Friday, April 8, 2011


The issue that I face with being (or in the process of being) self-sufficient and therefore self-taught and luckily (somewhat) self-made is that I inevitably end up spending a lot of time by myself. Then again, I probably wouldn't have had it any other way.

I've now spent more than a year looking critically at who I was, who I became and who I now want to be. I haven't read a great deal, but I've learned quite a bit. I've taught myself new things. New cooking techniques. New recipes. I built a building. I'm building a business. I'm growing.

Aside from my wife, though, who's pursuing her own goals, her own education and career, I've essentially been alone in this process--and I'm kind of lonely. Professionally lonely, I guess you could say. Forging my own path based on what I believe is right. Cooking food how I think it should be cooked. Watching people's minds change with each simple bite of food I give them. It's what I've always wanted, to change people, to make them think differently, but I never knew that it would be like this. That being a "creative type" (not an artist), meant inevitably doing things alone. The things, at least, that will allow you to make a difference.

I assume that it's probably going to stay this way for awhile, too, if not even forever. This necessary solitude for the sake of creation. Allowing only those people "in" that you feel will either share your same set of beliefs or will benefit yours. (I'm not so narcissistic that I believe I'm some confined genius that is misunderstood. I simply know what I want and no longer feel that I should sacrifice those desires just to make a buck or gain attention.)

I'm mystified almost to the point of being offended sometimes when I meet chefs that I admire or respect, older chefs who have names that people know, names that people use in their writing. They seem so aloof or distant, often vague in their speech, almost unable to get their point across. It's not like meeting young, eager sous chefs who sing the praises of their boss. Most of them may never go on to have "a name." They'll always remain below someone, incapable of moving beyond their teacher. The older chefs, though, the real chefs, know who they are and know that they cannot let everyone in on their secret. It must be understood, not taught.

After years of dreaming that I could be the next Henry Miller, I'm finally starting to realize wasn't so much a myth or a genius as he was a man with a passion for his own purpose, bound by his own message and the need to deliver it to whomever might be interested. He made a difference because he wanted to, not because he was asked to. What I mean to say is that food can hold the same power as a novel, if the person cooking it looks past the spontaneity of each bite and into how it can create a lasting memory by making a perfect moment even better.

Teams certainly aren't for everyone. They've never really been for me. Even a superstar loses a bit of himself when he is surrounded by his coworkers. It's inevitable.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


The inherent drawback to being a cook or a chef is that, once the "creativity" has subsided, you have a whole fucking kitchen to clean up until well after midnight.

I haven't written in awhile because, as usual, I've been thinking. Thinking about food and how it affects my life. Thinking about where I see food headed.

I've got so much to say. I need to just say it.

So, yeah. I hate kitchens. I hate kitchen work. Pretty big epiphany for a chef.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Purple cabbage. Off-white Daikon. A hint of mayo. A cup of slaw. This is not a recipe--this is what I had for lunch yesterday.

I have a knack for being able to memorize and recount meals in my head, sometimes to minute detail. Meals that are worth remembering, that is. Things like kale and beet chips served with mini beet burgers at Blue Hill back in 2008. Black sticky rice and spicy mussels at Michael's back in 2007. Every piece of rotisserie chicken and chicken-soaked fries that I ate while living in Chile. There isn't one piece of food that sticks in my head that wasn't in some way simple, because it's the complex dishes that I find so easy to forget.

The reason I take to memorizing or simply remembering plates of food that I've eaten is twofold: 1. I want to draw off them. Food isn't just about reading cook books or wearing a white chef's coat--it's about experience. It's about eating one dollar tacos on a beach in southern Chile or a just-caught ceviche in the Dominican Republic. So by remembering more of the foods I've eaten and their surrounding circumstances, I can set out to recreate those atmospheres and those emotions in the food I create. 2. They bring me back to good places. Inherently tied to number 1, I like returning to points in my life that made me happiest. Duh, right? Not at all from a chef's perspective, food has often been a source of joy in my life, the comradery that comes from sharing a good meal with a friend or a loved one; the inherent feeling of satisfaction that ensues. When food becomes memorable, it is more than just food.


