 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 $12 per hour pastry job is below average in a restaurant (perhaps because the head chef who hired me knew he’d be fixing a lot of shit I would fuck up), 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 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 6-7 days per week. I immediately felt like I had been such a slag all my prior work years with my cushy desk job, health insurance and benefits. I also immediately recognized I was a lucky one.

Sure, restaurant work is considered a blue collar living, but you could never say these positions were for unskilled or low skilled workers. Not only are these people highly trained (and I’d strongly argue more highly skilled than FOH (front-of-the-house) staff who are making much more money than them), but they are feeding us. This immediately reminds me of one of my top five favorite movies, Fight Club, and this line delivered by Brad Pitt:

“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? 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 or wine, 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.

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 sometimes just scrape by with the hopes of making a better way for themselves, and for a majority of them, their families too.

This isn’t some revolutionary notion I’ve just uncovered. We all know these sobering facts, but for a short time I have the privilege to work next to these people everyday – to learn, to appreciate, to really see what it is to work so hard for so little pay and to, in some cases, not have many other options for work.

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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!