Where Does the Wanderlust Come From?

Portland is enjoying a smoky Indian Summer, and it’s a situation in which I truly wouldn’t mind being caught in the rain on my way home.

I’ve ducked out of the heat in the Side Street Bar- not-quite-dive off of Belmont. I’d intended to drop copies of my books off with a local secondhand bookstore. Apparently my knack for salesmanship doesn’t extended farther than pastry, so I figured by handing a few autographed copies over bookstores I could at least get a little marketing done for the cost of the books. This is Portland, after all- we love “local” everything, including authors.

Hiding from the sun isn’t my thing, even on a sweaty Sunday. As busy as the bake shop has been, I find myself “working for the weekend” and trying to get as much low-pressure living into 48 hours as possible. Sometimes that means going afield and exploring a new part of the city- sometimes it means going down the street to a pub where no one knows me, having a couple beers, and putting down a couple words.

Sometimes peace of mind looks like mountain-top retreats and hammocks on beaches, and sometimes it a couple cold pints in a bar playing classic blues on a hot day. It’s a matter of personality and perspective really.

I used to say that I got truly restless when I lost weight and suddenly had a lot more energy. I couldn’t just crash out on the couch all day- I HAD to go out. I had to see, to do, to walk, move and find. I also used to blame it on being a fan of Anthony Bourdain, but the time line doesn’t quite jive. Tony made me want to try, talk, travel, and tell stories- but I can’t blame him for my inability to just sit at home on a dull day anymore.

Where does the urge to go out and wander around come from? From the need to feel free, and the knowledge you can.

“Master, I go hunting.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea
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Who’s In Your Corner?

Some people pick new projects to work on with care. They weigh their existing time and energy, the effectiveness of their efforts at any given moment, and choose their next task efficiently.

I, on the other hand, seem to pick my projects by going “Fuck it,” buying a new 1-subject notebook and a green pen, and burying myself in the internet.

Just because I start researching projects like that though doesn’t mean I jump in haphazardly. I’ve already learned the consequences of that. I know to try and cover all my bases, get the best insight and information I can, and of course get the guidance of pros.

The best thing about being in the food business is that when you decide you’re gonna try something out, there’s tons of people who’ve done it before you and not all of them sucked at it.

Less “magic sword,” more “how to not crash another business.”

Guides and Teachers, NOT Cheerleaders

No mistake, everyone needs a cheer squad- folks who love you, support you, and will remind you of everything you have going for you that will help you succeed- but it’s even better when you have people that you know support you but will grab you by the collar to smack some sense into you.

The ones that will call you out on cutting corners, letting things slide, and acting outside your values. They’ll point out how you are messing up, not mince words, and help you find new ways forward.

You know, mentors.

As an interesting fact, did you know that the Japanese word for teacher- 先生 (sensei) literally translates as “one who as gone before?” In other words, someone who’s done this before and knows the way.

It’s easy to imagine the best mentors as being like the favorite Wise Old Teachers of our stories and media- Gandalf, Uncle Iroh, Obi Wan Kenobi. Folks like that might exist, but most of us aren’t lucky (or plot-armored) enough for them to find us. We need to seek them out.

That alone is a challenge because there are plenty of people who might have gone before you, but not all of them were successful, or successful the same way you want to be. Part of being a student is being able to learn from everyone, but not FOLLOW everyone.

Everyone Has Something To Teach

My bakery is currently hiring for bakers and servers. After a friend of one of our employees (who left restaurants because of mistreatment, shitty conditions, and general abuse) hemmed and hawed about sending in her application, the employee asked me “Hey, do you mind if I just grab her and bring her over here to meet you? She’s stressing about her resume, her experience… everything!”

I told her she could- that it wasn’t even a real interview, she didn’t have to bring anything, and that she could tour the space, see our work and meet me. Then she could make a better decision.

The friend came by and she seemed nervous at first, but after seeing the chef just standing next to an oven quietly peeling potatoes for Shepards pie and getting a tour of the space, she sent in her application. My assistant later said “Finally! I mean, yeah, we ALL came from shit restaurant jobs- but you’re really cool to work with, I’m okay I think, and her friend is here and having a good time! This is a good place- she doesn’t need to worry so much.”

