Category: restaurants

Career Advice

My coworkers, rather my ex-coworkers, when I lost my job, their immediate heartfelt reaction was to not let this minor inconvenience get in my way of pastry domination- a catchphrase that came out of my lips multiple times on a daily basis during my reign as a Pastry Chef at two top Chicago restaurants.  Pastry domination, taking over the Chicago dining scene, being one of the best pastry chefs in the nation, making pastry relevant again, was my dream.  I worked so damn hard at pastry domination, at being successful, at making badass dishes that people loved and remembered and talked about and Instagrammed.  I was in multiple magazines, I was on television, I sold a rather large percentage of dishes, I was for a brief moment successful.

So when that unexpected ax came for my head, when my success wasn’t actually successful, I gave up the fight.

I did.  I gave up.  I don’t give up on anything.  I am a fighter, I am determined,  I don’t let anything get in the way when I have made up my mind on something.  But I did, I gave up.  I threw in the dirty towel.

I have been cooking since legally allowed to start earning money.  I didn’t have much background before that- I didn’t learn from grandma, I didn’t grow up in the kitchen under mom’s apron. But once I picked up that knife, I didn’t put it back down.  I have 19 years in food service.  I have been a part of every angle, in every corner of the industry, learning and experiencing the entire gamut of food service- fast food, catering, cafeteria, fine dining, modern casual dining, large restaurants, small restaurants, serving, busing, prep cook, line cook, pastry assistant, pastry chef, menu development, costing, management, dishwasher.  You name it, I have done it.

I thought that this would be important, I thought that this would prove to be an asset.  Everyone needs to eat, right?

Well yes, but as it turns out, people don’t really care about what they eat so much.  They care about fashion, they care about cocktails, they care about gossip, and movies, and politics, and social media.  People care about taking pictures of their food, but they don’t actually care about food.  Cooking and cleaning is a nuisance, and eating out is expensive.  So the people want something fast and cheap and easy.  This leaves me irrelevant.

Not only do I have the years of food service, I put all my eggs in one basket.  I gave up everything to pursue my dream.  I gave up making any kind of money.  I gave up having a life of my own.  I lost my friends.  I gave up holidays with my family.  I gave up on the physical self- I gained weight, lost muscle, stopped going to the gym, got veracious veins, developed asthma, had a bout of psoriasis for about 3 years, got acne, developed alcoholic tendencies, ran myself into a car on my bike which resulted in sever bruising but couldn’t take any time off work, got very sick many times but still worked my 12+ hour shifts, got burned, got cut, worked mornings, worked nights, worked the night and then the next morning, I got mugged on the way home from working a late shift, I got pink eye, I never had vacation, I could hardly even request a day off.  I had two full-time jobs at once multiple times so that I could pay rent.

I gave up my dignity- I got yelled at, verbally harassed, degraded, threatened, treated like a child.  I never got complimented, nobody ever said “good job”.  I didn’t get breaks of any sort, I ate my one meal a day standing up while still trying to get my prep work done.  I never had health insurance, (don’t even ask about dental, that’s hilarious) never had time or money for the doctor.  All for nothing.  All to be a servant.  I never made any money.  The most money I ever made a college grad would turn their nose up at, and say no way in hell would I work for so little, even at an easy job.

I thought it was worth it, but when that ax came down I felt like a damn fool.

My coworkers told me not to give up, they told me that I was very skilled, that I had something.  They looked me in the eye and said to keep going.

They still ask “where did you end up?”  I reply I am on welfare.

So I am not following their advice.  I am not following the path anymore.  I am going to carve out my clearing by giving up.

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T Minus Countdown

Ok everyone, so it’s the last official day before we officially start serving the general public with their opinions and their impressions and their reviews.  Am I nervous?  I would say terrified is more appropriate of a feeling.  Am I starting out with safe desserts?  Crowd pleasers that are tried, tested, and true?  Well, no, obviously.  That would be too easy.  There is risk involved, there is a good chance of failure.

Things not helping my anxiety:  the boys are killing it with their dishes and their execution.  These are professionals with professional tongues.  Every time I taste the food, my ego is like “what the fuck are you doing here?”  I have wanted this for a very long time, I have worked very hard to get here. I have the training, the education, the creativity, the work ethic, the vision, yet still, I feel unprepared, and no amount of work will make me feel prepared.  After a 6 month build up, and 3 weeks of work til you drop, the focus of a med school student, I still feel like a wet lost dog.

Thanks for listening everyone, see you on the hot side of the counter.

Seeing Tres

 

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Early summer’s rendition of 3 leches:

Lemon-poppy seed cake with buttermilk added to the traditional three milk soak, rhubarb preserves, fresh market strawberries, confit lemon, strawberry chantilly, violet meringue.

Light and bright like spring’s glorious rays warming up our frosty skin, delicate like those first flowers brave enough to poke out of the hard ground, melts in your mouth like fresh spun cotton candy.

Flavors mimic a sweet tart candy, just sour enough to make you crave another subtly sweet bite.  A disappearing crunch, a creamy cloud texture, a cartwheel of flavors to carry you home.

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All Together Now

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Apple allspice strudel with oatmeal streusel, bay leaf Bavarian cream, candied marcona almonds, rum cider glaze.

Apple strudel with streusel, just because it’s hard to tell the two things apart.  I thought, let’s put them both on to save confusion.  The streusel compliments the strudel in this German themed dessert.

