April 7th, 2013Uncategorized
As you may know, a little over a year ago, I wrote a short story, chronicling the adventures of a humble dollar bill named Bucky. As Bucky moved through the local economy, lives were improved and things got better.
People have asked me why I wrote that little book. Last night, it became crystal clear to me.
A local came in with a job application. I asked her how things were going, that I hadn’t seen her around for a bit. Her voice broke as she told me that things were a little tough, that she had lost her house. She tried so hard to put up a brave front, but it was evident that she was on her last reserves, that the stress and uncertainty were taking its toll on her. It was hard to not break down and cry as I heard her story.
It is harder still to watch people who are losing what counts for many Americans as our security, our homes, for no other reason than greed and the chase of even greater profits. Here is someone who is willing to work hard, who is not afraid to put her shoulder to the wheel, to get her hands dirty. And yet, despite her best intentions, she can’t make it in this country, one of the richest in the world.
How is it possible, that in a land where the ultra rich have more golden toilets to sit on than they can count, that some people are lucky to even have one porcelain loo?
She wasn’t asking for a hand out. She was asking for a job.
And the saddest part?
I have no work for her.
If you think you’re doing better, that it’s all going to be great, think again. Your neighbors are still struggling. That trip to the locally owned store, the extra dollar you tip your server, the vegetables you buy from the farmer in the field, that’s what my book is all about.
You make a reservation and you no-show? Guess what? You just cost a small business money in labor and time. That server that was hoping for a good table and a good tip will now have to figure out some other way to make rent, to make ends meet. You decide to save a couple of dollars by shopping at a big chain store instead of the mom and pop one down the street? When that small store shuts down, you can take responsibility for it, because you helped its demise along.
Would you rather save a few bucks, and watch your local neighborhood wither away, struggle and scrape? Or would you rather spend with more thought and consideration, and watch your community flourish?
I know it’s hard. I get it. I truly do. The need seems to always outstrip the supply, the budget is always too thin, the belt too tight. But can you please help your local community just a little?
Your dollar is your vote. You can vote to keep your community thriving or you can vote to turn it into a ghost town. The choice is yours.
For more information on Bucky The Dollar Bill, please visit http://spreadthebucky.com/. Come meet me in person on April 22 from 3:30 to 5:30 at Bartell’s (our local drug store) at the University Village or on April 23 from 3:30 to 5:30 at the Bartell’s in the Bellevue Village.
April 7th, 2013Uncategorized
A friend of mine asked me a little while ago for my thoughts and advice on entering the cooking world. Here is what I told her:
The first thing I would ask anyone seeking to make a career change to the food sector is WHY do you want to do so? There is no right or wrong answer, but depending on what your answer is, you might find that this is not the path for you.
If you think cooking is a fast-track to fame and fortune, you dream of being the next great television chef , then there is a great chance you will be sorely disappointed. I’ve met a few television chefs, and it seems the common denominator for many is having an larger-than-life personality and the ability to be outrageous. Yup, I’ve given up my dreams of fortune and glory.
Cooking, at least for me, is about feeding people. This is a realization I have come to after almost 18 years in the biz. It is a humble craft, and very temporal. Think about it. What someone eats today becomes compost tomorrow.
Cooking is NOT an art. Oh yes, there are aesthetics involved. But we are artisans, not artists. Our job is to produce the same consistent results day in/day out. The gnocchi is the biggest seller on the menu, and I have regulars who come in just for that. It doesn’t matter what kind of mood I’m in, how I’m feeling, what’s going on around me. The gnocchi has to be at the same standard every time. This is the hardest thing for me to convey to young cooks.
What is your end goal? Do you hope to have your own place someday? And if you do, then learn basic accounting now. Learn to use social media, start making contacts in the food community. Decide what’s important to you in business. Is it pure profit? Is it a venue for personal expression? Do you want to be a part of a community? What are you standards for running your business, the people from whom you buy, the people with whom you work? Figure out your business ethics DNA now, and work to stay true to it.
If you do end up with your own restaurant, understand that cooking will be the last thing you will worry about at the end of the day. You should open a restaurant when you can cook on auto-pilot, not because you don’t care, but because there are so many other things that will need your attention:
making sure the restaurant is clean
updating the website
doing the books
scheduling equipment maintenance, repair
taking out the trash, doing dishes to save on labor costs, or when you can’t find a dishwasher
stressing about paying rent/bills/payroll
AND SO MUCH MORE.
At some point, cooking will become a relief, because here is the ONE thing you can do instinctively and well.
If you stay in the cooking world as an employee, know that this profession seems to attract people with “issues”—- drugs, alcohol and things I’ve never even considered. Some of them just show up and do the job, because that is all they can do. Are you able to see people through their faults, and value their attributes? At what point do you say enough is enough and jettison someone who is weighing your operation down? Like attracts like, and those who think like you will be attracted to working for you. Keep your standards high, and eventually you will find yourself surrounded by people with the same mindset.
