So where was I? Oh yeah…Simmy’s Soup Kitchen.
Actually what happened was that Natanya got a job in Bennington Vermont, I was kinda languishing at Blantyre, so we decided to start a catering business. Why not, right? Just like that.
It’s called Folklore Catering…
We like it. And we’ll keep pushing to grow it…and this will be a slow and steady process. I kinda thought/hoped it would just take off right away with only a few hundred bucks invested, a nice logo, a big smile, and the will to cook whatever the client wanted. But it don’t work like that, young Jedi. There’s much more investment money required…and like, I need more than one wood spoon, two sauce pots, one gargantuan stock pot, one frying pan, a wok, 4 mixing bowls, 3 half sheet pans, 2 ice cube trays, a hot box, a weber, 2 frickin Coleman coolers, and an Osterizer blender. Although you’d be surprised how much you can make with just those few things.
We got some work, did a few gigs, had alot of fun, shopped directly at farms in the Berkshires and in Southern Vermont, cooked some awesome stuff, really enjoyed the bountiful gardens and pastures of late summer, made a website, did a photo shoot with the amazing Ben Gebo, put up a couple ads, made my first couple p-n-l statements…
…but just couldn’t make enough money for me to focus on it full-time. While we were getting some calls, and delivering food to folks every week, our bread and butter was making huge batches of soup from local ingredients(which was the cool part), scrambling to print cute labels and find decent looking packaging(sucked), sitting in the car all day making deliveries(sucked), and barely breaking even(made me want to stab myself in the forehead). Sure, it was fun as hell. And I created some great soup. But funds were dwindling fast. School loan repayments started kicking in. Maximal income rapidly became the priority. And honestly, I just wasn’t set up the way I wanted in order to feel organized, planned, legit, and comfortable. I was scrambling to get my ingredients and my cooking equipment. I was just cooking off the cuff without recipe testing.
No recipe testing makes me super anxious. It’s like kissing a stranger…yeah it’s kinda exhilarating but you could end up with cold sores. If you’re cooking something for the first time, especially if you’re pushing beyond your comfortable boundaries of technique, ingredients, and complexity, like I was doing, trying to prove something, then it could come out awesome, it could fall flat, or it could just be mediocre, the latter of which I think is the worst of all. And you’re live, man, on the air, in the moment, no way to take back what you’ve done once it’s in someone’s mouth. I’d much prefer to test out an idea a few times before I present it–at least for the sake of satisfying my compulsion for unachievable perfection…a perfection I didn’t create the environment to achieve anyhow.
I learned that by acting impulsively, I put myself in an untenable situation that wasn’t sufficiently thought through. I had the gusto to dive in but in my utopian optimism and my excitement to get going I didn’t layout the framework, figure out the angles, logically see through the potential pitfalls. Lesson learned…fo sho.
Anyway, in the meantime, the credit card was maxing out and I wasn’t getting those big phone calls for big gigs to keep me afloat. The catering season was ending, and the deliveries just weren’t going to hold us through the winter. One minute I was stoked to be doing my own thing, cooking what I wanted..the next minute I was freaking out. Now I know that dichotomy in emotion is a natural reaction when starting a biz, but c’mon…I could hear that voice inside saying “your in the weeds bro. Pull out before it’s too late.” A good cook can recognize when the weeds are coming…and the best thing to do is take action before it gets too bad. And you never want the cooks around you to bail your sorry ass out when you’re going down on the line…my folks had to loan me some money just to frickin eat. So I pulled back–suddenly and kinda awkwardly.
I felt terrible leaving the few steady customers we had. And if any of those custies are reading this right now, please understand how deeply appreciative we were to have your support and to cook for you.
Folkore is still in effect…it’s doing it’s thing slowly while developing funds, logistics, contacts, and experience. We currently have one…count it ONE…big wedding this coming summer. And that’s cool with us.
Did I mention that we’re getting married this summer? Yup! Planning that is even harder than planning a catering event. And we just moved to Connecticut. Wait…Connecticut??! We’ve moved into three states in the last 6 months! I think…dare I say…we may be here for a while. More on that next time. For now I leave you with this guy…
Meet the most hardcore working Argentinian cook I ever had the pleasure of working with. We worked together at a giant asado in upstate new york last fall. This guy travels around the world with his chef, doing enormous Asados, cooking for photo shoots, opening restaurants, not sleeping very much. And he smiled the whole friggin time!
