Friday, May 22, 2009

Cuts, Burns, Scars, Tats and Other Things That Makes Me Look Like a Bad Ass

In between jumping out of the shower and turning on reruns of the West Wing, I had a sudden idea. I don't know what sparked it really, but I realized that I had and knew all these little stories from myself, other people, word of mouth and just pure kitchen myth/legend. I obviously didn't want to write about them as if they were purely true (partly because they are not my stories and they are probably not completely true anyways). So I'm just going to write a series of fun little short stories and you can try to take with it as much as you think is true or as much as you think is not. They are all based and inspired by truths somewhere though, so it will serve as quite a bit of fun for those who really try to decipher things. Some pieces will most definitely be false at certain times, but the point is just to give the readers some fun kitchen stories through the eyes of one particular chef. I'm sure many can relate...

So this is the first of many hopefully that I wrote last night and I'm calling these set of stories:

Cuts, Burns, Scars, Tats and Other Things That Make Me Look Like a Badass.




No, this was not a directed or primal scream – rather, a soft crescendo of the word that was just a gentle whisper at the suggestion of pain. Seemingly less dramatic (though similar) than the normal “fuck” that you get coming from my mouth when I’m dick deep in the weeds during service, but more like a slow-realizing and panic ridden, which is much more fucking worse.

I have just cut off 1/3 of my middle fingernail and part of my flesh into a sea of 1 mm by 1 mm brunoise chopped red peppers with my Wusthof Classic Santoku (I knew I hated that bloody knife). Most of the sentiment of the “fuck” can be attributed to the impending pain, but I’d rationalize that 30% of it clearly has to do with the thought of redoing all those peppers with a good chunk of my middle fingernail gone.

The whole situation was definitely not how I envisioned my third day in the kitchen to be, but accidents don’t happen in the kitchen when you are routinely making cuts and focusing on what you need to be doing. Accidents happen when you are focusing on the funny conversation that your executive chef and chef-de-cuisine are having all while simultaneously staring at the stunning 18-year-old hostess waltz into the kitchen with her little white t-shirt top and sporting a natural 34C (borderline D) cup. That’s how accidents - and eventually “fuck”, happen.

At that moment, exec chef Tom quickly rushes over, “Keith, are you okay?” The words “what the fuck do you think” and "that's not my fucking name" strike a quick mental reaction in my mind, but I regain control of my thoughts and decide that’s not the best course of action.

“Dude, I’m fine. It doesn’t even hurt. Fuck, I gotta do those fucking peppers over.” I grumble more words and head to the first aid kit. It was only 2pm. Knowing the theory of how when it rains, it pours shit on you - I should have assumed that this cut was going to bleed through 4 layers of band aids, gauge pads, duct tape and a plastic finger condom. Thank god I was working daytime prep and observing night service. Only 8 more hours of medieval bloodletting to go…

Service ends, I drink Fernet and ginger-back. I go home, clean the wound and pass out. Another day done.

Months later, I will recount this story to some friends while Tom (who now knows my name) and I are close the verge of being completely shit-faced. Tom contributes to my storytelling and asks on cue something to the drunken effect of, “yeah, what happened that day?”

“You guys were laughing and shit in there and then '18' walked in with a little white t-shirt and shit. It was all downhill from there.”

To this day, I will always remember exactly how “18” (her secret back of house nickname) looked on that day in that moment. Aside from little lust filled kitchen jokes, “18” had no significant impact on my tenure in that kitchen or in my life, but strangely became one of the few women that left an indelible mark. That and I have a great badass lopsided middle fingernail to remind me of this story.

I love funny anatomic reminders of absolute shitshows. Ah, yes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oh Baby

I walked by after dinner to Golden Gate Bakery 30 minutes after they closed and while the lady was closing up, she asked me from behind the window if I wanted something. I said I wanted egg tarts and she told me she had 4 left. My dining companion and I took them all and split them 2 and 2. I can honestly tell you that the egg tart that I had 30 minutes after closing was just as good as one that I had a few months ago at the start of service in the morning. Unbelievable. Someone call the damn FDA, they're putting crack in the tarts there.