What will set you ahead? Stay clean, stay sober, show up and give 110% every day. Understand that on the other side of the plate is a real live person who is going to EAT THE FOOD YOU JUST MADE. Don’t phone it in. Get discouraged (you’re human) but don’t let it show on the plate.
As Escoffier once said, a cook can be tired, but the guest must never know he is tired.
In other words, be professional.
You won’t get rich at this, at least not for the first few years. And it seems there is a trade off—- stay in the corporate world where the higher up the ladder you go, the less you will cook. You will make a comfortable living in return. Or stay in small establishments where you most likely will not have benefits, but because of the very nature of the beast, you will be cooking. And trust me, there are many days when I crave the security of working for a big hotel or company.
Would I do it again. Hells yes. Would I do things differently? I’m not sure. I think every thing I’ve done has made me a better cook, chef, person, and the last one is the most important one.
One last piece of advice: don’t spend big bucks on a long program. I chose a school with a short intensive curriculum. The school I went to taught me the nuts and bolts of good French cooking techniques, in a year, with vast amounts of hands-on classroom experience and real-life on the job training.
I’m not trying to discourage you. I just want you to have a realistic idea of what is involved in this crazy addictive restaurant world. Still going to take the plunge? Then come on in, the water is fine.
March 24th, 2013Uncategorized
This is my favorite time of year.
I could be a tad biased, as I was born in the spring. I could be like most of us in the northern grayer climes, desperate for sun, warmth, spring flowers and the promise of a gentler season right around the corner. I don’t remember feeling this way while growing up in a season-less place, somewhere the months rolled right into each other, the only line of demarcation being the amount of rain or sun in any given day.
But now, now I take great pleasure in driving through the Skagit Valley on my way down from Orcas. I love seeing the earth waking from a cold slumber, shaking off the frosty fingers of winter. I pass by graceful farmhouses that remind me of dowager aunts in calico dresses who patiently wait on their porches for your next visit, tea and cookies ever at the ready. I mark the passage of another year by how much further a barn has sagged, how much more moss has grown on the roof. I revel in the sight of neon green willow tips, reddish blueberry shoots, raspberry canes fresh from the barber and sprouting new beards. I thrill at the sight of bald eagles visible in bare branches, starlings giving chase to over-familiar hawks, and snow geese kiting over fields like acrobats.
I know I am zipping through these country lanes, taking in the wall of colors from the daffodil and tulip fields, pushing on to the freeway and to Seattle, but the feeling I get is of being in a slower time, when people knew their neighbors well enough to borrow a cup of sugar.
It’s a romanticized notion, yes. I see the derelict farm equipment, the “for sale” signs, and know that this area has been as hard hit, if not more, as the big city by the recent economic downturn. But when one is cruising by at fifty miles per hour, it is harder to spot the imperfections, and maybe I like it that way. It’s much like how we romanticize life in castles with knights and such, ignoring the fact that there was no indoor plumbing or central heating.
As I turn the car for the freeway, the kindly farmhouse aunts tell me they will keep the porch lights on, to hurry back for another visit, knowing full well it will be another year before they see me again. I shoot back onto I5 at seventy miles an hour, reassured in knowing this touchstone of a valley is still there for me.
March 11th, 2013Uncategorized
At first, it seems like cooking and writing are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and never the twain shall meet.
Cooks are those bad-ass, tattooed, pierced rebels of society who work odd hours and fly in the face of social norms. Well, at least that’s what television shows would have us believe.
Writers are sage creatures, sporting tweed jackets with elbow patches, long flowing skirts and sensible shoes. They fling themselves headlong into the wilds of Borneo, seeking visceral first-hand experience for their imminent novel about the intrepid treasure hunter seeking fortune and glory. Or at least that’s the image of writers many of us have in our minds.
Truth is, cooks are just dorky, sometimes socially awkward people who hide behind their aprons and chef jackets, and find it easier to talk to a steak on the grill than hold a conversation at a cocktail party. And no, one’s prowess in the kitchen does not have a direct correlation to the number of tattoos one sports (also contrary to the “reality” of television shows).
That rarefied air that writers breathe, well, it’s just plain ole oxygen. It is often inhaled as we sit in our bathrobes and bunny slippers and write at two in the afternoon. No tweed jackets, no elbow patches, no wild jaunts into unknown jungles.
So what do we have in common? We take elementary ingredients and transform them into extraordinary.
For instance, in cooking, we take milk, sugar and eggs and make these three humble ingredients into a luscious custard. Or we add a squeeze of lemon juice to a rich dish, such as scallops, to bring the flavor into focus and sharpen the edges of the taste. We subject these ingredients to methods that will bring out their best sides.