Thanks for tuning in. Next post is all about big, bad, grizzly toothed Connecticut. Be scared.
It’s been a wild ride since graduating from the CIA, y’all–from Relais & Chateaux, to my own catering biz, to organic Alzheimer patients. But I ate some good food, cooked some good food, drank some good wine, and got my ass engaged. Also, I got my ass kicked by a bunch of 13 year old girls.
As you read this imagine this song playing…You know what I did? Are you ready to hear the most disgusting pervous thing? I just ate me some Pringles. And…cut. I just lost you. My Mom will probably continue reading though. Thanks Mom…my one true fan.
I got hooked on late night drives home from work. Ready for the justification of my addiction? Here it is: “Hey man, a cook gets hungry after work and everything is closed when you live in the country.” Or how about this one…”They’re somewhat healthy. It’s just potatoes and salt…and wheat starch and disodium guanylate(what, salty turd?), modified food starch(what “food” are we talking about here? While we’re at it, what is Art?), artificial flavors (you’ve read Michael Pollan, right? So you know what that is. WTF?), and I should stop.
It’s like siblings. You know so much about them…too much really. You hate them sometimes. You project all your issues onto them. They suck ass. But you love them. I love Pringles. But it’s complicated.
Alright I’ve gone too far. I don’t really love Pringles. And it’s not that complex really. I just really like them sometimes. They’re like fair weather friends. They’re like Facebook friends (but not you guys. I fitfully love you all. Except Jay Scott maybe…).
Some other blog pro with a super-taster, super-sophsticato palate (I’m being snarky because I’m jealous) might go into the delicate balance of flavors in some of the flavored Pringles. And some may just be die hard fans of the Original flavor, because being a dedicated Original flavor eater of anything, like Ramen packets, or Bubblicious(that dude looks like he’s taking off from the CIA campus, no?), or frickin umm… Pringles, shows a certain dedication to and appreciation for the essential essence of the product at hand. Soooo cool. But not me, man. I find the Original boring usually. And I’ll eat any flavor, anytime. And I don’t really think about the taste of it. I’m in a primal state when I’m eating those frickin things.
It’s just crisp and salty with some flavors of some sort on top. That’s it. That’s what’s up. I’ll house a can of those things in like 15 minutes and drink the crumbs sliding down at the bottom. I’ll get my hand all types of stuck in that tube trying to grab at those stupid things when the can is only half empty. I don’t care that the design is ergonomically ridiculous. Whatever. I don’t care about the phat beats and rhymes of their ads. I don’t care about the packaging. I don’t care how much they cost. I have no respect for those dumb ass Pringles. I just eat them because I suddenly am starving and I need them. And they’re crunchy. And I’m addicted. And I hate myself (what?). Period.
And I love Brad Pitt. Check him out…
My zen alarm clock gently informs me it’s 4:30 AM and time to rise.
This post is dedicated to my best friend at school. He comes from a completely different background than mine, he’s 18 years younger than I am, he’s 2 feet shorter than me, and he’s Indonesian. None of these contrasts matter, really, and I hope they never do.
What this young guy has that’s endlessly inspiring and amazing to me, is drive. His sole purpose in life right now is to cook. But he’s not just getting by in his classes, or merely choosing a simple, corporate externship site. Oh no, he must get straight A’s, he must master the fundamentals while keeping his sights locked on the next big move, and his externship site must be the finest restaurant.
Do you want to hang out with Henderson Wong, maybe go out for some beers late into the night? Sorry, that’s not happening, and definitely not on a weeknight. There is endless homework to be done, knives always need sharpening, the portfolio could always use a new photo, and there’s always a michelin star rated restaurant online to check out. On the weekends, he’s gone. His dad gave him a new car for getting over a 3.5 GPA last year, so he drives to New York City to work at restaurant Daniel, where he externed and was offered a job anytime he’s ready.
Hendy has willfully positioned himself here at school with great effort and strategy. He’s playing perfectly the game of becoming a great chef. Let’s look at his path so far:
1. Before he’s even 18, he starts cooking at a prestigious hotel in Indonesia, and quickly takes on management duties.
2. With no encouragement from his parents whatsoever, he researches culinary schools in North America and settles on the CIA. His dad wants him to go into business just like him. Hendy wants to cook. A battle ensues. Hendy comes out victorious. He is granted his wish to come to the CIA.
