“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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Gettin’ Turnt in Comfy Pants

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

We get bombarded by stereotypes these days, and whether we buy into them or not is our own call. Age groups, races, political affiliations, and so on.

The trouble with stereotypes is that, to some degree, they all have a seed of truth.
“Jews become doctors/accountants/lawyers”, for example, because studying, analysis, debate, and intellectualism are a big part of Jewish life and faith.

Obviously, stereotypes are by definition generalizations, which are always foolish. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want me to represent them in court, or balance their books.

It’s an interesting thing, though, to be conscious of a stereotype of one’s own group and actively seek to embody it. The stereotypes can act as identifiers for the group- a way for the members to set themselves apart from others, and even revel in it.

Yes, I love lox and cream cheese bagels and matzo ball soup- #jewishastevye.

When joining a new group, though, those very actions can be interpreted negatively as being misinformed or “being a try-hard.”

Here’s a story from the kitchen of someone I know. It’s about how actively pursuing the stereotypes you think will ingratiate can actually alienate, the (hopefully) changing face of kitchen life, and how old souls spend their evenings.

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Mentorship: What The Apprentice Actually Learned

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

Mentoring has become a bit of a catchphrase recently, hasn’t it?
A buzzword, thrown around by people in suits at “networking” events where attendance and business cards are expensive and the beer is cheap.

What do you think of when you hear that word? Most people probably think of someone they met who’s a bit farther along in their field and gives them their number for when they get in a tight spot.

In the kitchen, “mentor” means something fundamentally different. It’s the difference between learning a business and learning a craft.

It’s one huge reason the culinary industry is still around- and it’s not straightforward or easy.

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A Wake Of Fire, Flour, Blood, Butter, and Ink- In Memoriam of Anthony Bourdain

Around 8 years or so ago, I was staying in my girlfriend’s apartment for the weekend. We have just finished making some chocolate cookies for after dinner. At the time, I was still working as an EMT- my work weeks were pretty grueling, and I found relaxation in cooking and baking at home. Often, I would bring in the results of my work to the Rescue Squad- they were usually very thankful. The EMT diet tended to be odd things at odd hours, washed down with way too much caffeine, and getting something home-cooked and half-decent just delivered to you was a rarity.
    While the cookies were cooling, Amanda said, You know, there’s this great show I’ve been watching recently on Travel Channel I think you’d like. This guy used to be a chef, and he just goes all over the world and talks about the food and culture and stuff. He just did a really funny episode about Prague. Hang on, I’ll pull it up.”
    I shrugged and crashed out next to her on the couch. It had a been a long day- a busy shift, and then driving the hour to get to her, I was eager to get as much sleep as possible on my days off.
    She pulled up the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”- and my world tilted.
    In the weeks to come, I would start cooking and baking at home even more, trying out different recipes with Tony joking and laughing in the background from whatever corner of the world he was in. I would pick up “Kitchen Confidential,” and a number of his other books, devouring ALL of them. All the while, I’d bring in stuff for the squad- and I’d hear them say,Matt, this is REALLY good. Why are you running on an ambulance? You should be doing this!”
    8 years and a few days ago, I was informed that I’d been accepted to culinary school.

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Keeping It Tight- The Need For Mise En Place

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

Bakers live at least 24 hours in the future. We get a reputation for being sticklers and detail-oriented, because we are somewhat literally programming ourselves for the next few days. We predict eventualities, contingencies, and even our own potential failings.

Cooking is about control- ordering and directing everything from your ingredients, to your environment, to your equipment, to yourself. Baking- being necessarily hands-off for an enormous part of a process that is itself time-consuming- requires this to the extreme. It leads to bizarre truths of kitchen- the sauce for your steak having been started earlier that morning, or that freshly-baked pie starting it’s production nearly a week ago.
To invoke that much control, attention, and planning is practically a martial art- one that cooks call “mise en place.”

Mise-en-place for a professional kitchen

Image from Wikipedia

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