I’m A Morning Person

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

I love bakers hours.

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“Well f**k you!”

No seriously, I do. People tend to refer to “bakers hours” as a curse or a lamentation, but I really like them. Granted, right now my hours are 6am to 2pm at my current gig, which more or less puts me on the night shift of the baking world, but they are still early enough to make a lot of non-bakers cringe.
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Yeah, I get that look a lot.

When I joined the professional baking world, my hours were 11a – 7p at the casino, a swing shift. As it was, I woke up at 6am each day so I’d have time to eat, work out, and clean up before driving to work.

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I’m serious about the working out. Really- get in shape. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my career.

Those hours soon changed to 9a- 5p so I could get more time with my mentor at the casino who worked 6a- 2p. After moving out to Portland, I had a brief job working 9-5 before moving to my current gig and hours.


I get up at 3am every work day now, and I kinda love it.
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Mrs. Black Hat, not so much,

After waking up, my routine isn’t too different from anyone else’s- breakfast, exercise, Triple S (shower, s***, shave), and out the door. The differences that make it worthwhile though.
1. Trying to do everything with as much stealth as possible. Emily usually doesn’t need to be up till 8:30, so I go through all my motions as quietly (and with as little light) as possible.

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I am silent… I weigh less than a slice of bread…. I can’t find my socks.

2. The isolation. On days I go out running, there are barely any cars on the road. The air is cool and wet, and mist is still floating over low ground. I can run right on through my route and let my mind wander. It’s honestly during my runs I get my best ideas- an experience I share with a lot of great chefs.

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Or I can pretend I’m a noir-style detective…

Now I’m not about the proselytize about the merits of waking up early. Everyone’s got their own schedule and their own likes, and I’d be a bit of a punk to take a holier-than-thou attitude about all of it.

Honestly, though? I feel weird on days I sleep in- like I wasted part of a day. Waking up early, I feel brighter and more productive, especially on exercise days. (Those who want to start on the “Don’t Trust A Skinny Baker” crap, I’ve already covered it.)

Yes, I get tired a bit earlier, and I don’t always enjoy feeling sleepy in the afternoon- but there are certain things that make me want to stay awake just those couple extra hours. One of them tends to be delicious, and the other tends to come home at around 7pm.
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We just got engaged on Valentine’s Day, I’m allowed to be a bit sappy for a few weeks. There’s a rule.

Stay Classy (and Caffeinated,)

More Books For The Pile

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

So, I friggin’ love reading.

Entertainment, a variety of genres, no mucking about with WiFi or power cords (necessarily,) and an expanded vocabulary that can make you feel like the sassiest, smartest SOB in the room for at least a little while.
Oh yeah… And you pick up some great knowledge, ideas, and inspiration too- as long as you read the good stuff. Get your hands on bad writing, and it’s still a plus- now you know how to identify a crap book.
Plus it keeps you off the emotional vamp-fest on Facebook.
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Want to hear about my political and religious opinions through passive-aggressive posts?

A while back, I started a reading list on here of books that I felt every aspiring cook/baker should have. You can flash back on here and check it out for yourself, or here’s a condensed list:

The BHB’s Book List
Kitchen ConfidentialThe Nasty Bits, and Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
The Joy of Cooking by Marion Rombauer, et al.
The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman
Professional Baking by Wayne Glissan
Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michael Suas
How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science by Paula I. Figoni
– Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
– your favorite holy text
– your favorite fiction
– your favorite poetry

    Recently, I’ve been making a point of looking up and reading as many food-related books and biographies as I can- not only to get inspiration and ideas, but insight into the workings of minds that have very much shaped the industry I’ve chosen and the world I have thrown myself into. Some of the works I’ve read/am reading so far are classics that should perhaps be on the reading list of any culinary student. The others, maybe not so much. Here then are the texts I am currently on about- particularly the ones I’ll talk about at length if you catch me a couple beers in and have an hour to kill.

What The BHB Is Reading Now

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Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions to the Cook) by Dogen
This is a text written by a Buddhist Zen Master named Dogen. I have covered it previously in this entry, but in a nutshell, Dogen describes the responsibilities and desired attributes of the head cook at a Zen monastery- not a menial servants position like in Europe at the time, but a position to be filled by an older, enlightened, and philosophically adept monk. For those who can’t believe spiritual awakening can come from nominally menial work, this is for you.