3. I plop down next to him in a small auditorium off the admissions building, a room full of strangers gathered together to begin the ceaseless torrent of paperwork and lectures that will be three full days of orientation at the CIA. He’s got his electronic pocket translator he carried with him for only three or four days until his grasp of the language was strong enough to ditch it. We start talking right away. He smells like airplane, mostly because he just got off one. A high school kid, just graduated, he hauled himself halfway around the world to come to cooking school.
I get the impression right away that this young guy can hold his own in a conversation. He speaks clearly, he listens, and responds intelligently.
4. Two days later, before classes start, I run into Henderson at the career services office. Like me, he’s already trying to get stages at great restaurants in New York. He very eloquently reveals to me his views on the food scene in Indonesia, and his goals for revolutionizing the cuisine there.
5. It turns out Hendy is in my class. He’s quiet, serious, and he has his own knives. During chef demos, he stands directly next to the stove with his lighter, he anticipates which burner the chef will use next, and just before Chef drops a pan down, Henderson flips the switch of the stove and ignites it. He never once misses doing this for the entire length of our very first Culinary Fundamentals class.
6. Henderson prepares thoroughly to attend the Bocuse D’Or preliminary competition at school. He shows up in a slick but understated outfit(biz cas), a nice folder with his resume and portfolio, a small pile of books to be signed by Chefs Keller, Boulud, and Achatz, and an open ipad with a friend up on Facetime. He has already read Daniel Boulud’s cookbooks, is deeply inspired by him, and wishes to receive some guidance. He’s totally nervous in the days leading up, and I try to give him confidence via text. But he doesn’t really need it. He just doesn’t realize he doesn’t need it yet. Sure enough, he’s speaks to Daniel Boulud at length, and Boulud encourages him to trail at his restaurant for an externship. Henderson accomplishes his goals for the day. Hendy and I meet up afterwards, and talk about how important that day was for us. We met the best chefs of our time, interacted with them, and began forming relationships with them. It was a day to remember.
7. Henderson does not squander this invitation by Boulud, and he trails at restaurant Daniel. I help him work on the wording of his cover letter, and coach him with email exchanges.
During that time period he also trails for his second favorite restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. Both restaurants invite him to extern, and he chooses Daniel. He sets up his externship three months before his start date. At this point, most students in my class haven’t even thought about where they might extern. He is the first person in my class to trail at a big restaurant in New York, besides me.
8. As we move into our next classes, Henderson and I start sticking together, preparing for class, doing homework together, and working together in the kitchens. He calls me big bro, and I call him little bro. When the first cooking practical comes, he stands outside the kitchen watching me cook, and I watch him when it is his turn. During this time, Hendy is traveling to the city on the weekends to scope out apartments to rent while he is on extern. He does this all on his own without much assistance. Pretty impressive for an 18 year old, no?
9. Hendy enters a tapas cooking competition, and designs a number of small plates fused with the influence of Indonesia. He seeks coaching from a number of chefs. We can’t find quail eggs closeby for one of his dishes, so he gets on a train to New York City, finds them, brings them back, and we test his plates. Dude, he got on a train to the city just to get quail eggs! He designs an extensive booklet with pictures and explanations of his plates. He is accepted into the first round of the competition. I miss the big day of Hendy’s cooking competition. He doesn’t proceed to the next round but who cares-he did it.
10. Henderson leaves to extern at restaurant Daniel, and begins looking at the adjunct business program at Cornell University. Always thinking ahead.
11. After externship, he decides he wants the Cornell program when he graduates from CIA, and starts application process. He works even harder in his cooking classes and starts getting more involved with extracurricular stuff to increase his chances for acceptance. The dude is on it!
12. He shows me his apartment outside of Hyde Park. It’s basically empty, with a bed, take out containers scattered everywhere, and notebooks and cookbooks everywhere else. On his kitchen counter, instead of food there are plastic sealed cardboard rounds for practicing piping in baking and pastry class. The cardboards are covered with rudimentary piping shapes made with a disgusting combination of chocolate and gel known simply as piping gel.
13. Since he came back from extern, it becomes clear to me that Henderson has already changed significantly. He’s not as nervous or apprehensive. Encouraged by his success at Daniel, he has even more confidence than he began with. He is happy, excited, rooted, and in the zone.
14. Henderson has some great photos taken while he prepares foie gras shaped into peaches for the opening of the new Bocuse Restaurant on campus. He makes one of these pictures his profile picture on Facebook, and it begins to appear to me(and many others who liked the photo) that Henderson is becoming a chef.
