Saturday, November 21, 2009

Brothers and Sisters, Lemme Get Up and Do My Thing!


It's what the television shows edit out. It's what the blogs don't care about, the chef glosses over to make himself look better, the critics can't possibly include in their review. A restaurant family is long nights of drinking together, complaining about work and going back in the next day. It is incest. It is hangovers, late-ins, firings, hirings, comaradery.

When linecook415 gives you the parting quotes on each of his posts, you are not meant to understand. As I said in my last post, these blogs, the nights in the kitchen, on the floor, the nights after work--they aren't for the readers or even the diners. They are catharsis and inside jokes, letting go of the day and looking forward to the next. We don't write about these moments to glorify them; no, we write because we need to let it go and, for some of us, a few minutes on the template is healthier and safer than a beer binge which will inevitably decrease the next day's performance. As he left tonight, one of my cooks, in speaking of his other job and how long they've all worked together, said "it's almost like their a family." Almost? Or altogether? All in, everyday. The people you spend more time with on a daily basis than you do your wife or kids.

I think that for me I am often reluctant to give in to that familial bond for fear of losing touch with the world outside. As I remember the moments we share, though, with the hum of the ovens and the laughter at one of the cook's expense, how filmic it all seems and almost surreal, I know that this is where I belong and why, after countless heartaches and nights I've sworn against cooking, I haven't left yet. Family is security and, in an industry that is plagued with perpetual movement and ladder climbing, security is an asset.

Perhaps those who've made a career out of critiquing, photographing, writing about and just plain enjoying food don't mention family ties more often because the family is not theirs. It's not their grandmother in the back making the best braised veal they've ever had, but a team of highly trained, near-robotic cooks that can and will consistently make it better than grandma with just as much soul. Attributing love and sentimentality to a restaurant and its inner workings would make talking about it that much more difficult. Ignorance it is then, and therefore blissful eating.

Mais, c'est la vie. The burners go on everyday and, just like our grandmothers, we aim to please. Weekends and holidays, grad nights and weddings, we're always there, with each other. Life goes on around us, because of us, and with us. We're all there, playing our role, as those in plain clothes will play theirs, giving, taking, leaning on one another, all with one goal in mind, standards as high as ever.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'll Get More Sleep Tomorrow Night

When I set to writing this blog some two and a half years ago, I never really wished to become a spokesperson for the kitchen, a literate and somewhat nerdy link interested in bringing together those who eat and those who cook, even those who are simply interested in the two as a topic of discussion at parties. There are plenty of bloggers, both cooks and eaters alike, that do well in exploring and elucidating the finer points of what goes into a great meal. For them, I'm thankful. They give me a great deal to think about each night when I get home, something to read that gives me just a little something to dream about before, inevitably, I pass out cold only to wake up and do it all over again.

For me, though, it's never really been about giving to anyone else, adding to anyone else's night--it's been something far more personal, something rooted more in my own progression and my own revelations about cooking and food and what those mean to me as a person and, most importantly, the simple need to write them down. I was, after all, an English major just six years ago, an aspiring writer. That goal, though, never really came to fruition, never quite seemed logical or even practical, until I started cooking, really sweating over food, full time. I've written plenty of stories since college, published a couple zines, had small offers here and there, but never really felt moved, self-motivated enough to carry through on my own instincts to write until I tasted my first amazing turnip, ate a multi-course meal and paid more for it than I have for some plane tickets.

Food changed my outlook, if not on life, then simply on how to live it. Nourishment, nature, farmers and the earth they cultivate, these became the things that I started to and still currently think about, how our choices about food, the things that we eat have an enormous impact on how we live. Perhaps these ideas are even a little too deep for me, or at least for a blog but, again, I never really intended this to be for anyone but me. My outlooks on food, where I eat and how that affects me. And as I sit here at 1:00 in the morning, neglecting the sleep that I will so desperately wish I had gotten tomorrow mid-service, enveloped by the smells of beef stew that I made earlier, still slightly reeling from tonight's episode of Top Chef and how challenging it was for me, as a cook, to even watch, I realize that I'm surrounded by food, consumed by what it means to me and the fact that, for over a year, I've done very little in the way of expressing just how important that all is for me.

I didn't choose to give up writing for the last year or, rather, I didn't just one day decide that I'd be better off not writing for a year. I've had countless nights out for dinner, some good, some amazing, some downright frustrating. I've changed jobs and become a proper Sous Chef. I've found a mentor, I think. I've cried, I've laughed, I've threatened to quit cooking all together. I have "watched" Keller and Achatz charge $1500 a plate, Chang and Bourdain make complete asses of themselves to a national audience. Simply put, I've had a great deal to write about. Food, though, isn't always enough.

Without desire, or backing, without inspiration or without a mere five hours of sleep a night, food cannot survive on its own--not as a topic for an essay nor as a medium itself. Food, like those who grow it, those who cook it, those who write about it, has to be nurtured. It has to grow and rest, eat and be stimulated. And for me, for the last year, a year or writer's block or, even worse, writer's apathy, it's been a lack of those fundamentals that's made my relationship with food and my need to write about it feel so weak.

Tonight, however, for whatever reason, that year comes to a head. The night that I cooked while Obama became president. Michael Pollan digging into food television as though we all couldn't use some help right now. Anthony Foot-In-Mouth Bourdain. Nearly being fired three times from a job that I've so exhaustingly grown into. Getting back to what's important, here, tonight, although I don't know why. Nor does it matter. Most important is that I feel like I've gained soemthing back, rediscovered something that I was missing. Writing, or food, my voice, motivation.

Thanks watchman.