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The Physiology of Taste by Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Brillat-Savarin was, by every definition, the host with the most. A politician, violinist, lawyer, gourmand, aristocrat- NEVER a cook, chef, or baker in his life. Yet, this book, published a few months before his death and comprised of his meditations on food, eating, pleasure, science, society, and nature, remains one of the bibles of the hospitality industry. From this man who lived at the turn of the 19th Century, we get the maxim, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” Read this for the 200-year-old recipes at the end, if not for the goofy anecdotes, tongue-in-cheek humor at the societal circles he moved in, and the casual insights into behavior at the table.

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The Devil In The Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef by Marco Pierre White with James Steen
Carême may well have been the first celebrity chef, but Marco Pierre White was the first rock-star chef. A chef proprietor at 24, the first Brit and youngest chef to ever win 3 Michelin Stars, famously given to outrageous behavior, rage and anger in the kitchen, and an absolute obsession with cooking, this book is his autobiography. It offers not only insights into the development of his food philosophy and career arc, but anecdotes of the lunatic madness that gave rise to Mario Batali, Heston Blumenthal, and many other now-household names that White called “employees,” and who called him at one time or another “mentor.” Read it for the wisdom. Read it for the madness and name-drops. Read it for the sex and foul language. Whatever you like- just read it.

There are plenty of others on my list that I have yet to get to, but rest assured- when I get done with them, you’ll hear about it. In the meantime, got any books you think I should be looking at? Drop me a line!
Till then..

Stay Classy,

Rather Be Ashes Than Dust

    Good afternoon, friends and neighbors.

     Another one of us died this week. 
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Pic from thedolderesort.com

     Benoît Violier had everything going his way, it seemed. Success, accolades- the Michelin guide and La Liste had named his restaurant Restaurante de L’Hotel de Ville near Lausanne one of the best in the world. By all accounts, his star was rising.
    So earlier this week, at the age of 44, he blew himself away with a hunting rifle.

     Mental health is as murky a subject in the kitchen as in any other field. Even for a chef who DOESN’T make the list, DOESN’T gain notoriety and celebrity, the pressures of being a culinary professional are incredible. Long late hours, being consistently perfect, the demands of being an employer, business owner, and artist- and delivering your work every day with the omnipresent knowledge that, with one bad review, bad night, or even slight misstep, even with everything else going right- it can all vanish overnight.

     The dark side of the culinary life has been covered extensively, by myself and others far more experienced and qualified. The field has historically been a haven for “lunatics, misfits, and rejects”- people who love the long hours, the adrenaline rush, and the frantic choreography of service. They love the feeling of apartness, of noble toil, and that accepting wounds, stress, sleeplessness, addictions, and isolation from the rest of the world is the price you pay for passion, obsession, devotion, and a place in “this thing we do.”
     “Suffering for your art,” like the notion of “the show must go on,” has been romanticized to the point of tragedy. Cooks and chefs compare scars and burns, proudly offering them as badges of honor.
    Not all scars can be seen though- and in the end, even the greatest chefs are just human. Too much pressure makes us crack. Much more so when the success that we bleed, scream, sweat, and suffer for can- in the glaring limelight of celebrity- be wiped away in a few moments by a bad plate of food, and take away not just a life’s work, but the livelihoods of every person that chef employs.
     The title of this blog post comes from a poem by Jack London. Years ago, and to an extent today still, cooking attracted people that wanted to “live fast and die young.” If you asked, many maybe didn’t anticipate living past 40. They expected to live their lives as fast and hard as possible and go out with a bang.
    Chef Violier now joins a slowly-growing group of chefs that have left us, not with a great flash, but with a sudden stark silence in which to ask, “Why?”

    “Why?”
    That’s something that we may never know.

     When I was in school, one of my chefs gave me a piece of advice I have followed closely and spread whenever I can.

     “Step away from the kitchen. Have hobbies. Meet people that don’t cook. Find something to find release in.”

     There is no sin in having something outside of work. You are allowed to enjoy yourself, be well, and have time to kill. There is always time for passion, devotion, and commitment- just like there is time for relaxing and letting go. 

     I mean, seriously- if freaking Gordon Ramsay knows and can espouse this, anyone should.

