“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.

Continue reading

Keep On Truckin’- Portland’s Portable Food Scene

Good morning, friends and neighbors.

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.

Movie poster for

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.

Continue reading

The Role of Discomfort in Development

 

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

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.

It’s cool. I’ll figure it out. It’s fine.

Animated GIF of the cartoon

“Totally fine… I’ve got this. I’ve got this…”

At least I’m learning some interesting tricks…”

Continue reading

F***ing Up With Style

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

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 second is “VICTORY!” This is my “trophy” wall, so to speak. It’s got the menu where I was first called “Chef Matt Strenger” over the desserts I served. It’s got my tags from runs I’ve done, and the program from my graduation from culinary school.

The third is “Inspiration.” Mostly it’s poems I like- especially “Invictus” by William E. Henley, and “Air and light and time and space” by Charles Bukowski (as much of an admonishment to me as anything- I think ALL creative-types should have that up in their workspace somewhere.) There’s a couple things about Tony on there too, of course.

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.

Continue reading

A Little Fable About Cars, Rules, and Customer “Service”

Good evening friends and neighbors!

Today’s blog isn’t directly about baking or cooking. It’s not even especially motivational, though you absolutely can- and maybe should consider it so.

Instead, I’m going to tell you a true story- true, because otherwise I might call it a fable- about “the rules.” It’s a story about how I wound up on the business end of them, got out of a tight spot because a sympathetic voice and I decided to bend them, and why knowing when to break the rules can be the best thing you learn in life.

It starts with my 2007 Jeep Cherokee Laredo, and ends with an accident.

Here we go.

 

Picture

The Jeep, 2011

Continue reading

Picking a Finish Line- Setting Goals

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

When you’re down as low as you can go, there’s nowhere else to go but up, right?

It’s not that going “up” is never possible EXCEPT when you’re face-down in a gutter- it just becomes the best of very few other options, and less distraction… or that your survival depends on your ability NOT to be distracted.

In the last few months, I went to some REALLY low places in my mind. Not “rock bottom” in any real sense- I still had a home, I still had food, my wife still loves me- but in my mind, none of that made a lick of difference. In some ways, it even made it worse- “Who am I to deserve all this? I’m an idiot, and I’ll lose it all eventually.”
“Why did I get out of bed today?”
“I’m disappointed in myself for going to work.”
“When did I give up dreaming? When did I stop wanting more?”

A job change, a slight mental break, and a new routine later, things are thankfully starting to balance out. My new job has me working evenings, so that means my mornings- and my best energies- can be spent on doing what makes me happy: exercising, reading, cuddling Miss Cleo, and of course, writing.

It’s a new kind of routine, so now is as good a time as any for me to start thinking again-

I feel more free than I used too… so what am I going to do with it?”

Sign post in tropical background, naming world cities

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

It’s kind of weird for me to actually be writing about goals or goalsetting simply because, while I’ve absolutely HAD goals before… I never really thought of them as “goals,” or at least not structured as such.

I always saw them as “objectives,” or “missions,” or some other semantic dodge to make it feel less “self-help-bookish” and more “I’m doing this thing because I want to do it-”

LOSING WEIGHT
Goal:
 Get down to 165 lbs, what I was told is the heaviest I could be in the “healthy range” I could be.
What I Told Myself:  “Lose weight because otherwise you’ll die fat, sad, and in pain. 165 lbs sounds about right.”

BECOMING A CHEF
Goal: Graduate culinary school, find a job baking, and eventually become a pastry chef.
What I Told Myself:  “I like baking. This is what I’d have to do to make that my job.” *cue years of hard work, saying “yes” or “no” as felt appropriate, and letting things happen.*

WRITING
Goal: Write a blog, make it popular, and make it a career.
What I Told Myself: “I like writing, and people seem to like to read what I write. I should do that more often. Once a week sounds good… maybe more later.”

 Obviously, there was a little more to it than that- finding resources for how to lose weight, for example. Working hard in my vocations, and keep my eye open for opportunities. I never really laid anything out on PAPER though, or really thought “How will this help achieve ___ ends?” I can only imagine what it would be like if I had any kind of plan worked out.

That said, it’s not like I NEVER thought about what I wanted in life or how to get it.

Portrait of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”- General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Ever since I first found a quote by him in comic form on ZenPencils.com, I’ve been a pretty big fan of writer, traveler, and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau. His website, “The Art of Non-Conformity” and his manifesto “A Brief Guide to World Domination” (which you can download for free through that link) got me thinking very hard about what kind of life I actually wanted to live, and how I wanted to live it. I strongly recommend everyone reading the whole thing, but I’ll sum it up with three big points Chris makes:

1. You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.

 

2. What can you offer the world that no one else can?

Ultimately, doing what you want is just fine. Living your life and accomplish your goals is great- but eventually, it’ll feel empty. You can rule the world- but that means you need to think about the world, and what you can give back.

In the manifesto, Guillebeau also linked to an interesting Goals Brainstorming exercise and workbook by Paul Myers, also available for free. It’s a pretty extensive exercise, and if you sit down and just decide to knock it out, it’ll probably take you a couple hours to do completely.

It’s absolutely worth the time though- consider it an investment in yourself. When was the last time you did that?
The beauty of the exercise is that it asks you first to visualize what your ideal life would be like- in gratuitous detail. Do you work? Doing what? Where do you live? How do you spend your day? What do you do with your downtime? And so on and so on…

Then it makes you write down what you have going for you now– and not just material and financial matters, though those are absolutely included. It makes you write down all of your skills and interests- ANYTHING you have knowledge in. All the people that you know, what they do, and if they can help you (seriously, I’d forgotten how many friends I actually have until I did this exercise.) Then with all of this in mind, you pull apart the elements of what you want:

What do you actually NEED to make this happen?
What steps do you need to take?
Is this something you actually want? Or is it a symbol of something else?

The last time I sat down and did it, I was living in New Jersey, burning myself out in the medical field and culinary school. I was miserable in life, and felt rudderless.

After the exercise, I made a few VERY strong insights about myself:
1. I already had everything I needed to do what I wanted.
2. I had people around that would help me if I needed it.
3. I needed to start making MYSELF more of a priority than I had.

Soon after, I decided to start up the original Black Hat Bakery. I started to lose weight, get healthier, and save money.

Seriously, give this a shot. You’re worth it.
While you’re at it, I strongly recommend Chris’s books as well:

The $100 Startup : This is the first book of his I picked up, shortly before being fired for the first time. It inspired me to relaunch as The Black Hat Baker here in Portland, and to try actually making a living out of this crazy thing I love.

Born For This:  Even if entrepreneurship isn’t for you (and it’s not for everyone!) that’s no reason you can’t have a life you love AND work for someone else. This book describes how you can mold your life and work to be something that excites you, rather than exhausts you.

Side Hustle- From Idea to Income in 27 Days: His most recent book, and one I’m currently reading. Because there’s nothing wrong with figuring out how to earn a little scratch on the side.

That’s all from me for now- I’ve got a worksheet to do, a beer to drink, and some emails to write.

What do you think? Are you gonna give this a try?
What kind of goals do you want to reach?

Stay Classy,