Fresh off the sale of a large bag of used clothes and with money to burn, I suddenly developed the craving for a Po'Boy. I knew just the place to get it--Perla's. Opened just two years ago in Austin's famed SoCo (South Congress) district, Perla's is a well-done, but inherently simple seafood and oyster bar. Even without a beach and an ocean view, their outside patio is one of the best places to sit and have a meal in the city. Inside, aged driftwood, subway tiles and beaten concrete floors conjure up images of worn-in class, textured elegance and even a dodgy bathroom (though this last image I removed from my head so I could enjoy my food). In short, the place is comfortable.

Urinals aside, it was the food that caught me most off guard, because I hadn't eaten there since it opened almost two years ago. The slaw, as mentioned above, was perfectly balanced in color, texture, and presentation. The sandwich bread, cracked and toasty, was the perfect vehicle for succulent fried shrimp, tart lemon aioli and crisp lettuce. I can honestly say it was the most perfect meal I've eaten in some time in Austin.

However, I digress, because I didn't intend this to be a restaurant review but rather a critique, an expose, on how simplicity, when done well, can truly be perfect. After two and a half years of working to achieve or simply find here in Austin what I had while working in New York as a commis, I'm starting to realize that Austin is not a gourmet town. It's a beer-drinking town. A comfort town. A laid back town. Duh, right?

Due to many, almost innumerable circumstances, I have come to discover just even in the last three weeks that since arriving in Austin in 2008, my outlook on food, on good food, and even on great food, has started to change. I came fresh off long hours at a more-than-famous restaurant in New York, eager to continue that trend of constantly pushing my own limits. I wanted to take everything that I had learned and pour it into every dish I was cooking, taste it in everything I was eating, essentially bring my own version of New York to Austin. Needless to say, that wasn't going to happen.

When I took the helm of a major new establishment I was convinced that, along with the Exec Chef, I could start to change people's minds about how "fancy, gourmet" food should look, taste or feel (in terms of the space). At the end of the day, though, I was left with complaints about pork belly being too fatty or jalapenos being too hot. The culture was and simply isn't here--yet.

Thus, simplicty. Restaurants ranging from mind-blowing taco stands to nationally acclaimed modern Japanese. James Beard nominees all over the place and cooks covered in tattoos. No Michelin stars and no celebrity chefs or, at least no prominent television personalities--yet.

What you will find in Austin is a wealth of small to mid-sized establishments making delicious food on a daily basis. Perfect raviolis in brown butter, stuffed with fresh ricotta and fried sage. Tacos filled with everything from tongue, tripe and cactus paddles to the more obvious like fajita chicken and fried shrimp. You will find menus that even a serious foodie could get behind, though, for the most part, you will receive these items without the pretense or the price tag. Perhaps you'll even get a free concert out of the deal. After all, Austin is known for being the live music capital of the world.

For me, it is still hard to accept that I need not save half a month's wages for a night of multiple courses, wine pairings and an over-stuffed stomach. While I appreciate a tranquil lunch with a perfect sandwich, I miss the decadence and splendor of food. I miss the restaurants that sit on their block like a sacred place of worship, waiting for patrons to experience food as the French more or less intended it to be so long ago.

Maybe it's time for a pilgrimage.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Lest ye forget that cooking is, first and foremost, a craft, and not a form of art, I give you this:

Chefs are not rockstars, butchers are not heartthrobs and Rocco DeSpirito--well, I can't say much for him, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Want To Be Great

The reason I am not a chef / blogger that writes about line cooking is because, well, I don't really care about line cooking. The lessons I have learned in life have not come from a busy Saturday night's service, watching cooks cut themselves or chefs scream at the top of their lungs when a plate is less than perfect. Line cooking is like any other job except for a different set of tools. The pressure to excel and succeed is still the same. The initial pay is awful and the work is often unfulfilling. And in the end, there are only a few successful line cooks that will go on to truly matter, to make a significant difference in the fabric of food. The only reason I ever took on food as a serious part in my life in the first place was for the same reason I have always strived to be a writer--to make a lasting impression.