16. It occurs to me that Henderson is doing everything right. He’s not just cooking as anybody can learn to do if they survive the CIA. He’s putting himself out there. He’s creating opportunities, and he’s following through with every shot he is granted. He has short-term goals(kick ass at school, work at Daniel on the weekends, get involved with on-campus activities, etc.), mid-term goals(get into Cornell and work at Daniel for a while after that), and long-term goals(open a restaurant in Indonesia and get Michelin stars). I truly believe he will accomplish all of this. I am watching a star being born, and it’s frickin’ awesome.
I wonder what’s to be done about the chef’s reliance on natural gas. We are using a non-renewable resource that will run out some day, even if that day will not come in our lifetimes (maybe that’s why we are not so alarmed yet). Natural gas is usually obtained these days using that nasty technique called fracking. Fracking makes public drinking water flammable.
I also wonder if we can effectively offset the damage of using natural gas (and while we’re at it, gasoline and oil) with doing positive things for the planet, such as sourcing locally, buying only organic, having more veggies on our menus, or trying to preserve the rapidly vanishing rainforests in South America.
You probably saw this article in The Wall Street Journal about Alex Atala, the Brazilian chef of D.O.C. who is considered one of the best in the world right now. This crazy guy sources ingredients in the Amazon and has generated some influence to preserve the rainforests in South America. Heretofore, the belief of big business has been that destruction of the rainforest pays money. But maybe that is shifting now with the growth of fine South American cuisine on the world stage using whacky ingredients from the jungle, like ants that taste like lemongrass.
I am truly interested to find out if chefs in South America will be able to stop or at least slow down the growing of meat for Mickie D’s, or the procurement of raw materials for “assemble-yourself furniture-kits” at Ikea. I’d love to hear what you know about this, or what your opinions are.
This is the conundrum I am constantly faced with. How can I use less natural gas so I contribute less to fracking? How can I utilize product that doesn’t use an overabundance of oil and gas getting to my kitchen?
The latter I can probably figure out. There are some fairly evolved and sophisticated systems in place already that make it easier to buy locally, such as Farmer’s Markets (my favorite places on earth) and many of the larger purveyors have options to order produce from within a 200 mile radius. I realize it’s not just that simple. We need to look hard at numbers to ensure profitability, stability, and longevity of our businesses. And in the complications of everyday restaurant business, including time restraints, needs for easy and timely food product deliveries, and the ever-increasing high costs of food, labor, and fixed expenses, there are many other factors at play that make it difficult. But at least it’s not impossible.
How to cook without a gas stove though, that is tough. I am unaware of any cooking technology for a serious chef in a serious kitchen that employs classic cooking techniques and strives for perfect food that uses only renewable energy to heat. And I’m talking about ovens and stoves here. Nothing being used in Molecular Gastronomy and ultra modern kitchens. I don’t know enough about that yet, and I do not wish to bring it up in this post, but suffice it to say that I still wish to employ a stove, an oven, and pots and pans as my primary equipment for cooking. There is the possibility of harnessing wood, a “potentially renewable” energy source. I call it that because if we switch to using wood, we’ll need to set-up some hard-core systems involving using the same land over and over again to produce trees, otherwise some money hungry, powerful, and connected entity(ies) will cut down every tree on the planet. Wood will produce lots of smoke to deal with, the fire can be unwieldly, and it’ll be a pain in the butt to keep pumping a stove with wood all night long. Perhaps we could create super efficient wood burning stoves, such as the ones you can get for your home now, but still, the above problems and inconveniences will be difficult to figure out.
For now, while our internal alarm systems lay dormant and only faintly signal danger, doom, the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine), and the inability to eat and/or cook food the way we are accustomed, it’s about using as little natural gas as possible while cooking. The steps involved in this adaptation are little known by the masses, they are not discussed in open forums or think tanks (that I know of), and they are not seriously explored by any of the major chefs of the world. It is a heretofore untapped technology.
I have had chefs at school who insist that every oven is turned on immediately upon entering class and that these ovens must stay on until class is finished 7 to 8 hours later. Imagine if every chef in all the 40 some-odd kitchens they have at school insisted that all ovens, of which there are anywhere from 6 to 12 in each kitchen, were turned on for an entire class 8 hours a day every day. Also, each kitchen has two, 8 hour classes each day. That seems somewhat wasteful, no? Wow! So what am I going to do to change my cooking ways when I’m out of school? How is the world going to cook when all nonrenewable resources are depleted or nearly depleted?
