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

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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…

 

 

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

 

 

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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.

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“Embrace the Suck” – Identifying and Beating Toxic Positivity in the Kitchen

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

There’s something to be said for powering though issues, or “stiff-upper-lipping” it. One of my mantras when it comes to time management is “Freak out when you have time.” Definitely easier said than done, but being able to tolerate discomfort for a while DOES make one stronger- mentally, physically, and as a person.

That is a far cry from pretending that that discomfort and pain doesn’t exist though, or that you aren’t having trouble- OR that you can endure it forever.

Acknowledging that life can suck can help you… and pretending it doesn’t can hurt you. That’s toxic positivity… and in the kitchen, it can make a difficult life even harder.

A quote meme reading "One smile can cure all the disease no matter what just keep smiling. " by Akansha Pande

I call Shenanigans.

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“How Far Yet To Go”- #BourdainDay, One Year Later, and Defining a Legacy

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

Friendly warning- today’s post will be a bit heavy, and it’ll talk a bit about suicide/self harm- as well as the varied reactions to it.


June 8th, one year ago, one of my heroes died.

If you were to ask me, I don’t have too many heroes that aren’t fictional characters. Finding a person that- even indirectly- inspires one to live in emulation of them, to make certain life choices, or who’s work becomes a source of comfort and identity is pretty profound, and it happens to me rarely.

It’s one of the reasons that people who pipe in with “Jeez, they were just a celebrity, get over it/ why don’t we remember REAL heroes/ etc” piss me off. One has to wonder of these same people drive past funerals and scream “Who cares? It’s not like they cured cancer and walked on Mars!”

So when I say the death of Anthony Bourdain affected it me deeply, I’m not being hyperbolic. The fact that he died by his own hand unexpectedly doubled the tragedy, but for those who read Tony’s works and about his life, it was slightly less than surprisingly. Self-destruction and suicide were demons Tony had wrestled with before in his life- and they only ever had to win once.

One year later, in remembrance of his life and legacy, friends and fellow chefs Eric Ripert and Jose Andres established Bourdain Day on the 25th, and the Culinary Institute of America has established an Anthony Bourdain Legacy Scholarship in his memory.

One year later, all of us cooks get to sit down and think of his life and what we can learn.

Some of us, I think, spend their off-time driving past funerals.

Picture of Anthony Bourdain with quote “Perhaps wisdom, for me, means realizing how small I am, how unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

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Taste the Rainbow- The Joy of Discovery and Beating Analysis Paralysis

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

One of the things I love most about any kind of craft or creation- food, cuisine, beer, woodworking, music, whatever- is that when you first get acquainted with that craft, it seems monolithic- until you realize it isn’t, that nothing is, and what you always thought was one solid notion is home to a universe of variety.

It’s terrifying, crazy-making, paralyzing, beautiful, and exhilarating all at once- at least to me. How do YOU address the complications of life? Well, let’s discuss it!

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Pulling Weight- Leadership in the Kitchen

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not comfortable using the term “chef” for myself even as a joke, and that I tend to correct others when they address me by it.

It’s not because of modesty or humility- false or otherwise. It’s because, by my own criteria, I have not earned that title.

Roughly every couple of weeks, someone on an online cooking group will pipe up with:

What makes a chef a CHEF?”

or some other navel-gazing, masturbatory variant- and the responses tend to vary from the crude to the judgemental/equally navel-gazy, to my personal reaction:

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“Oh for f***’s sake, here we go…”

You see, the answer is in the name. “Chef” literally means “chief.” “Boss.” “Head of Operations.” 

It means “LEADER.”

How you got about leading is the real discussion that should be going on, rather than faffing about over what’s stitched on your jacket.

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