General Notes

Since we were just discussing “Getting to Know the General,”  I would like to elaborate on the historical setting of this book, the political and militant tension between the United States and Panama in reaching a new treaty regarding the ownership and operation of the Panama Canal.

This was a highly controversial topic for both countries.  America was stoic in wanting to keep control of the canal- they built it, paid for it, engineered it, and reaped the monetary benefits from it.  Surrounding the Canal, an American colony was established.  It was affluent and run basically separate from the rest of Panama, with its own schools, government, culture, and economy.

America had all the benefits from the current deal they had with Panama- one, of course, built on exploitation.  The original document regarding the conception and construction of the canal was signed in 1903 by the United States Secretary of State and a French diplomat who had been in power for 2 weeks as the Panamanian representative.  In addition to later selling his shares to the US, this leader never returned to the country after signing the treaty.  So yeah, basically Panama got played.

The Panamanians would welcome a surgical scar running down the country that benefited the global market if, of course, they could profit from it. Americans living in the canal zone were affluent and cut off from the rest of Panama.  Everyone outside of the canal zone was very poor.  The Panamanians peeking into this life saw the injustice, they saw how unfair and cruel the situation was.  Panamanians would rather sabotage the canal (which was relatively easy to do since once drained, the canal would take 3 years to fill back up again) than to concede ownership of this new found industry.

So 74 years since the original treaty, plus 23 more years until the new treaty was finalized, neither side was happy.   Each side felt like they gave up too much.  There was a backlash on both sides.  Americans thought Carter had given away a US asset, plus the US citizens living in Panama had to disrupt their lives by moving out and back to the mainland.  Everyone is Panama was upset, both the rich and the poor. The Panamanian’s continued to be a puppet for the US since they had to reorganize their government to appease the US.

Greene’s story begins in winter 1976, the year before the notorious treaty was signed, when he meets General Torrijos for the first time.  Over the span of 4 years, Greene unravels the story of the General, the Panamanian leader with the most at stake.  He uncovers Torrijos’ philosophy and political tactics leading up to the treaty, in his relationship with the citizens of Panama, and the implications of the deal until his mysterious death in 1981 in a plane crash.  There is direct evidence that the US had previous assassination attempts against him.  That information is from Wikipedia, but according to Torrijos and his trusted friend, many people wanted him dead.

This book is a fascinating insight into a side of the story that is often not told.  Greene opens the reader’s eyes to the struggle of the poor country and the man who was the representative of the small, impoverished country with a lot to lose.

PS- Let’s all take a moment and appreciate the courage of Jimmy Carter to help reach an agreement with Panama.  Nobody in the US wanted to give the rights to this small, poor, powerless country.  He did it because “it was the right thing to do.”  He was very unpopular for this and was not reelected probably because of this. Not all presidents have such a moral compass.  Reagan, his predecessor, tried to undo the treaty by preaching we built it, we paid for it, it’s ours.


Times, They Change

I am reading an old copy of Graham Greene’s “Getting to Know the General.”  Unlike most of Greene’s work as a storyteller, this is a biography about a certain Osmar Torrijos, a Panamanian leader during the time of negotiating the ownership of the Panama Canal with the United States.

This copy of “Getting to Know the General” is raggedy, it feels as if is going to fall apart in my hands.  I am afraid to open it too wide for fear that the pages are going to fall from the binding like oak leaves in autumn.  The front cover looks like it had a fierce battle with a pair of scissors, gingerly hanging onto the book’s spine.  The once white pages have been replaced with the familiar yellow-brown fade along the outside edges. It smells properly just how an old book should smell.

Thumbing through the book, I find some additions from the publisher that make the copy seem ancient.  In the first pages of the book, there is a line stating that the publisher offers bulk discounts for “sales promotions, premiums, or fundraising.”  For details, you write a letter to the Vice President of Special Markets in New York, New York. No telephone number is given, just an address.

The last 4 pages of this book are mail order forms to buy new books.  There is a page for Graham Greene, 2 other related authors, and page of books appealing to the subject matter of “Getting to Know the General” labeled “Presidents, Primates & Pundits.”  You check the boxes next to the books you want, and along with the price listed next to each book, you add 75 cents per order for postage.  Write your check for the calculated amount, and mail the order to New York.  If the order is over 10 dollars, you can fill in your credit card information.  Expect delivery in 6 weeks.

I thought that I had stumbled on a time portal.  I thought that with this book I was glancing far back in time, a time before I was even conceptualized, a time when maybe my mother was a small child.  As it turns out, this copy was just as young as me.

The year this book was printed was 1984 and I was 1 year old.  “Computer” was a word that did not exist yet.

What is available to me right now is an onslaught of information: Wikipedia summary of the book and life details of the author, detailed information about every book he had ever written and recommended books.  I can readily find email addresses, telephone number, and directions (which also could include flight information and hotel rates), hours of operation, and current staff members of the publisher.

Now I can download books by this author (not Getting to Know General, yet) directly to my kindle (it’s on my nightstand next to my bed) in under 6 seconds.

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.

The Real Reason Restaurants Fail

Everyone is talking about it.  Some people are truly concerned about the future industry. Everyone has their own opinions about why.  The real scoop, though, has not really been discussed.  It’s something that people in the industry know, but don’t want to talk about.