Scrambled eggs are my favorite example. We could simply crack a few eggs in a bowl, toss in some salt and pepper, whisk that puppy around and throw it into a hot pan. Swish the mixture around et voila, in three minutes or so, you have scrambled eggs.
Or….we could take the same eggs, add some cream and Dijon mustard to them. We could then cook them gently with butter over a steam bath to make soft pillows of eggs, unlike the standard breakfast fare many of us grew up with.
In writing, we take a basic command such as “Bring milk” into a softer more poetic direction when we say it like this: “Would you kindly bring the milk here?” We make it more palatable, pleasing to the ear. The hearer thinks that by bringing the milk to us, they are granting us a favor. The simple act of bringing the milk over becomes a much more genteel act.
We’re taking basic building blocks of food and language, and through our manipulation, transforming them into a sum greater than all the parts. A little butter here, a graceful adjective there, and suddenly the world’s a nicer place.
Another similarity between cooking and writing is that it takes time to hone our crafts. While we may start with raw talent at a young age, it takes immeasurable years of trial, error, failure and defeat to file away the sharp edges and polish the final product. I know I look back at my early attempts at cooking, menus, writing and cringe at times. With maturity, our works take on a patina that cannot be rushed or faked. It can only happen with experience, many failures and few successes along the way to buoy one’s spirits.
We push ourselves to get better, to achieve more. We study under the tutelage of those who we think can help us, those who we admire. We read voraciously, trying to find the key to great writing. We expose ourselves to criticism, and go back to the drawing board. This process never ends. What does change is how far we fall. As we gain more experience, our valleys become more shallow and the climb back up gets easier.
The road to perfection, however, is never ending. If your internal GPS tells that you’ve arrived, you might want to either check your unit for errors or upgrade to a more reliable one. The road to perfection goes on forever into the horizon, and really, that’s what is so wonderful about it.
Writers and cooks, so very much alike we are, in our quest to make an everyday thing (reading, eating) into a joy and a happy memory.
September 18th, 2012Uncategorized
So many anecdotes rattle around in my brain, time to write another one down….
On our honeymoon, despite the rough start, the Parisian “welcome” and the lack of luggage, Hubby and I went forth bravely with our itinerary. On the list was Cordoba, the very name which brings to mind Moorish castles, the quintessential Spanish landscape and Ricardo Montalban (this one I can’t explain, but somehow the two go hand in hand in my brain, get over it).
One thing about Spain, even in the dead of winter, is that the sun shines and the sky is blue.
As our train wended its way through the countryside, the contrast of red soil, dusky green olive trees, purple and black olives ripening and patches of white snow (the damn snow again) was breathtaking. I was entranced by the ever changing light and landscape; Hubby was entranced by the ever-so-small bottles of olive oil which accompanied our Lilliputian meals on-board. (I think we still have a bottlette or two in our kitchen cupboards.) “Mamma Mia” was the movie, and the only thing I understood was the songs.
We arrived in Cordoba, and walked into town. The Mezquita, of course, was a must. As we strolled through the courtyard and over the old cobblestones, we were greeted by orange trees ripe with fruit. We ducked into a modest-looking red building, and were enthralled by the richness of the interior, the lavishness of the chapels, the ornate decorations, and the immense size of this place. From the outside, it appears much smaller.
As we explored the town of Cordoba itself, I discovered this seemed to be a theme: modest outside hiding delightful patios and gardens from the prying eyes of strangers. There was a strong sensibility of Arabic influence, in the repetition of arches, scrolling, motifs and lettering. All of it was so graceful, and yet, one had to know to look for it. To walk quickly through the streets without pausing was to miss it all.
We stood on a bridge the Romans built two thousand years before, and I could almost hear and see the men who made this causeway, connecting one bank of the river to the other. I wondered as I walked across it if they had any inkling that two thousand years into the future, people would still be using it, and if so, would they have believed it.
There was a sense of past married comfortably with the present in this town, that everything tied in, worked together, was part of the same story.
As our day drew to a close, we headed back to the train station, and here is where another travel mishap begins.
Have you ever heard announcements over the loudspeakers in a train station, and if so, have you ever really understood what was being said to you? If you have, congratulations. You may be the only person to do so.
Well, Hubby and I heard Spanish echoing information about the trains and we kept checking the departure board. We presented ourselves at what we thought was the right platform at the right time. Our departure platform had changed, so we went to the new one and waited. And waited. And waited some more.
I noticed that a fast train had come and gone at our original platform, but paid no attention to where that train was headed.
Ten minutes went by. Twenty. Thirty. More blathering in unintelligible-to-me Spanish. It was rush hour, and the platforms were full.