     To all my culinarian friends, please- stick around long enough to ENJOY your career, not just have it. Stay well, and get help when you need it. You’re not weak, and you should not be ashamed of being in pain.

​     Stay Classy,

What’s A Guy Gotta Do To Get A Drink (after work) In This Town?!

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

     It’s been a while since I’ve done a simple, less-guided entry, hasn’t it? Ever since the move out to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve had to re-establish a few things that I generally took for granted in my daily (and writing) life: favorite dives, favorite restaurants, local bars that I’m pretty comfortable walking home from when I’ve had too many. With Portland’s fairly-excellent public transport, “stumbling distance” can mean a few miles- provided you can keep straight enough to hop the right bus/train combination.

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Hey, you aren’t driving, right?

In general, my favorite places tend to have a couple characteristics-

  • Good food and drink (obviously)
  • Friendly service.
  • Homey or at least welcoming atmosphere.
  • The presence of customers/staff I know and like- particularly professionals.
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Particularly the customers, sometimes…

     Back at home, it was no accident that I regularly sang the praises of The Iron Room, Howell’s Pub, and The Avenue. These were places where I could count on not only good food, drink, and service- but warm companionship when I wanted it, and quiet attention from friends when it was time to work. There are times when I’m out and about, and I’d give just about anything to enjoy the work and company of Chefs Kevin Cronin, Jim Howell, and Joe Muldoon again. I try to keep in touch as best I can, but seeing all the great things they do is a far-cry from tasting it.

     All things change, and we change with them- and I am in Portland now.
Time to explore and find new haunts in my new home.

     Earlier, I found myself ensconced at Mother’s Bar and Bistro. It was happy hour (a good time to be thirsty in Portland), and the young and busy were buzzing in and out on their way home. Chef Lisa Schroeder, the chef-owner of the place, did a certain young baker quite a solid when he had just shown up in Portland a few months back- flying blind in a strange place and begging for work.
    Like so many places, all the chefs in Portland talk to each other- and while Chef Lisa didn’t have a spot for me, she gave me a laundry list of places that I might ask, and even put in a few calls on my behalf. With that kind of person in charge (a Jewish Philly transplant, no less), and a great staff in front and back, it was a good place to sit, reflect, and enjoy some REALLY good lox.

They have really good salmon here- who’d-a-thunk it?

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This man clearly needs some fiber.

     While I was sitting at Mother’s bar, noshing on my tasty smoked fish and sipping a spicy margarita, I realized what I was REALLY missing in the whole move out here.

     Some months ago, back in New Jersey, I was hanging out with a couple other chefs right after we’d finished up a Chaine dinner. A couple things had come a little close to the knuckle- there was miscommunication about the menu, facilities, friggin’ PLATING AND FLATWARE, who was in charge of what. It got a little hair-raising and tempers flared. Everyone was bouncing around the kitchen, but in the end- we did what we were meant to do. The dinner was a huge success. From first to last, the courses came out like magic, and our diners were ecstatic.    Now came the quiet after the storm- we all sat and breathed in the wet, warm air of the late summer rainy night. After a while, we wound up at a local bar. We toasted a job well-done, and I sat back and listened as the older hands shared stories and ideas. 
     Moments like that are one of my favorite things about doing what I do.

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End-of-the-day victory dance

    It’s easy to find a good bar in Portland, and one of my favorite things to do is seek out all the bars where the professionals go- line cooks, chefs, food runners, and all other manner of- as Tom Waits says- “brawlers, bawlers, and bastards.”
    It’s a very esoteric, insular sort of life we live, and the only people who truly understand it are those who live it, or have lived it. Since moving here, I’ve craved evenings like that one in Jersey, and conversations like the ones I’d have with Joe, Jim, and Kevin.

That said…

     You’d think that a city with as many restaurants and as much of a food culture as Portland has, you could find a bar that’s open past midnight? What’s more, with all the food carts and tiny little snackeries in this city, you might find one that’s open after 6 PM?
    Where do the post-shift drinks happen? Or the booze-mop munchies when you’ve had too many? As a baker, I know that I’ll probably be fine- my hours are from 6am to 2pm. My post-shift drink would be LUNCH. All the same, sometimes I whomp up the energy to join at least some of the culinary throng and enjoy an evening out.

