The Heart of Life- 5 Lessons from the Kitchen to Take Anywhere

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The bakery was going through a spat of high turnover. New hires were either leaving, vanishing, or simply showing themselves not up to handling the work. It was becoming disheartening, frustrating… and more than a little exhausting. “Many hands make light work” kinda relies on there being “many hands.”

In the seven months I had been working for the bakery, I’ve had to train six people in my station as the morning baker and “ovenlord.” The work is not especially difficult- the specifics of it can be written down or memorized quickly, and the skills involved can be mastered with practice.

When our production manager started wondering aloud how they could train employees to make them better, and more quickly- I suggested they all learn my position first. While the specific knowledge and skills of the morning bake are easy to learn (I actually wrote a teaching aide/cheat sheet to help people who got lost), the most challenging thing for a new person on the shift to learn is something they can take anywhere in the kitchen- or in life: time management.

clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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“We’re Just Like a Family”- and 6 Other Red Flags When Looking for a Kitchen Job

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

As summer comes to an end, it’s “back to school” for students everywhere. Some culinary students will be starting their descent into madness/ meteoric rise to glory (same thing, really.) Others will be entering their final year- the culmination of years of struggle, sweat, screaming, and WAY too much spent on textbooks.

It will also, at last, be time to look for an externship. Most culinary schools in America don’t expect their students to have any kitchen experience before enrolling. Many European schools do- or in fact, require a letter of recommendation from a chef.

In America, then, the externship is the first time many students will enter the culinary world. It’s a part of the curriculum, and a requirement for graduation- “You paid for four years of us harrowing and lecturing you- time to show you’re worth a damn.”

Animated Gif from Creed

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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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A Healthy Dose of Self-Loathing

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors! Sorry about the. Lack of a post last week, but I wanted to take a little time off for my birthday. I’m 33 now… so I figure I’lll. Know what that’s supposed to mean next year. I try not to get too navel-gazy… the lint gets up my nose.

Besides, there’s been plenty of stuff going on to keep me occupied. I’m very good at my job (of writing AND baking, fortunately)- and my day job keeps finding ways for me to demonstrate it.

Often repeatedly. In the same manner.

Animated GIF of the President from the West Wing pounding his head on his desk

That said, no one became proficient at anything by “winning” all the time. You gotta screw up sometimes… so how do you react?

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“How Far Yet To Go”- #BourdainDay, One Year Later, and Defining a Legacy

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

Friendly warning- today’s post will be a bit heavy, and it’ll talk a bit about suicide/self harm- as well as the varied reactions to it.


June 8th, one year ago, one of my heroes died.

If you were to ask me, I don’t have too many heroes that aren’t fictional characters. Finding a person that- even indirectly- inspires one to live in emulation of them, to make certain life choices, or who’s work becomes a source of comfort and identity is pretty profound, and it happens to me rarely.

It’s one of the reasons that people who pipe in with “Jeez, they were just a celebrity, get over it/ why don’t we remember REAL heroes/ etc” piss me off. One has to wonder of these same people drive past funerals and scream “Who cares? It’s not like they cured cancer and walked on Mars!”

So when I say the death of Anthony Bourdain affected it me deeply, I’m not being hyperbolic. The fact that he died by his own hand unexpectedly doubled the tragedy, but for those who read Tony’s works and about his life, it was slightly less than surprisingly. Self-destruction and suicide were demons Tony had wrestled with before in his life- and they only ever had to win once.

One year later, in remembrance of his life and legacy, friends and fellow chefs Eric Ripert and Jose Andres established Bourdain Day on the 25th, and the Culinary Institute of America has established an Anthony Bourdain Legacy Scholarship in his memory.

One year later, all of us cooks get to sit down and think of his life and what we can learn.

Some of us, I think, spend their off-time driving past funerals.

Picture of Anthony Bourdain with quote “Perhaps wisdom, for me, means realizing how small I am, how unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

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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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