Finally a train pulls up, but, wait a minute, this train is a regional train, a slow train. This is not, cannot be the fast train to Madrid. There is no way that this train is going to get us to Madrid in two hours. THIS train looks like it might take two days!! I look around in panic, and like a fish swimming upstream, wade through the crowd and find a railway employee.
I show her our tickets, and thankfully, she speaks English. (I would like to note that in an attempt to NOT BE THE UGLY AMERICAN, I had been learning Spanish for this trip, and could ask silly things like where is the nearest metro station, but trying to navigate the Spanish rail system was way over my head.) She looks at our tickets, looks at us, and quickly and correctly surmises that we haven’t got a bloody clue as to what we are doing.
She brings us back upstairs to the ticket office and makes us sit in two chairs right in front of her, telling us NOT TO MOVE. Hubby and I sit there like chastised children as she explains to us that yes, they did switch the tracks, and then switched the tracks back again to the original ones. So yes, the fast train that I saw pull up was indeed, our train. All the trains are running full; she is really trying her best to get us back to Madrid. Her manager tells her to get us back to Madrid any way she can. Oh god, I hope that doesn’t mean a cattle car.
A train is approaching and she gets us up, almost holds our hand as she walks us to the platform. She converses with the conductor who tells her the train is “completo” , full full full, but we can sit in the cafeteria. We are eager to get back to our apartment and agree to this. She literally hands us off and does not leave the platform until the train starts to pull out of the station. I think she is afraid we will sneak off for more adventures in the station.
As the train starts to move, the conductor approaches us and tell us he has found two seats for us. We follow him, and he gives us use of two crew jumpseats facing each other. Hubby and I gratefully sink down, and despite the awkwardness of the seats, manage to fall asleep. We arrive in Madrid at around ten that evening, full of adventures, tired, happy, overwhelmed, and laughing at how trying the traveling on this honeymoon is becoming.
As we sit in our apartment, have a glass of wine, chuckle to ourselves, we know this, too, will be another wonderful addition to our honeymoon tales.
And then we go the sushi restaurant down the street and proceed to make them really nervous just by our presence…..
September 18th, 2012Uncategorized
Being in the restaurant business means that much, if not all, of your life schedule turns around the needs of the public. You open on weekends, holidays, nights. You work when the majority of the world has time off, and is hopefully dining in your establishment.
So it made perfect sense to me to pick early January as the time for our wedding. Holiday parties would be over, the frenzy for Valentine’s Day would still be over a month away, and, as my weather reporter-wannabe husband assured me, January is typically a Chinook month, meaning warm and no snow.
What’s that saying, famous last words???
The December before our wedding was unseasonably cold, with more snow than I’ve seen in Seattle in a long time. Spokane, where we were in the days before our wedding, had a record-breaking 68 inches of snow that month.
“You’re sure January will be warmer, with no snow?” I queried of my soon-to-be husband. Of course, I had not learned yet that wifely trick of taking every reassurance your spouse makes with a grain of salt.
I now personally use kosher salt; basic all-purpose and abundant with such statements.
Our wedding day dawned clear and cold, but saints be praised, NO SNOW.
Oh no, the snow was waiting for us for our honeymoon.
We had planned on a trip to Spain with a long lunchover in Paris. Things looked promising as we left Seattle, as we headed off into the blue yonder without checking the weather reports across the Pond.
We landed in Paris, and still, no alarm bells were clanging in my head. There was a layer of snow on the ground at the airport, but it didn’t seem to be worthy of airport shutdown status. We hurried off to the center of the City of Lights, and took our dutiful tourist pictures at the Arc de Triomphe, slip sliding in a light layer of snow.
After our Parisian dejeuner, we returned to CDG, and STILL, pas d’alarme in my mind going off…..nope, nada, rien, pas de tout. The airport looked crowded, but don’t airports always look crowded?
We checked our flight status, which was was listed as on time, and headed off to the gate.
And then we learned that our flight had been cancelled, due to snow. SNOW……one tiny fluffy snowflake, and all of CDG was paralyzed. No one taking off, no one landing, all flights cancelled.
Now, you think it’s bad trying to get information during a massive cancellation in the US? Uh, try France. No one forms a line. You basically herd into a mass then collectively shove your way to the front and hope you can get the bad-tempered and very-reluctant-to-speak-English agent’s attention.
The crowd sways and pulses, depending on who’s pushing where, and who’s moved out of line. It’s like watching a school of fish, which would be a sight to see, except when you are a mullet in that school of mullet and you have no volition of your own, but to follow the undulation of the crowd.
We finally eked our way to the front of the line, and then it got ugly.
