Why “Beauty in the Mundane?”

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors.

Way back when I first started this blog, it was only meant to be a little newsposting feed for what was coming out of my tiny kitchen in New Jersey. Since that little kitchen wasn’t putting out too much… neither was the blog.

When I started writing on a regular basis, I didn’t always have new recipes or projects to talk about- but I did have my recent quest to lose weight, get stronger, and put the lie to the self-destructive lifestyle popular in the culinary world. After speaking with my sister- who was trying to flex her experience with brand management and degree in marketing- we decided that “What’s On The Bench” need a tagline: Reps, Rolling Pins, and Building A Better Baker.

Time went on, and I started to realize that living a healthy life in the culinary industry wasn’t just a matter of working out or eating your veggies regularly. Being a cook is mentally and emotionally taxing- so our brains and hearts need care as well. I wrote about mental health- mine and others.

What about emotional health, though? What soothes your mind doesn’t always soothe the heart and soul- couldn’t I write about the things that by-pass the intellect and just make people smile without them realizing it?

Those are the moments of simplicity and beauty that I love, and they are everywhere. So the blog became “Reps, Rolling Pins, and Beauty in the Mundane.”

Of all the evolutions my writing has gone through… that one might be my favorite so far.

Continue reading

The Heart of Life- 5 Lessons from the Kitchen to Take Anywhere

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The bakery was going through a spat of high turnover. New hires were either leaving, vanishing, or simply showing themselves not up to handling the work. It was becoming disheartening, frustrating… and more than a little exhausting. “Many hands make light work” kinda relies on there being “many hands.”

In the seven months I had been working for the bakery, I’ve had to train six people in my station as the morning baker and “ovenlord.” The work is not especially difficult- the specifics of it can be written down or memorized quickly, and the skills involved can be mastered with practice.

When our production manager started wondering aloud how they could train employees to make them better, and more quickly- I suggested they all learn my position first. While the specific knowledge and skills of the morning bake are easy to learn (I actually wrote a teaching aide/cheat sheet to help people who got lost), the most challenging thing for a new person on the shift to learn is something they can take anywhere in the kitchen- or in life: time management.

clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Continue reading

“We’re Just Like a Family”- and 6 Other Red Flags When Looking for a Kitchen Job

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

As summer comes to an end, it’s “back to school” for students everywhere. Some culinary students will be starting their descent into madness/ meteoric rise to glory (same thing, really.) Others will be entering their final year- the culmination of years of struggle, sweat, screaming, and WAY too much spent on textbooks.

It will also, at last, be time to look for an externship. Most culinary schools in America don’t expect their students to have any kitchen experience before enrolling. Many European schools do- or in fact, require a letter of recommendation from a chef.

In America, then, the externship is the first time many students will enter the culinary world. It’s a part of the curriculum, and a requirement for graduation- “You paid for four years of us harrowing and lecturing you- time to show you’re worth a damn.”

Animated Gif from Creed

Continue reading

Where Did All The Chef Hats Go?- Portland’s Impact on American Cuisine

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

This morning, I had the great fortune of getting contacted by an old teacher of mine from culinary school. Chef Joe Sheridan was appearing on WOND, a local New Jersey radio station, discussing culinary education, the industry, and seeking the voices of alumni. I was having a slow morning and agreed to call in.

After catching up a bit on the show and brief introductions (including plugging this blog and my book. #shamelessselfpromoter) Chef Joe asked me an interesting question.

 

“Matt, I’ve recently been reading this book “Burn The Ice” by Kevin Alexander and- well, to stereotype your entire city, we came from an era of white table cloths and pressed napkins. Now we have chefs with tattoo sleeves, in black T-shirt’s with hats on backward, serving in dining rooms with bare tables and distressed walls. It’s all different!”

Now, I gotta own that since coming to Portland, I’ve gotten a couple food tattoos. I haven’t worn a proper white chef’s toque since I graduate culinary school (I hated them anyway. The paper ones tore and had a habit of knocking things off overhead racks, directly onto my neck.) There’s no denying that the Pacific Northwest spawned a reckoning in how fine dining was treated in America.

 

While I have yet to read Kevin Alexander’s “Burn the Ice” on the subject (I just bought it on Kindle a few minutes ago. It’s officially on The Pile,) the sharp cultural difference between living on the West Coast and training on the East is something I’ve mulled over plenty.

 

Why PORTLAND of all places? I have some thoughts…

 

 

giphy (6).gif

It isn’t called “Bridge City” for nothing.

 

 

Continue reading

The Comedown- Beating an Anxiety Feedback Loop

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I’m pretty sure I’m incapable of actually being on vacation. Moving the body doesn’t necessarily move the brain.

Emily and I finally managed to get nine days of vacation together, spending most of them in Corvallis, Oregon and being hosted by an old high-school friend of mine and her husband.

For the first time in three years, I am on a trip where I truly have nothing to worry about… except for the fact that I have nothing to worry about. It’s hard to beat a habit of a lifetime.

Continue reading

The Ten Steps of Baking (Totally Not a Listicle)

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

After last weeks post about the basic science of bread, I figured it might be a good idea to keep going on this rudimentary road trip through the land of yeasted loaves and carbs. For this post, and most of the posts coming up, I pulled out one of my old culinary school textbooks as a reference, and the memories came flooding back.

Namely, “Holy f*** this stupid thing is heavy.” 

41YOWNAPFuL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgIt’s still an excellent resource, though. The book is “Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach by Michael Suas, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to do a deeper dive on the science and craft of baking bread.

 

 

 

As for today, we’re gonna keep it light and- literally- go by the numbers as we cover The 10 Steps of Baking!

Stand by for tasty science!

Yzma and Kronk from The Emperors New Groove screaming "It's dinner time." in lab coats.

from The Emperors New Groove

Continue reading

Loafing About- A Hot Take On Bread Science

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

A few years back, Emily and I were checking out a candle shop in Collingswood, NJ. The place (predicatably) smelled almost overpowering. Besides candles there was a lot of incense, Wicca, natural- healing, and- what I have been told is an accepted term- “woo-woo stuff.”

The proprietress was behind the counter, and she asked what we did as she rang up our purchases. I told her I was a baker, and the following exchange happened:

“Oh good! I’ve always wanted to ask a baker this! Okay, so what’s the difference between wheat, yeast, and gluten? Like I’m trying to go gluten free because it’ll help my chakras align, but I’m also vegan and I REALLY like nutritional yeast, so like, is there gluten free yeast? Isn’t yeast alive, so isn’t it actually not vegan? And I was also wondering bzzzzzzzzzzz…..”

Me:

Animated gif of an extremely baffled llama

“….”

To avoid anyone from having to deal with this shenanigans again, and to answer a couple questions that have been pitched to me by other non-baking pros, here’s a Crash Course on Bread.

Let’s get started.

Continue reading