Chef Atala Feels like the natives of the Amazon are in his blood. He has tribal tattoos on his body. He travels far and wide, and at great risk to obtain old ingredients well-known to the natives, yet uncommon to high society. Perhaps Atala will eventually appeal to those with deep souls and deep pockets, if he hasn’t already, an some big moves will be made to slow rainforest devastation.
Yet, I would bet without ever visiting that Atala uses gas fired stoves in his kitchen. I know they do some fracking down there in Brazil. And I imagine they use much gas and oil in the airplanes to get him to and from the jungle which he frequents. So what is the trade-off here? Decreasing destruction in one area increases it in another.
Now we can start an argument here, taking sides on whether it is more destructive to allow the rain forest to die away or more destructive to use tons of gas and oil, and it will never resolve itself. In fact, I’m sorry I even brought it up. Now I’m all bummed out. Haha! Well at least I know I’ll be working on the problem, and I know many others who are. Atala is doing great things that should not be discredited. Cheers to him. Now let’s figure this out!
Chef profile number 2
“I’m gonna f^#kin bi*ch slap you!”
It was the last class before my first practical exam, and I was nervous to begin with. And the chef did not help. Or did he? He by all means should not have been helpful in any way to the development of anyone’s placid demeanor. I mean, that quote above is something he said to me as I was moving to remove a piece of gristle off of a fresh cooked roast of beef. And he wasn’t kidding. Geez, I guess my instinct to remove inedible gristle before serving it was wrong.
One major goal of this class was to prepare us for our practical. Funny thing is, this monstrous little man, who at once was engaging and funny outside of class, and an evil warlock in the kitchen, was to be the key to my success during the practical and in future classes.
He yelled at me from across the kitchen one day, “I’m going to punch you in the f&*#ing face!” It was the beginning of class, and I was trapped in this weird, over anxious, far too over caffeinated zone of despair, trying to organize a reach in cooler.
Let me back up a little bit. I had some issues with nervousness and anxiety when I first got to cooking school. I was so excited to be there, and I felt like each class was super intense. I was trying to up my game so hard. I was trying too hard. I took it all way too seriously. Sometimes I would have this frantic energy, and it drove some people nuts. It drove this chef nuts.
So I was freaking out, holding this reach-in door open far too long for chef’s liking. So he yelled, “I’m gonna punch you in the fucking face class leader!” Suddenly he was there, right in my face. “What are you doing?!! Close the f*^%*in door!” I stopped. I looked him dead in the eye. I sensed a flash of trepidation in him. He was wondering if he overreacted, pushed a button in me, and now was about to get his ass kicked. But that vanished from his glare quickly, and transformed to a veiled compassion unseen by anyone else in the class but me(he had a rep to protect after all). What he saw in my eyes was not anger at all. He saw that all my excitement for school, my zeal, my enthusiasm, and my willingness to push myself had mashed and morphed with exhaustion and crappy cafeteria robusta, and I was trapped. In that instant, he knew exactly what was going on with me. He saw that I needed help. He said, “calm the f^#} k down. You’re fine.” So I did. And I was.
This chef was tough. Again I say, this chef was tough. His standards were the highest I had ever worked under. No mistakes were in any way acceptable, and each one beckoned a harsher and seething critique than the previous one. So my class, as a whole, was on edge. I would have us meet for at least an hour every day before and after class. The general tone after a few days in that class was one of nervousness and fear. And as flattering as I’m sure that was for chef, it was not actually the type of tone he preferred.”I just want everyone to shut the f#%^ up, and work efficiently and peacefully,” he blurted out at the beginning of class one day.
I worked really hard under that chef. I eventually got to a point where I was prepared enough for class, and calm enough during class, that I cooked quite well. I was also available to bail others out of the jams they got themselves into–sometimes I got there before chef did. Other times I didn’t, and the torrent of swears and sarcasm rained down upon their heads, the reverberations of his rage echoing through their daily performance grades.
I didn’t hear much from chef during the last week and a half or so of class. He would just pass over me while I was searing my meat, or making an emulsion for Bernaise, or trussing my chicken, or shallow poaching my cod. I was no longer one to make him “emotionally drained” (“oh my god, I’m just completely emotionally drained after dealing with you guys today”). Of course, he would never compliment anything I did. So I took the silence as a good sign. Team leader was off the hook. Phew. I got 90s or 95′s for daily performance every day for the last 6 days or so. And I was prepared for the practical.
I bow deeply to this chef for his guidance, even though he was such a prick.