My mild mannered husband and I patiently tried to find out what we were to do next, where were we to go. That’s when that little old biddy body-checked my husband. I thought Hubby was going to deck her. And you know, there would have been a part of me cheering him along.
The ordeal continued on for several more hours before Air France finally told us that we were going to leave for Madrid the next day, and that we would be staying in Paris overnight, courtesy of them. We were to take a bus to the hotel, from the lower level.
I think in France they like to confound visitors. There was no sign that we could see on any bus, no one standing around anywhere to ask, no clue no hint no treasure map no passing go, collect $200. we wandered around for another hours, trying to find the damn bus, before we said “fook eet” and hailed a cab, FOR WHICH THERE IS ACTUALLY A LINE AND A VERY CLEAR SYSTEM IN FRANCE, go figure.
After an hour long cab ride, some mediocre hotel French food (seriously?? In the land of Escoffier, you serve me THIS crap???) and a short night, we made our way back on THE BUS, which we found parked out in front of the hotel in the dark hours of the dawn, and listened to the squabbling among passengers for seats and such. My god, it’s not just American tourists who can be a-holes.
We finally got to Madrid in the early afternoon (never have I felt such elation as I did when the plane rumbled down the runway and lifted off away from snowy tundra of Paris, and this from a former flight attnedant) on The Epiphany. Oh yes, more adventures await us. One does not simply fly into the Epiphany without consequences. We waited in Madrid at baggage claim for our luggage. We waited. We waited some more. We waited still. We waited with the patience of Job, all the while trying to avoid the hard truth that yes, yes, indeed, Air France had once again in my life lost my luggage.
More phone calls, more gesticulating, more fill in the blanks…..
And it’s The Epiphany in a very Catholic country, which means even at the main train station, all the shops are closed. This would explain why I have in my possession a pair of black leggings with a butterfly embossed in sequins at the ankles and a t-shirt that says “TORO” on it; there was nothing else to buy.
There IS a happy ending to all this. January 7 marks the start of the annual winter clearance sales. Armed with our credit cards and not much else, Hubby and I braved the crowds to get some replacement clothes and supplies.
And this is when I learned I married a shopper.
The guy can pick out an outfit that looks good on him with a skill faster than he can body check a pushy old biddy (he would NOT do that, please note). He can spot a bargain, knows what will fit, has a better understanding of fashion than I ever will. They say you learn things about one another in difficult times. Okay, so I learned I married a shopper.
To end this long drawn-out tale, we finally did get our bags back, on Day Twelve of our fourteen day trip, but only after we told them to just send the bags back to Seattle. An hour after we said that, miraculously our suitcases were delivered to our door.
Several morals to this story: avoid Paris if there is even a whisper of snow in the forecast. Do not be lulled into the promise of a mild Chinook month. Air France sucks. Wear body armor whilst jostling for position in CDG. Don’t fly into an Epiphany.
They say travel is a teacher, that it opens new worlds for you. I say that’s all well and good, but still, pack a lunch, some extra clothes, and marry a shopper.
August 9th, 2012Uncategorized
A couple of days ago I posted a picture of our President, Mr. Obama. The picture had the caption that was in defense of middle class, where I am firmly and proudly entrenched.
A “gentleman” posted a comment on my photo, asking if my Facebook page was a culinary or economic page, and that I should stick with the former. I deleted the comment, although a part of me wonders if I had left it up, what my friends would have said in response.
I may have read it wrong, but I got out of said snark that I should just stay in the kitchen and keep my nose and opinions out of the financial world. Maybe I should also be barefoot and pregnant…..that is extrapolation on my part, but you get what I am saying.
So here is my response.
I may indeed be just a cook. I do not understand derivatives, hedge funds, bonds and stocks. I find it baffling that money can be made merely by selling someone’s debt to another company. I don’t get off-shore accounts, nor I have any numbered ones. I may be to you a mere economic simpleton.
But for you to discount me is arrogant on your part. You see, most Americans are just like me. We work hard, pay our bills, try to save for the future and dream of retiring comfortably. I’m not talking twelve gold toilets in a McMansion, but rather our humble porcelain loos in our modest houses.
I do not have a degree in economics or finance. Indeed, my degree in botany is well, cosmetic. But I do know that one plus one should equal two, and that you cannot divide something by zero, no matter how fancy the formula or calculator.
Right now it feels like we are being divided by zero and the answer is “error”, it cannot be done. We are wrung out, we have nothing left to give.
Please don’t expound to me how smart you are, how you’ve managed to make your fortune, how I should just keep quiet.
I may be just a cook, but I understand what it takes to keep a small restaurant in an extremely seasonal environment alive, kicking, and PAID OFF IN FULL. I know when there is no money in the account, there is no money in the account. I know that paychecks cannot bounce, that vendors should be paid, that my word is gold, and that people trust me. I work like a dog in the summer months to ensure all this, and trust me, that doesn’t let up in the winter. There may be less business but that means I have a smaller staff and therefore MORE to do.