    As I write this, I’m sitting in Paddy’s– a pretty solid little Irish pub in Portland’s Old Town, down by the Willamette River. They advertise being open till 2am- the first bar I have found to be open past midnight.

    Maybe I’m being immature or foolish- hell, I’m probably both. I might well also just really be homesick.

    Either way, at the moment, I have beer, whiskey, and a tasty Scotch egg with a chantilly-light deviled yolk.
      It’s not home, but it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

​Stay Classy,

What Learning to Cook REALLY Teaches

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

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on the BHB’s “On The Bench”…

     I preached a bit about culinary education, obesity in America, and why teaching children about cooking and food when they are young can help save the country. 
     This time, I am going to talk about the tangential learning opportunities found in learning to cook. Initially, I started with this list of subjects that a culinary education offers:

  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • The Scientific Method
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Botany
  • Physiology
  • Zoology
  • History
  • Literature
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Geography
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • Theology
  • Psychology
  • Nutritional Science
  • Business / Personal Management
  • Finance (Business and Personal)

I wrote a couple paragraphs each, and had a friend read it.

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Umm.. needs a little editing?

    Taking this constructive criticism well, I trimmed it down a bit and tried to just highlight the important bits of each item. Having finished, I sent it off to another friend for editing.
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Getting better….I guess.

So yeah- trying to trim this one out of TL;DR-dom was a bit of a pain. What I wound up going with was just keeping it simple- how cooking can make learning/developing each of these exciting and fun. 
Bear in mind, I am not exactly an educator myself, nor do I yet have children- so if any of you guys out there are teachers and parents- leave comments with your ideas and suggestions! The mission is simple: teach our kids to cook so they can live healthier, and more enriched lives.

That’s all out of the way, so onward to:

What Cooking REALLY Teaches

Mathematics    
​What DON’T you need math for in life? Between measuring, scaling, portioning, and calculating yields for even the most basic recipes and formulas, math is all over the culinary world. What’s more, learning to do calculations quickly in one’s head is an extremely valuable and even sought-after skill. On top of that, cooking gives students a MUCH more exciting and useful application for their skills than “How many candy bars does Johnny have”- and that makes them want to learn.
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Another, less pleasant real-world application.

Reading Comprehension    
​Not everyone is comfortable walking into a kitchen and throwing a little of this and that into a pot. Everyone needs to learn from somewhere- and that’s where recipe books come in. In reading recipe books and learning to follow instructions, children get a fun and practical way to build their relationship with language and the written word.
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Um… getting older doesn’t GUARANTEE getting better at that.

Chemistry and Physics    
​Chemistry and physics make up the rule book for reality, as far as we know. Most cooks don’t really think about exactly HOW cooking works, but chemistry and physics tells us WHY a steak cooks on a hot grill, and WHAT it is in lemons that makes them sour, or in chili peppers that makes them hot. Baking, especially, involves a LOT of chemistry and physics. Before the words “molecular gastronomy” were even put together, the baker was the closest thing to a chemist a kitchen had. The baker needs to know how different ingredients will react, and why an oven needs to be a certain temperature for a certain time.
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Molecular Gastronomy- because your lunch doesn’t look *enough* like Modern Art.

The Scientific Method and Deductive Reasoning
“Ideas are tested by experiment.” That is the absolute basis of scientific thought, and a cook must be a scientist-to test new recipes and techniques, sample strange new ingredients, and figure out how to make them work.    
​Sometimes great things come out of experiments. Sometimes those things are failures- what went wrong? Why did the cake fall? Why did the cookies burn? When a student fails, a good teacher makes them go back over what they did and figure out why the results came to be- this is deductive reasoning. Together, these concepts not only teach children to experiment, but to learn from their errors rather than fear them, and to accept constructive criticism. For any creative field, The Scientific Method and Deductive Reasoning can be boiled down to the mantra, “Fail Faster, Fail Better.” 
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No, they will NOT show up and figure out why the cake failed. Do your research.

Botany, Zoology, and Geography    
Agriculture has been around for nearly 12,000 years, but humans have been eating food from the Earth for much longer. Similarly, we hunted wild animals for food long before we learned to domesticate and keep livestock.

