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.
Some time back, I asked a group of professionals what movies about kitchen life got it “right,” and which ones really REALLY got it wrong.
“Waiting” and “No Reservations” were among the “don’t mention that movie in my presence” list, but there was one movie that everyone- and I mean everyone- claimed hit the nail on the head: Jon Favreau’s 2014 father/son megahit, Chef.
Whether it was the sweet story of a busy chef trying to keep a relationship with his son, that same chef bucking a demanding owner and going into business for himself, or just the gobs and GOBS of on-location foodporn, Chef struck a chord with every pro I met who’d seen it.
When my mother saw the movie for the first time, she said, “See Matt? That looks fun, and not that hard! You could do that!”
Thanks for the vote of confidence Mom, but as cool as it looks- running a food truck is NOT exactly the “easy mode” of the food world.
I get to work these days before dawn. As I walk in, the first order of business is checking the oven to make sure the settings are right.
Next, the days first load of croissants- waiting patiently in the proof box since the night before. They need to be in the oven in 30 minutes.
They aren’t ready. Small and sticky still. Crap… that’s not right.
A quick look at the control panel on the box confirms my fears. They’re gonna be late.
Right- time for Plan B. The cookies have time to go in.
Wait… that doesn’t look right. Why is the oven temperature tanking? Ugh… ok. Back on track, make up the time later.
The new wholesale management system is messed up. No one to call to check numbers for retail. Dammit… ok, just fudge the numbers. Wholesale is accounted for, I can bake more for the store later if needed.
The piping tip I need is missing. Use a similar one and change technique to compensate.
Not enough sheet pans- the other stores haven’t been sending them back. Rummage around and condense. There’s gotta be stuff to layer.
In sounds cheesy and ridiculous, but up on the wall behind my desk at home- the one I’m sitting at right now, in the shade of Miss Cleo’s cat tree- is a sectioned pegboard.
I don’t use it to organize my day- I have apps and reminders for that. Nor is it a “visionboard”- something where you tack up all the things you dream of one day making a reality. A neat idea, to be sure- but it feels a little hollow.
Instead, I have it sectioned in four. The first is called “Good Vibes.” It’s got memories of things that- duh- make me feel good. Mostly it’s reminders of cool moments in my life- the menu from my first Chaine dinner, a thank-you note from one of my patients back when I was a nurse, letters from distant friends.
The last is called “Failures.” Don’t be surprised- Stephen King used to collect all of this rejection letters from publishers. Michael Faraday used to do same thing with failed experiments, a reminder of the lesson he learned and to stay humble. It could probably have more on it- the sad thing is that most of my rejections came in the form of “form” letters… so less-than-rife with feedback.
In fact, there’s only one thing up on that board right now. I make sure it’s completely visible at all times. It’s a black-and-silver debit card- thoroughly magnetized and wiped, for a closed account, and with the thumbtack pounded right through the strip to be sure.
It reads “Black Hat Baker, LLC.”
Here’s a story about how to dream, fall short, f*** up, and work with what’s left.