You don’t want to give me credit for doing all this? You still think I should just be quiet? Then look at your parents.
Your mom may not have had a degree, but she knew how to keep you fed, clothed, the house clean and the bills paid. Your dad worked hard to bring a paycheck home, keep a roof over your head, get you a higher education. I don’t think your parents did all this so you could diss the middle class.
Even if you were fortunate enough to be in the upper echelon of the socioeconomic strata, please don’t forget the middle class helped build America. We are the ones that put our shoulders to the wheel, took your lofty ideas and made them into reality.
You say you are the ones creating jobs? Really? Because every season, I have about fifteen to eighteen staff members, full and part time, who rely on me for jobs. They work to pay for college, to feed their families, to pay their bills. If I go, then what happens? Are YOU going to come in here and replace those jobs? Are you going to stay up at night, worrying about sales figures, how to pay rent, baby sit the generator when the power goes out so you don’t lose thousands of dollars in inventory?
You say you should pay less in tax? Well, the taxes I pay go back into the economy. They pay for municipal services that you use everyday whether you admit it or not.
The money I pay to our local farmers, vendors, repair people, florists, the cleaner and so on goes directly back into our little community. In many ways, my “little” restaurant is an ATM, dispensing cash at times faster than it can be restocked.
So before you make your condescending comments, come stand in my kitchen clogs for a day or so. Be the single mom who cleans houses to make ends meet. Plow a field with the organic farmer who depends on Mother Nature to be kind this season. Walk the streets of this town, put your hand on the real pulse of America. And then tell me that we should be giving tax breaks to the 1%. If you still believe that, that is your right, and I will respect it. All I ask is that you be respectful of my views.
February 24th, 2012Uncategorized
Please allow me to preface this post. This is NOT meant to be rant. This IS meant to be a reality check for those of you out there who dream of becoming a chef.
Let’s begin with what most chefs are NOT.
Most chefs are not glorified culinary rock stars who sit around all day with sketch pad in hand, coming up with new dishes like the latest haute couture fashions. We do not skip down to the local farmers’ market with baskets on our arms to pick up our daily ingredients. We do not dine nightly on filet mignon and lobster, listening to Bach whilst sipping a fine Bordeaux. We do not have minions polishing our shoes, chauffeuring us around in limousines, nice as that may sound. We do not have home kitchens like the ones you see in glossy food magazines with a milieu of friends gracing our house with wine glasses in hand.
Now, let’s look at what most chefs ARE.
We are dedicated, fanatical, somewhat egotistical creatures who can be fiercely competitive. We have scrapped our way up the totem pole, spending far too much time in the kitchen, which result in our “unusual” senses of humor and sometimes awkward social skill sets. We can be a bit insecure about who we are, what we do, and at times overcompensate with blustering and posturing. (Admit it, you do it; get over, move on.) We view ourselves as on the fringe of the circle of normal folks, the people who work in offices from 9 to 5, and truth be told, we like it like that. We march to the beat of a different drummer, and sometimes we’re the only ones that can hear that syncopated rhythm in our heads.
(Note: I have been lucky enough to work with a few “rock star” chefs, and they, too, started from the bottom rung. There is NO passing go, collect $200 maneuver in this game.)
There are only a few of us. There can only be one chief in the kitchen. Many, if not all, of us aspire to be the Head Honcho, but it takes a certain amount of talent, fortitude, smarts, and yes, luck, to get to the top of the heap.
The really optimistic ones (read: foolish with unending reserves of hope) open our own places. Suddenly, we have to be good business strategists, human resource managers, bankers, dishwashers, cleaners and, at times, plumbers, in addition to our culinary prowess.
Please remember all this, oh Ye Who Hope To One Day Be Chefs and Open Your Own Restaurant.
It takes years to gain the skills, palate, wisdom and knowledge to be an accomplished chef. Yes, we start with raw talent, but that talent has to be honed, planed, buffed and polished. Iron is forged from ore with fire; diamond is carbon formed under unfathomable amounts of pressure.
If you have the opportunity to work with someone who can and will teach you, do it. Don’t quibble about your pay, don’t even bring it up. To even think you can bargain your wage when you have no skill is insulting to the chef who is willing to mentor you, and disrespectfully false to yourself. Think of this opportunity as though someone were paying you to go to school. Your bargaining power and rewards will come later.
Success does not happen overnight. Most of us have started at the lowest rungs in the best kitchens we could get into, with that darn eternal hope pushing us to keep going when others lose their grip. And yes, we have swung from ladder to ladder, always trying to get a few rungs higher with each progressive swing.