Before I committed to cooking full time just four years ago, I had spent my time reading books by authors like Henry Miller, Knut Hamsun, Ferdinand Celine. I found comfort, answers and motivation in their words, their sometimes depressing ideas and the overall message that both conveyed. When I reverted back to cooking as a means of income (and perhaps a committed profession) I hoped to take what I had learned from books, education and life and make the same impression that those whom I looked up to had, while at the same time still earning a functional income. I wanted my dedicated two hours to pay off.

Jump forward to just under a year ago when I left the job that I had hoped would be the kickstart to my career. If I had stayed with that job last year, the possibilities would be virtually endless this year. But I quit, and life is different now. I haven't stopped wanting to be great, though.

To read this, a bystander would probably think that I'm just another confused guy without enough balls to make a solid decision regarding what I want to do. No staying power. Non-committal. After all, I've spent the last 11 months doing odd jobs here and there, exploring parts of myself, my personality and food at large looking for some sort of definitive answer to the question I'm always asking, "What do I want to be?" Realistically, there are no answers to those sorts of vague questions, but what I've come to discover since I quit my "real" job and started doing only what felt absolutely right is that by having more free time at my disposal I increase my chances to make deeper, more lasting impressions on those with whom I come in contact.

By not simply being Patrick the chef, the line cook or even Patrick the writer, I've had the chance to be for so many people just what they need me to be. As cliche as it may sound, it's not drastically different from an individual reading their favorite author--while the author's intent for his words may have been different than the reader's impression of them, the effect need not be any less important. Every time I've cooked for someone in the last year, they haven't always been bowled over by my food, but they certainly left the meal talking about it. This is the same reason I don't think I can go back to line cooking or "cheffing" in the traditional sense--if I'm not the one responsible for what I'm feeding people, if I give it to line cooks and trust that they taste or see how I do, then I give up my message entirely and the effort then, at least for me, was all for naught.


My original intent for this post was to call it, "I'm Available," because I wanted to create a sort of personal ad that said I'm passionate about what I do and I'd like to imbue others with that same verve. By being unimpeded or tied unequivocally by or to one place, yet still excited about what I do, I create the opportunity for myself to give something to others so that they may benefit from what I have to offer, just as the books I read have given to me. After all, I don't just sit around reading books about money written by bankers. I learn from what others have experienced, and I hope others can learn from me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So Surprised

(The background to this story is my wife watching Michael Pollan on Oprah's show about she and her staff going vegan for a week, the dependence on Whole Foods and the overall state of American palates today)

When I quit my full-time, Executive Sous Chef job in March, 2010, I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do. I knew that if being a chef meant gaining weight, being perpetually unhappy and never seeing your spouse, I wanted nothing to do with it. I also had it in mind that rather than simply ordering the local produce that was applicable to our menu on specific occasions, I wanted to work with those ingredients full time, on my own terms. So I printed up some business cards, told the small group of people that I knew that I was available for small, private events and got to looking at what was in season. In short, I had no idea what I was doing.

Before I ever cooked any food for money outside of a restaurant, I got a job at the farmer's market. Not just any job, though--no, I was working for what I still believe to be the most incredible organic vegetable and lettuce farmer working in Texas today. Arugula as delicate, crisp and bitter as I have ever tasted. Cherry tomatoes sweeter than pure honey. Mulberries at the peak of ripeness. I didn't just discover true flavor in its rawest form; I figured out, after several years of trying, what it is that I enjoy about cooking--the simplicty of pure ingredients.