    The world offers a variety of plants and animals that can be eaten in a number of different ways- which plants are safe to eat? Which aren’t? Why is the diet of most Asian cultures based around rice, rather than wheat or potatoes like in the Americas? In learning to cook, a student becomes familiar with animals and plants all over the world: how they are grown, and how to make them delicious. 
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Also, which ones just shouldn’t be served to general public. Yet, anyway.

Anatomy and Physiology    
Humans are capable of eating animals, but not necessarily raw- or whole for that matter. For anyone that wants to cook meat, part of the task is identifying which parts are best made how- grilled chicken breasts? Sheep’s stomach for haggis? How about pickled pigs’ feet? Even the most un-adventurous eater learns a little anatomy and physiology in order to butcher, particularly for that most favored of American traditions- how to carve a turkey.
Nutritional Science
Now HERE’S an important bit- the way our OWN bodies work. Why is it important to eat balanced meals? Why CAN’T kids just eat pizza and chicken nuggets forever? Is there actually a REASON behind eating the broccoli? If you’re going to make food, you’d better know what it does, right?
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This thing- not JUST for reading because you forgot to bring a book.

History    
​Eating is as primal a behavior as can be imagined, and people have been cooking their food to make it more digestible and enjoyable ever since the discovery of fire. All across the globe, you can learn the history of a nation simply by looking at their dinner tables. There are recipes to fill you, developed when food was scarce. Others call for rare and exotic ingredients, meant to be served to princes and kings. Why did corned beef and cabbage become a staple of St. Patrick’s Day? Why is so much Chinese food cooked in a wok? That’s some history to chew on!
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This is all fat-free, right? I’ve got a sarcophagus to fit into, you know.

Sociology, Psychology, and Theology    
​Eating may be a primal behavior necessary for survival, but sitting down with friends and neighbors for a meal is something more. Food has often influenced- and been influenced by- social behaviors. Social status, economic class, even prevailing attitudes at a given time could inform what lands on your dinner plate. How did the rich and poor eat? How different could it be?

    Life doesn’t just happen in big groups, though. How food affects the individual is just as important- and that’s where psychology comes in. After our sense of smell, taste is the sense most immediately connected to memories and emotions. Why does the smell of bread baking make us feel comfort, or the smell of lemons make us feel lively and alert? Maybe the taste of a perfectly grilled hamburger takes you back to 4th of July barbecues when you were a kid. A good chef understand this- and can use food to elicit emotions and memories from his diners.
    Sometimes the food people eat is defined by their faith. In Judaism and Islam, the pig is an unclean animal, and so they don’t eat pork. Some Hindus and Buddhists don’t eat meet at all- what do you do when the faith that guides your life is telling you what you can and cannot eat? People have been coming up with very creative answers to that question for centuries- and those answers still wind up getting served today.
    In the end, it all comes down to what makes us all human- and how we feed it.
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Socrates- famously unwise when it came to beverage selection.

Business / Personal Management    
​A good cook or chef must learn how to manage their resources- not just food, but money, time, people, and equipment. One thing a lot of culinary students don’t realize is that a chef usually spends as much time staring at spreadsheets and figures as standing at a grill- sometimes even more so. In learning to cook, children learn how to keep track of themselves, their time, and their ingredients. They learn not too waste, and how to work within a budget- thinking ahead, and getting only the food they need.
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If you’re wondering why the chef always seems cheesed off… that’s probably why.

Still there? Good!

In a nutshell, learning to cook doesn’t just teach kids how to feed and look after themselves- it also gives them a practical application for a veritable universe of learning, in and out of the kitchen.

Have a great night, and I’ll see you next week!

Stay Classy,

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P.S. RIP Jim and Bob- most patient editors I ever had.

Teach the Children to Cook

Good evening, friends and neighbors! Happy New Year! I hope your New Year’s Eve was spent with friends and loved ones, eating good food and giving 2015 a fond farewell- or maybe a swift kick on it’s way out.
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Well, we can try anyway…

In a few previous entries, I wrote about education, but only as far as culinary school- that is, education for adults that want to make a career in the food industry. In my opinion, however, culinary education should start LONG before that.
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Maybe not THIS early… but eh- worth a shot.