This race has a heavy price. In addition to working weekends, evenings, and holidays, thereby excluding “normal” socializing hours, I personally have worked two or three jobs at a time to make ends meet, just to be able to cook when I first started my journey. I gave up time with friends and family, economic security and launched myself headfirst and alone into foreign countries to round out the sharp edges and add depth to the portrait of the chef I was painting.
Best part is, that portrait will never be done and it is always changing.
If you cannot and will not truly grasp all the sacrifices, hardship, tears and labor you will have to put forth to become a chef, (and again, there is NO guarantee that you will ever make it) then STOP NOW. You cannot go into this half-assed. It does not happen this way. You must stop clinging to your old world and know that you are starting the foundations of a new house, a different house, one with a completely original footprint. Jump, and have faith in yourself, or stay on that ledge and forever look down and wonder. And move out of the way.
January 27th, 2012Uncategorized
First and foremost, this is MY blog, so this is an expression of my opinions.
What I am about to write may not sit well on every one’s plate, and that is okay with me. I do feel that I need to say this, so thank you in advance for reading. I apologize if I offend any of you; please note that is NOT my intent.
Small businesses are just that. SMALL businesses.
They are started by people who are brave (read: foolhardy with a touch of the dreamer in them) as their livelihood, their extensions of themselves, their attempts to make a fortune, their desire to be independent. Any and all of those reasons, plus numerous more, are why we open our shops, hang our shingles.
I cannot speak for other kinds of businesses such as retail, but I can tell you this about restaurants. 90% of them will fail in the first year. NINETY.
They will shut their doors, roll over and die, cease to exist. If a restaurant is successful, they can expect to see maybe a 10% profit for every dollar they receive as revenue, and that’s if they are really really good. That probably will not happen in the first, second or even third year of the restaurant’s existence.
It is a Hard Ugly Truth.
Here’s another hard ugly truth. We get bombarded with requests for charitable donations. And I mean BOMBARDED.
When I opened Allium, I made the decision to be as supportive as I could be to non-profit organizations. I think I have been. I have given as amply as I can in a time when there are less donors around, and the need for a hand up has increased. All this has been in the restaurant’s first year, when it is not going to make a profit. This is how important I think it is to be a part of the community, to give others a helping hand.
Now, however, reality has set in, and I am much more selective about to whom I give. I support the Farm to Cafeteria program, the local fireworks fund, the pre-schools and animal welfare organizations. I wish I could do more, but that is about the limit of my pocket book.
What I don’t appreciate is complete strangers and organizations sending me a form letter asking for a donation of a gift certificate for their upcoming auction.
Please understand this: every time I give out a gift certificate, that is money out of my revenue. Remember what I said about restaurants maybe, MAYBE reaching a 10% profit? Okay, add to that equation a very seasonal business and a small local community. Get the picture? Every week, I field about five letters, emails or calls asking for a donation. Five times fifty-two equals two hundred and sixty requests. If I gave each one a $50 gift certificate donation, that would be $13,000.00 yearly. To put that into perspective, in our winter months, that would be a nice sales figure. Oh, winters here are long.
You may say in the summer I do great. And you would be correct. But the money I make in the summer is used in the winter to keep my staff employed, my rent paid, my taxes, licenses and insurance current. Also, as the owner, I do not get paid. My expenses are taken care of, and that’s about it.
It galls me to no end that people I have never met, who have never eaten at the restaurant and have no intention of doing so, have the nerve to go down a list of potential donors and hold out their hand. It’s like trying to find a date on a Saturday night by going down the list in a little black book. This is not Dial a Date, okay?
Here’s an idea: why don’t they offer to buy a gift certificate from me at a discount? Can’t afford to do that? Then why don’t they volunteer something in return? Barter with me, trade with me for, I don’t know, window or dish washing, floor cleaning, planting my deck. The local high school football team will move you for a $50 donation. See how it works? Help me help you.
I don’t believe the American way is to get something for nothing; at least, it wasn’t that way with my upbringing. I earned my allowance, I did chores, I learned the value of a dollar, and more importantly, the value of my work.
Don’t tell me I’ll get free advertisement and exposure to the kind of clientele that will patronize my restaurant. That smacks of trying to get me to do a discount deal thing. I tried that. It didn’t work either.
You want me to donate? Support my business. COME IN TO EAT. You don’t have to spend a lot, but show me some moral support.
Right now I feel like a sponge being wrung, and I am wrung out. This is my livelihood. Please, if you can do nothing else, be respectful of that.
PS.. there are those here who come in and we thank you for that. It is not just your patronage, but your moral support that gives us wings to make it through the quiet months. THANK YOU~
December 17th, 2011Uncategorized
Once upon a time, in a Small Town in Small Town, America, there lived a dollar bill named Bucky.