I think I jizzed my pants when I bit into it...

Cue the celebration music:

Making Vadouvan - Explained, Kind Of

I promised a reader I would help him out with some of the ingredients involving Vadouvan, so I figure since I'm practically as brain dead right now as Paris Hilton, I'm going to mail this one in and let the pics do the talking.

Vadouvan, for those that do not know, is the french interpretation of curry. Essentially it is taking the basic spice of curry and pronouncing it with more aromatics and fresh vegetables. Here is a list of ingredients that you will normally find in Vadouvan. I however have spent many trials and many hours trying to figure out my own secret ratios, so I will not be unveiling that. Sorry, chef's secret. One of those things that you share with the person in bed with you or take to the grave. No, that was not an invitation for the men to satisfy either conditions.

Vadouvan ingredients may include the following (though not always):

Fenugreek seed
Mustard seed
Red Dry Chile
Curry Leaves
Saffron (rarely)

Hope that helps anyone wanting to create their own blend. Aside from spending a ton on spices you may or may not have, I need to tell you that 5 lbs of vegetables probably yields you less than 1 lb of final product. Yea, that's why its not cheap. Anyone ever wants to try/buy some from me, track me down...

Onto the pics:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is Fine Dining Killing Fine Cuisine?

We are in amidst of one of the most financially difficult times the country has ever faced and that is not lost on me. Job loss is growing, spending is weakening and people are eating shittier than they ever have. It is getting harder and harder for people to eat right, so they eat cheap and they haphazardly eat food that is slowly killing them. To make an argument for fine dining would likely be futile and lost on many people. However, I do hope that I can direct the thinking of a few who may be open contemplating the importance of a world of food that is drastically shrinking before our eyes.

First of all, I will not defend the pitfalls of fine dining - especially when it comes down to the overindulgence of items like 9 million page wine lists and $400 candle holders - items that the diner is paying for with or without their knowledge. I have trouble understanding whether or not fine/artistic cuisine can exist without some of the frivolity of services associated with the food. Can Jean Georges exist without having 3 separate FOH members setting plates in front of me simultaneously?

For many reasons, I simply do not believe that serving a creative and exquisite meal has to come hand in hand with excesses of fine dining culture. Why does the style of food dictate the style of service? Is there a linear relationship between technical plating and black/white jackets with bowties?

I think there are even bigger questions and conclusions that the industry may want to address. The first being this: Is fine dining killing fine cuisine? I have heard of a few paradigms of industry involving small kitchens redefining high-end concept cuisine at casual spaces, but are these restaurants actually models for a new trend or are they simply the exception that proves the rule?

Recently (ever more frequently) I've been hearing industry whispers and rumors about struggling high end restaurants and how they are on a path to absolute ruin due to ridiculous operation costs and spending. Is that a telltale sign that the fine dining restaurant model is no longer sustainable as it stands? And if so, does the artistic evolution/influence of cuisine have to suffer - essentially reverse course of action set from better times (especially considering all the restaurants gearing up for cheaper versions of their former menus just to stay open)?

What do you think? Am I the only one that cares or thinks that this is an issue? Probably.

The Crime of The Century

According to Missourian:

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Authorities in North Carolina said a store owner and a patron thwarted a teen suspected of trying to carry out a robbery by concealing a banana beneath his shirt to resemble a gun.

Winston-Salem authorities said 17-year-old John Szwalla entered the Internet cafe Thursday and demanded money, saying he had a gun.

The owner, Bobby Ray Mabe, said he and a customer jumped Szwalla, holding him until deputies arrived. While they waited, Mabe said the teen ate the banana.

Mabe said deputies took pictures of the peel. Forsyth County Sheriff's office spokesman Maj. Brad Stanley said deputies joked about charging Szwalla with destroying evidence.

Szwalla faces a charge of attempted armed robbery. Jail officials said he doesn't have an attorney.

Destruction of evidence or just hunger? I say the latter. This robber is a mad genius.