As a kid, I was lucky enough to be raised in a family that loved cooking and eating. Both of my parents cooked regularly, but usually it was my mom. There wasn’t an idea of cooking being “women’s work-” my sisters and I were raised to know that cooking was something EVERYONE did if they wanted to eat and not get take out every night.
When I got to junior high, everyone had to take both woodshop and home economics, or “Home Ec.” In Home Ec, we got a cursory introduction to nutrition and sanitation in a kitchen before going on to learn how to bake cookies and brownies. That was about it- though my older sister apparently go to make compound butter as well in her class.

Later on, in high school, there was a “Foods” class that one could take as an elective. Once again, a cursory look at nutrition and meal planning, followed by learning basic preparations- baking, broiling, learning how to make soups and salads. After that, that was IT. Any other education we got about cooking for ourselves, much less nutrition, came from home or health class- which had other, theoretically more important, things to tell the students of an city high school about.

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There were videos… and a cucumber… and you can use your imagination.

“So what’s the problem? Sounds pretty good!” I might hear you say.

The problem is that I WAS LUCKY. The education I got about cooking and nutrition from my family and schooling is not common in all parts of the country. Unfortunately, with the economy being what it is, many families are finding it easier and less time-consuming to buy processed foods, or go out for fast food, than make things at home.
We are increasingly at risk of our great-grandchildren being able to have a cake that actually IS “just like grandma used to make.”

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Ah yes, Grannie’s “Ye Olde Funfetti.”

What’s worse is that, because school systems are constantly on a lookout for ways to trim the budget, school lunch programs are being forced to choose between healthiness and “convenience.”

Between crappy food at school and crappy food at home, the future is looking increasingly bleak for today’s children. With obesity on the rise in America and diet-related illnesses our top-ranking killers, it seems that the great and terrible enemies of the American people are not the Liberals/Conservatives, or Daesh/ISIL, but the King, the Clown, and the Colonel.

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Public Enemies #1 – 5

I’m willing to bet you didn’t click over to my blog (or Facebook page) to hear yet another screed about obesity in America. There are plenty of other people more qualified and informed than myself that can do that, and I recommend you give them a listen sometime. While making children more aware of their food and food choices IS a big benefit to teaching them about cooking, that’s actually NOT my focus right now.
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Though it should be- for real.

Instead, I want to offer a different angle on why we need culinary education in our schools.
As another unfortunate side effect of perpetual budget-slimming, school systems tend to put their arts programs on the chopping block first. Dance, music, art, and yes, cooking/Home Ec- these are considered “extraneous” or unnecessary expenditures. With how testing-happy our country has become, school boards tend to focus more on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, saying “Sure it’s all very nice, but how is playing the violin and baking cookies going to help you score on the SATs?”
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What “popular wisdom” says you might as well get along with cooking lessons in school.

Emily and I talk about this frequently, and being a piano teacher, Em is very familiar with the scholastic benefits of being in a music program- improved mental flexibility, greater command of languages and numbers, improved emotiveness and empathy among them.

This got me thinking about all the reasons a culinary program could be useful to children, beyond the obvious skills that would help them look after themselves as adults and the nutritional education to help them make good choices.

It came down to the miracle of tangential learning.

Tangential learning is when people seek out information and education on a topic that was presented in a different, more enjoyable situation. For example, someone playing the video game “Brothers In Arms” might be inspired to look up the history and battles of World War II, or  a kid playing Sim City might seek information on civil engineering and how cities are laid out.

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“Awesome! Now… how do I build that in Minecraft?”

With that in mind, I sat down the other night and started making a list of all the subjects and disciplines I had to at least be familiar with- if not have a mastery of- in order to be a professional cook and baker. 

What Cooking REALLY Teaches

  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • The Scientific Method
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Botany
  • Physiology
  • Zoology
  • History
  • Literature
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Geography
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • Theology
  • Psychology
  • Nutritional Science
  • Business / Personal Management
  • Finance (Business and Personal)

How’s THAT for a curriculum?

Next week, I’ll go a bit more in-depth on each of these, how they connect to cooking, and why a culinary education really is an education in… well, life itself!

Stay Classy,

The Hunting of the Job: An Agony in 30 Fits

When I was a kid, a “job” was whatever my chores were- usually things to be bartered, swapped, argued over with, and foisted of on me and my sisters. “Work” was the thing that Dad did for most of every day- or a nebulous and vile entity that tended to call him at irritating hours.
“I have to go to work, Matt- school is YOUR work. Make sure it gets done.”
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“Yes, Dad….”