Bucky was not an extraordinary dollar bill; he did not have Brad Pitt looks, a Billy Idol snarl, the Mick Jagger too-cool-for-school attitude, or the genius of Albert Einstein. No, Bucky spent his days folded securely in the billfold of his owner, Joe Small Town.
It seemed Bucky was destined for the ordinary, a fact that he lamented often and loudly to the other dollar bills residing in the billfold.
One day, like all the days before it, Bucky sighed again out loud, knowing that he would spend the long hours in his wallet house. Joe had been extra careful with his spending, what with the way the economists fluttered around, predicting dire times to continue. There did not seem to be an end in sight for the long gloomy days of austerity.
But on THIS day, Bucky was going to see the light, and change lives.
(I know, I know, save the drams for your moms.)
Seriously, though, on this day, Joe decided to go to a local bookstore and spend a few dollars.
As Bucky emerged from his dank den, he breathed in the fresh air, and relished in the smell of crisp dollar bills. He was excited at the thought of a new home in the cash register! He would have new friends to make, a new school to discover, maybe even a better school lunch to eat! Oh, the possibilities loomed before him in Technicolor!
But then a funny thing happened. Before Bucky could find a comfortable spot and nestle down for a nap, he was grabbed by the ear, and given to an employee of this bookstore who was being sent on an errand.
“My goodness, good things happen in multiples! First, a new home, and then, a road trip!” thought Bucky. He was ecstatic! He couldn’t wait to write in his diary, er, ledger, an accounting of his day.
Bucky’s next home was at the grocery store. This time, there were dollar bills from an even wider circle of America in the drawer. One dollar bill had a soft Southern drawl, another tawked like a New Yawker, a third was busting out Pidgin English like he was still on the shores of Waikiki.
“This is the life!” thought Bucky, as he settled his back against a roll of quarters to take a nap.
Bucky had just dozed off when he was once again tapped to play, this time to be part of Team Paycheck. Team Paycheck seemed to be so glamorous. Bucky had visions of him scoring the winning goal, of quarterbacking the team all the way to the Quarter Bowl, of signing a new multimillion Bucky contract. Oh, it could happen!
Bucky rode home in a new wallet, this time belonging to Roseanne, one of the cashiers of the grocery store. He took in the smell of perfume, chewing gum, face powder and car keys; all so different from Joe’s wallet. He decided then and there he preferred Double Mint to Juicy Fruit gum.
As Bucky was preening himself in Roseanne’s compact mirror, he felt himself being pinched again. This time, he was lifted out of Roseanne’s wallet, and placed on a little tray in a restaurant. Roseanne had been enjoying Happy Hours with friends, and Bucky had just become part of Team Restaurant Tab! Michelin stars appeared before his eyes, top numerical Zagat scores, glowing Yelp reviews, it seemed so real! Bucky was beginning to think his life was the stuff of which dreams are made.
Bucky rode home in Nadine the server’s purse that night. Nadine did not have a wallet proper, but instead kept her money in a old candy tin. As the coins and dollar bills jangled over the potholes on their way home, Bucky tried to get used to the uncomfortable metal walls that had become his new home, even though he had a sneaky suspicion this new home would not last long. He was actually looking forward to leaving the walls of the metal box; it was just too minimalist for his tastes.
The next day, Bucky was fished out of the tin, and handed over in a rumpled wad to the town hairdresser. Team Coiffure had just acquired a new member. Bucky looked around at the rollers, dye and bottles of magic potions. He wondered for what all that foil was used. He thought about asking Darlene, the hairdresser, if she could straighten him.
As Bucky was working up his courage, the phone jangled, and Darlene answered. It was one of the town charities, seeking a donation for their next fund drive.
Darlene sighed, as the last few years had been rough on the economy, and in some ways, disastrous in this little town. But she also knew that this little town did not have a big government security net to take care of things that official agencies handle in the bigger cities. She was a gracious and kind woman, and promised to give them a donation. And thus Bucky became part of Team Social Outreach.
In Bucky’s next chapter, he helped pay for clothes for the children, put food on the table, and made sure the heat stayed on that cold winter. Bucky became an integral member of Team Household Budget, his most important role yet.
So what will Bucky’s next chapter bring?
Well, that depends on you. You get to continue the story.
You see, it’s NOT a Trickle Down Theory that works. It more of a Spread It Around theory.
When you support your local businesses, you give to yourself in the end. And Bucky would like that.
Lisa’s note: If you have read this all the way to the end, thank you. This was my first attempt at fiction. I hope that you can see how spending locally really does help us. You don’t have to spend hundred of dollars. Just a few of them would really boost the economy of many a small town. I’m not pointing fingers, and I know many of you do shop locally. Thank you for that. Please help keep the cycle going.