The apples are cooked lightly in sugar, butter, and rum, tie together with 3 layers of phyllo dough brushed with allspice infused butter, a lot of butter.  The rum is represented again in the glaze, because traditionally apple strudel is made with rum soaked raisins on the inside.  I skipped the raisins and doubled up on the rum to compensate for missing dried fruit bit.  The strudel is crisp, flaky, buttery, tender, and softly sweet on the inside.

The candied almonds add texture and provide light caramel flavor for added depth.  The oatmeal streusel adds another layer of crunch, because I am texturally obsessed when it comes to composing a plate.  That, and because who can remember which is the German dessert wrapped in layers of flaky dough, and which is like a cookie without the egg?

I love bay leaf with apples in the winter, the flavors go well together like two lovers holding hands.  Bavarian cream has a mousse like texture: fluffy, creamy, and smooth.  There is just the subtlest amount of cinnamon, just to warm it up a touch.  This dish is a rare example without any added vanilla, aka the flavor of the gods.  I skipped it because it can become commonplace, an ever represented ingredient that can sometimes get lost in the medley of flavors.  I wanted the bay leaf and the apples to shine on there own, taking center stage in the mouth.

Tableside Effigy

I want to burn away the passing of the year with tableside fire.  Whatever will be served for dessert, it will be covered in flames.  I want this elemental act to physically change the dessert, to morph it into something different.  The symbolism of the effigy cleanse is translated into a better version of what was originally presented.  The dish can still subsist without the flame, just as we can subsist the way we are now, but we want to reach for something better, an updated version of ourselves.  In order to promote a better inner version, outside forces must be considered.  You influence the world and soak up what the effects have to offer.

The beginnings of the concept: fire sugar cubes over magic shell with something that will melt on the inside. I am thinking about chocolate ganache or caramel.  Cake underneath to catch the oozing filling inside the magic shell.   This dish is also preview for El Che, the new restaurant, where I really want to focus on elemental impacts in dishes.  Since the restaurant will focus largely on fire, this will be the showpiece.

Light a booze soaked marshmallow? Sugar in the raw cube?

Cherries jubilee- cherries soaked in brandy, lite that shit up.  Could be underneath like a glowing fire.

Bananas foster, think about that and rum.  The caramelized bananas are soaking in rum.

I like the idea of having a strong caramel presence to highlight the effects of high heat.  There must be chocolate, because how can you celebrate without this magical ingredient?

Food Writing Upgrade

Not to focus the full fury of Marigold’s spite directly at one particular website, but the thesis of this particular argument is one that supports a more diverse amount of websites to deal with said issue.  There really is only one in which to point the digital finger, and that lucky contestant is Yelp.

Restaurants hate Yelp because it is the opinion of the ignorant masses.  The public also is over Yelp because it does not offer well balanced advice.   Yet consumers continue to use the website because they don’t know where else to go for a quick and informed decision on where to eat dinner, lunch, a quick snack, who offers breakfast.  There are so many restaurants in the big city, and so many contingents to evaluate.  Hungry people pour over stranger’s opinions and place their fate in what to order based on this amateur information.

The fact that Yelp is so popular and so mediocre goes to show that we need to have more food writers, more restaurant critics, and more websites that can digest this giant culinary scene for the hungry and rushed masses.  There needs to be more information offered up in the reviews, such as where is good for a group, where is good for a casual encounter, where is good for a quiet date, where is good for music, where is good to dine alone.  What places focus on healthy food, what places have small portions or large plates.  Where should you take your mom?  All of these fields of inquiry are important, but instead of having an informative amount of information provided, we get endless pictures of food and chef gossip.

We need more food professionals, more writers for digestion.

Why eating in America Sucks #4

Our reliance on disposable product.

Not just disposable, but as an additional insult to our mother earth, non compostable. I know you don’t want to throw away those overcooked eggs left from brunch, but think about the environmental impact of that Styrofoam container that is your to-go bag.  I understand that you didn’t pick that vessel, but that is what exists and that is what you are going to get.

If I do take my divine leftovers, I ask for it to be wrapped in aluminum.  Straight-up.  When the server comes to the table, I say please just wrap it up like a burrito in a sheet of foil.  All restaurants have tin foil and it is the least amount of packaging available that can serve as a doggie bag.  If they won’t do that, then I don’t want the rest of my plate.

Also, to mention, I am pretty sure that you are not supposed to microwave Styrofoam because of toxic chemicals in this lightweight plastic mutant.  I understand that Styrofoam was developed and is so widely used because it is spectacular for thermal insulation, but unfortunately this hexagonal crunchy structure of  probably hydrogenated plastic is not the right answer.

Every Styrofoam container should come with a warning label, like the kind found on cigarette packages.  Warning: this product will certainly add to global warning, pose a hazard to wildlife, contains carcinogens and release some 57 chemicals with the heating of this foam that can lead to cancer.  How would that change the food service industry?

It’s not your fault portion sizes are too big, I know, but maybe try a small plate and split your American meal designed for one.

It’s not your fault, but you are part of the circus.  You didn’t interview for it, but that doesn’t matter.  Styrofoam is not acceptable under any circumstances.  This goes beyond our dependence on plastic, this includes an active role to cut down on waste that will continue to haunt the world for millennia.

Throwing away food is wrong, but so is compromising the environment because we don’t know how to responsibly store food.  Do your part, and do not support this closed cell polystyrene foam system that is so convenient for handling hot foods, being both lightweight and strong.  It is not responsible, especially since you know that this “disposable” product is not biodegradable and there is no recycling practice in place.  If you aren’t swayed by the health risked posed to mother earth, be swayed by the health risk posed to yourself.