Right now, I am in the longest stretch I have ever gone without work, and I would give almost anything to bitch about a case of the Mondays again.

The last time I was jobless, the Black Hat Bakery was born, based on what I then called “The MacGuyver Priniciple.”

The MacGuyver Principle“If you need something, and you don’t have it, can’t find it, or get it, get started making it.”

This tied in nicely with another cozy saying:

“If Necessity is the mother of Invention, Desperation is the mafioso godfather.”

There are any number of websites and articles out there that will give you tips on job hunting- interviews, your resume, negotiating a salary, and so on. I have been burning through them in my maddening search for employment, and trying every shred of advice people have offered me.

In the end, the decision of whether or not someone hires you is NOT in your control. All you can do is present yourself in such a way that they MIGHT want to.

Here, so far, are what I have learned in going to 6 interviews, 4 working interviews, and firing off an average of 8 applications a week since I have arrived in Portland.

So You REALLY Want A Job In Portland…

1. Don’t be like everyone else- including not being like everyone else.
One of the first pieces of advice I got on coming to Portland was to make myself memorable to interviewers- dressing uniquely, bringing samples of work, etc. This works great… unless everyone else is dressing weird and being crazy too. Eventually, I realized- this was Portland. I was from NEW JERSEY. So I put on my best suit, carefully picked out a tie, carried 3 copies of my resume to each interview in a briefcase, and looked every interviewer in the eye with a smile and firm handshake.
You can be as weird as you want- and sometimes the weirdest thing you can be is a professional.
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Granted, a guy from Jersey showing up in a suit can have mixed messages…

2. Respect time- theirs, AND yours.
When I worked at a Scout camp in Barnegat, I was taught a simple rule about respecting time- “If you are 15 minutes early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late. If you are late, you’re screwed.”
Hiring someone new is extremely costly- not just in time spent training, but in time spent interviewing and getting back to candidates that could be used more productively. Always respect your interviewers time, and come early.
By the same token, do not devalue YOUR time. If you want to be treated like a professional, BE one. Apparently, out here in Portland, it is common for employers to interview people and simply never get back in contact with them if they don’t wish to hire them. Anyone who has been on a job hunt knows that a job seeker is applying to many places at once, and crucial decisions may hinge on feedback from employers. Do not tolerate people that disrespect you or your time.
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Seriously, it’s just common friggin’ decency…

3. Job hunting IS a job.
Yes, the pay sucks, but make no mistake about it. I am firing off resumes to jobs daily. I am searching my email for replies, filling my schedule around interviews and stages, and baking regularly to keep my skills up. That is DEFINTELY work. Don’t get down on yourself- if you’re trying to find work, you’re not a bum. You’re WORKING.
If you figure out how to remind yourself of this at all times, tell me how. My girlfriend will thank you.
4. Take time off now and again.
Like every job, sometimes you need time off. As my friend Karen said, “Life is a balance between making it happen and letting it happen.” Many aspects of this process are not in your control. Remember to take some time to NOT think about it. Read books that have been sitting on your shelf for ages. Watch movies you’ve been putting off forever because you had to be up in the morning. Take up new hobbies or challenges that working kept you away from before. Don’t be a slacker, but don’t be a workaholic either.
One of the best things you can do is learn new skills or refine old ones- you never know what a future employer might find useful.

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Yeah, THIS ain’t happening once I get 4 AM shifts again…

5. Reach Out To EVERYONE.
Don’t shy away from talking to people or introducing yourself to anyone. You never know who might know somebody who knows somebody who might need someone like you. Just one personal connection can carry more weight with an employer than any CV you’d care to write.
Take advantage of any groups or connections you might have- religious groups, civic organizations, social clubs, whatever. The more eyes and ears you have looking out for you in the job market, the better- even more so if one of them can slip your resume to the top of the pile on someone’s desk.

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That dude you met at the coffee shop with the pizza-baking brother? CALL HIM.

Good luck to all you job-seekers out there. I’ll advise you all of my progress as well- truly I am a stranger in a strange land, but I’m slowly grokking the area.

Stay Classy,

P.S.- Bonus points to everyone that got that last bit.