Regardless of how long I stay with my current kitchen, that fact and statement are what I’m proudest of. More than recipes, more than sales and figures, more than prestige- the fact that I ran a kitchen where my staff felt appreciated, respected, safe, and happy will stay on my resume until the day I die.

I learned to make it that way by paying attention to what I needed in their position, learning from the people who provided it- and learning from the people who didn’t. After all, “if you can’t be a glowing example, be a terrible warning.”

I’ve had bosses and been in business that made me miserable. I wanted to quit the industry all together. At one point, I wanted to end my life. I learned as much from them as I did from the better ones. Instead of “classically” learning to bring up cooks “the way I did,” I learned to do it different.

To teach, not scream.
Support, not belittle.
Offer dignity and grace, not derision.
Express my love of the craft more than my exhaustion.

As a result, my cooks WANT to push themselves. They WANT to learn more, and feel encouraged to do so rather than threatened into perfection. I wouldn’t have realized quite how to communicate and offer that if I hadn’t learned from people who didn’t, or couldn’t.

We can learn from others without choosing to emulate them. For some of our teachers, their best lessons can be “don’t be like me.”

I will forever love and miss Tony, but one of the best lessons he taught me is to not wind up in his shoes.

We can learn from everyone, but remember to be picky about who’s in your corner.

Stay Classy,

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“I Do Not Dream of Labor”- The Difference Between Labor and Industry, and What It (Should) Mean to Work

I spend way too much time on social media. If it wasn’t the best engine for reaching out to my readers and sharing what I do with a global audience, I would have wiped my accounts ages ago for the sheer amount of half-assed “hot takes” people are encouraged to belch out about everything from Sudanese economics to Dr. Seuss. It really is the dark side of the democratization of knowledge that anyone with a keyboard thinks “I have an opinion and a way to express it, therefore it is just as valid and important as any expert.”

Yes, so says the pastry chef and food writer with a blog who is about to expound on the psychology and philosophy of labor, but stick with me for a minute.

As a guy who works for a living, is trying to create a work environment that his employees can thrive in, and is having difficulty finding qualified help, I think I have some insight into the whole “no one wants to work anymore,” “quiet-quitting/working to contract” kerfuffle fiasco mass whining discussionthat has been making the rounds lately.

This quote is actually tacked up over my desk at the bakery- just in case I ever forget why I do what I do.
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Legacies- A Baker Looks At 36

“Voice” in writing is one of those things that’s easy to define but hard to describe. It’s an amalgamation of vocabulary, style, tone, cadence, and rhythm. In other words, all the things used to describe someone’s speaking voice but translated to the page in a way that it comes across through silent letters. Read enough of one person’s work and you’ll start to detect their voice in new works, even if they change the subject matter, style, or context.

Since I’ve started writing books, I’ve had several people tell me they hear my voice in every word. They may not know me in person, or not heard my voice in ages if they do. It’s always the same though- “I really love your voice. Reading your book feels like I’m listening to you talk straight to me.”

That means a lot to me because it means that I’ve created something that accurately represents me and who I am. It means I’ll have left a bit of myself behind when I die.

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“Do What You Love”- The Best Easiest Worst Hardest Advice Ever

We’ve been short-handed for a few months now, and a COVID scare has the whole cafe on a staggered schedule until everyone on staff gets a negative test. In practical terms, that means that I need to bake fresh pies for the case and the entirety of the next days wholesale in under five hours.

I’m dashing around the empty kitchen, checking three ovens and answering texts from my boss and fielding questions about the schedule from staff… until it clicks. I stop trying to do the work and do the work, the Ancient Baking Wisdom flowing for heart, to muscle, to fingers. I clock out and leave the next shift instructions about what’s available and when the wholesale will be done. I was in The Zone, and doing what I loved paid off.

That’s good, because something I loved had to.

Image of a quote written in crayon that reads "Do what you love and you'll work super fucking hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally."
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