The Portland Experience

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

My day off yesterday started early- I finally found myself a therapist, and the sessions have been really productive so far. There’s a lot to be said for starting the morning by immediately doing something good for yourself.

I got to crash out at a cafe for a little bit, get some more words down on the Mentorship book, and saw some old friends.

The author's ipad and folding keyboard next to a seemingly empty coffee cup.

With most of the business of the day done, I decided I wanted to treat myself to dinner, and a walk in the rain. Come along with me.

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Things Fall Apart- What to Do When Your Student Quits

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

Jay was a troubled kid. He was eager to please and seemed interested in the work. That’s what got my boss to hire him on to be my new assistant. He’d been a food runner and dishwasher since his teens, but never really had a cooking position. As far as baking went, “Well, sometimes I used to help my folks.”

He’d had some trouble with the law, and his living situation was not the best, but he didn’t like bringing that up at work. Jay was there to work, to learn, and to get the job done. I took him on, taught him as much as I could, and gave him all the support possible.

Within a month, I was looking for another assistant.

It just doesn’t always work out.

Photo by David McEachan from Pexels
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New Creations, Old Ideas, and Older Demons- 2019 Wrap-up

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

It’s a good night for a scotch.

I’m in the “office” corner of my house- a corner that has gotten messier in recent memory. I’ll do some tidying after I finish writing this, I promise- right now, its staring me in the face, wondering how long I’m going to let those piles of books and random CDs just sit there, and if I’ll ever get rid of those old boxes of business cards and just buy new, correct ones that don’t have expired business names or abandoned web addresses on them.

In the other room, my wife and cat are watching a review video on YouTube. The single lamp in the room- besides our holiday decor- paints everything a pale gold as Em listens the review. It’s almost white noise as she boops at an iPhone game.

I’ve spent the evening relaxing, knitting, reading library books, and buying up Chanukah socks for my friends. Now it’s time to sip some scotch, and write my last blog post of 2019.

Just about a year ago…
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Snapshots of the Bakeshop III- The Night Shift

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The last time I wrote a “Snapshots,” I was working the morning bake shift. Since then, I’ve taken over the completely opposite end of the day- evening pastry prep.

I’ve gone from managing the oven and getting the bakery off to a good start each day to watching it slowly empty out, till I shut everything down as the last man left.

If you’re wondering what a bakery looks like as the day dies down, here we go.

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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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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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“It’ll Be Fine”- The Top 10 Worst Excuses Used in Kitchens Today

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

Even as affairs in American kitchens are slowly changing from the bad old days, one aspect of the Kitchen Life still holds up:

The professional kitchen is a meritocracy.

You either can do the job, or you can be TAUGHT to do the job, or you can’t. Doesn’t matter where you went to school, who you know, how many cookbooks you have.

You can either show up, on time, in the right state of mind, and do the job like you said you could… or you can’t.

That said, the space between arrival and the last two week of a position can be… colorful, to say the least.

Close up of a man in nice boots who just stepped in gum.

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