Am I not a chef, though? Shouldn't I already have and employ a deep respect for each of the ingredients that I have in front of me? Shouldn't the sugar content in a ripe summer tomato come as no surprise to me? Of course. And, naturally, the flavor of each ingredient that I use in a dish is never lost on me. But there's nothing that says eating that same tomato, outside of a restaurant and with no other reason than to simply enjoy it, can't change my mind drastically as to how I will think about tomatoes from here on out. How I will make it my goal to show and convince people that shopping at the farmer's market doesn't just mean making a salad or grilling a steak. Or how every time I cook from that moment forth I will force myself to use every bit of flavor that each ingredient gives me before I ever lay hand to another. And thus my goal, like that of the Dan Barbers, the Alice Waters', the Michael Pollans and so many others of the world, was born. Or, rather, affirmed.

Since May, 2010, I have cooked for whomever would have me. I have sourced as much meat, produce and dairy from the local farmer's markets as possible and I have tried my hardest to never duplicate dishes from one event to another, thereby giving each diner a truly unique experience, always making the season's bounty (which hasn't always been so bountiful) the centerpiece of each menu. The food, I feel, in all honesty, has been overall delicious. There have naturally been highs and lows, but I have never put forth a dish that I didn't stand behind, whether or not it was absolutely perfect. And most satisfying has been that fact that every time I have served food, at least one person has walked away with a bit of food knowledge that they didn't have before. Free of charge.

While the last months have been rewarding, educational and reasonably lucrative, the reactions of many of those who have eaten my food have been uncomfortably surprising. At the end of a meal, guests will often come up to me and remark on how stunned they were by the food, how they've never encountered such flavors, such ingredients (no, really, I'm not gloating). Things like yellow watermelon, oranges and jicama, a bean puree made with five very simple ingredients seem to blow them away, always to my surprise, if not simply to my delight. My reaction is because they speak of the meal as though they've never been given such fresh things to eat. That past eating the best, sweetest tomato in their life, they've never stopped to enjoy a tomato, period. And so while, little by little, my efforts seem to be yielding positive results, I'm made strikingly aware of how much work lay ahead of not just me, but every chef, farmer, food writer and food advocate there is working in the business today.

However, there is an inherent problem with trying not simply to encourage people to eat fresh foods, but also to educate them on how to procure these items. Simply put, they don't always taste good. On a recent visit to a North Texas cattle ranch that raises and slaughters 100% grassfed beef for wholesale, we were given a few samples to take away and try. The ground beef that we ate in burger form, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, was probably of the highest quality, richest flavor that I have ever eaten. The fat was so luscious and buttery, the meat nearly melted in my mouth. We agreed that we had found a goldmine. But moving on to the other cuts, things like ribeyes, porterhouses and T-bones that should normally be swimming in flavor and soft as can be, were tough, and almost inedible. Even at medium rare, the ribeye was like well done churrasco, chewy, dry and bland--a sad realization that best efforts don't always yield best results.

So as I listen to Michael Pollan and Oprah discuss the merits of veganism, knowing thy farmer and why shrink-wrapped meat completely removes us from the knowledge that that steak came from a once-breathing animal, I can't help wanting to simply go back to square one, to something as basic as showing a person how to cut an apple or peel an orange. Before I can ever convince a diner, a friend or a vegan that a ruddy-faced farmer raising marbled, Texas, grassfed beef is better than a shrink-wrapped tenderloin, I have to prepare dishes for people that barely involve cooking, let alone meat. Farmers may smell or have dirty hands and the market might be full of self-righteous yuppies or far-too-politically correct advocates, all enough to drive would be clientele away from discovering peak-of-season specialties, but the grocery store, even the supermarket, need not only be home to boxed cuts, pre-cut fruits and more refined sugars and starches than the man who discovered wheat could ever imagine, but also all the raw ingredients to make each and every one of us healthier, happier eaters.


Mussels and toasted ciabatta?!
That's a winning Italian dish?!

Fucking ridiculous.