Standing Still In The Storm

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

When I was 13, my family would spend the evenings watching the original Iron Chef on TV. I was mesmerized watching the cooks and chefs fling food, whip and wheel around each other- a ballet of orchestrated chaos that I’d learn to call “the dance” 15 years later. In the center, like a stationary whirlwind, would sometimes stand my favorite Iron Chef- Masaharu Morimoto. Barely looking up, but barking instructions in Japanese to his cooks- and simply KNOWING they would be done. He called the dance, and controlled the storm from its eye.

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“I’m not a fighter, but in my mind I’m fighting every day. ‘What’s new? What am I doing?’ I’m fighting myself. My soul is samurai. My roots aren’t samurai, but my soul is.”

Shortly after I entered culinary school, I picked up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. Tony Bourdain painted a picture for me of cook as pirate, and chef as rock star. In his coarse and perfect style, he raised to veil behind that storm and the manic adrenaline rush it could elicit in those who craved it. Heat and madness, rage and lust, sensory bombardment, and the cool, quiet void of your own thoughts.
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“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

All the way through his books and through school, I learned the mantras of the kitchen, desperate to experience the eye of that storm-

“If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

” A. B. M.- Always Be Moving.”

“Don’t sacrifice quality for speed- and don’t sacrifice speed for quality.”

“Get it done now.”

“Faster, tighter, neater.”

“Mise en place- if you lose that, you lose.”

They carried me through school, then work, then daily life. Cooking is the art of control. You control your heat, your ingredients, your environment, your movements, your tools, your timeline, your tasks, yourself. If you are ever NOT in control- there is nothing left to bring everything together.

It’s made me a bit of a pain to live with, I bet.

It’s been a while since then. I’ve breathed madness. I’ve floated in the void of my own thoughts and basked in the eye of the storm, even as my body pushed itself thoughtless and perfect from task to task.

More than once, though, I have been made to learn everything has it’s opposite. A time for madness, and a time for calm. There are storms, and there are light rains. Neither will be denied their moment- and I have ruined more work by trying to hurry them (or myself) than I have through miscalculation, burning, or accident.

Not-yet- cold butter in pie dough leads to a greasy mess, dumping the whole thing in the trash and starting again.

Jacking up the heat on your oven doesn’t make faster cookies- it makes lumps of charcoal with raw dough in the center. I nearly got fired over that one.

Cookies need THEIR time in the oven.

Pie needs time to rest (and rugelach dough needs ALL 24 hours rest in the fridge, or it unrolls in the oven.)

Breads need proof time, butter needs time to freeze.

Baking needs its own time, and the ingredients won’t argue otherwise- they’ll just mess up your work. You must control everything- but with their permission.

I’ve worked out my mise en place to get many things done at once (a crucial skill for the kitchen- cooks don’t have twelve arms, just good timing.) I keep myself busy enough that I can’t watch the clock.

“I have twenty minutes till the cookies are done- I can chop veg for quiche.”

“Get the quiche in the oven early- they take two hours, and I can eight things done in the meantime.

Thus far, I’m learning- but there’s one thing I still have no patience for, the one thing I always should.

I still can’t be patient with myself.

I can’t stand it when I can’t master things in the time I think they should take.
When things aren’t moving fast enough for me, people in Australia hear my teeth grind.
And I have NO patience for people that say, “Be patient.”

Thinking back to Morimoto, I have almost learned how to stand in the eye and control the storm- but not yet how to be stationary.

A work in progress, I guess.

I just need to be patient.

Stay Classy,