Because they are too scared.  They are too scared to be the first ones to really try it.  They are too afraid to break free from the dynasty model of relying on free labor and tipping.  It’s an archaic system, and its time to be reformatted.

Chicago is in the midst of a restaurant closing circus.  Every week there is a full on list of places that are donezo.  It has infected every type of spot- from that anniversary dinner at a 3 Michelin starred famous restaurant, down to your favorite local watering hole, your spot, your gem of a place where you feel cozy, protected, fed, watered, and loved.

There are many opinions which have been given:

*Too many options! That’s a bit ironic now isn’t it?

*Bad location! It’s upstairs or something?

*Social Media! People just like to look at pictures, they don’t actually eat.

*Rising Rent! On Randolph row?  Well yeah, it’s like the MOST popular spot in town.

*Cost of Opening!  Yes, it takes a very long time to get the damn thing open.

*People not eating out enough! I know plenty of people who have no idea how to cook at all.  How do you think they are surviving?

*Too Expensive!  This is true, sorta.  It’s not really, people are deceived about how much something is going to cost, so they become hesitant.  People like the familiar, they like to know what to expect.

It is true that it all boils down to money, but it’s not the monetary reason that people are blaming.  It’s as simple as you can’t have a great restaurant without great cooks. You need a responsible chef and a small army of skilled cooks.  It’s a simple formula, but it is one that does not exist anymore.

To state point blank, nobody wants to cook for a living.  It’s hard, it’s demeaning, and it does not pay anything.  Note, it’s not that you don’t make a lot of money cooking, or even enough, you don’t make any.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  The cook should not feel cheated, the customer should not feel swindled, the restaurant should not feel poor.

Money Unaccounted for in the Operational Costing

The problem is with the business model of restaurants.  You have set prices on the menu, but when the bill comes the customer must add an additional 20% to pay for service.  First of all, this does not make sense.  Why pay for service at a sit-down restaurant?  It’s not like its an option to walk up to the window, it’s not like its an option not to tip.  So why are we playing this game?  When the customer tips the server, this money simply walks out the doors.  It is not cycled through the business, it’s just written off as a form of payment for staff.  20% minimum is a lot of money to just sigh away.

Unfair because of the Percentage Skew based on hours worked and responsibility

20% of the bill is a large amount to pay for only one cog in the wheel mainly because this is far greater than anyone else in the entire machine.

A server working for 5 hours makes up for 4 times more than a cook working for 10 hours (in some cases 12+ hours).   It is an unfair distribution of wealth.  Even management does not make the amount that the servers make.

Servers, however, feel slighted when business is slow because they are not fairly compensated for their downtime.

The restaurant needs to staff and budget accordingly, and have the real prices built into the menu

The Customer Want to Know the Cost Beforehand.

People want to know what to expect to pay so that after its all said and done, they don’t feel slighted.  If you are prepared to spend $100 dollars, that’s all well and good.  But if a person spends slightly more, say $125 then they have remorse from overspending.  This makes them not want to return.  It’s not about the actual dollar amount, it’s about expectation.  Set prices would change this.

Everyone feels like a sucker

Customers feel cheated, the cooks are angry, the managers are too tired to care.  This is the current model and it is clearly not working.  You don’t need to take my word for it, just look around.

It is about having repeat customers,  and it is about having steady employees.



Philosphy Statement

I think that one of the problems with the restaurant industry starts at home.  People have lost the admiration of the chef-driven food and the glamour of dining out because they lost to the knowledge of cooking themselves.

People have become numb to the talents of chef’s and the potential of food itself because of our extreme lack of connection with food.  It starts with a reliance on packaged food, it ends with not knowing how to cut an onion properly.

If we can get people excited about cooking again, we can get the people excited about what the true talents of the curious chef.

Just a Step to Side

Why am I not afraid of self-employment when really I should be?  Many people have tried, and most of those people fail.  I might too.  There is a good chance that I will fail in the quest for being my own boss and generating an income.

I am not afraid because if I fail, I don’t have too far to fall.  This is one of the perks of investing in a career that makes very little money.  The risks are lowered because I don’t have a large financial expectation from the get-go.  That means that if it takes 5 years to fully develop the business, I won’t be in dark in the lean beginning.

Just because I haven’t made money cooking, does not mean that there is no money in it.


Every single day, I get a valentine from GrubHub. Every day, without me ever replying or even opening a metaphorical window with a simple click, GrubHub send me a love letter via electronic mail.  So many unread and unanswered letters sit in my mailbox, gathering dust.

I don’t read them, I never have.

This unwavering dedication of getting my attention is something I have never experienced until advertising got a hold of me through electronic means. My mailbox at home has never gotten this much attention.  Just a glance is all GrubHub wants. Just a reminder like hey, I’m here and waiting for you.

But this is not the way to my heart.  It is true, that food is the way to the heart.  But even with the promise of someone cooking for me, delivering it right into my hands, having no cleanup, the ability to get virtually anything under the sun, I repeatedly shut it down.

I am hoping the GrubHub will take the subtle hint, but there is worried part of me that thinks this will go on for a long time.  Can you get a restraining order against a website?  How do you break up with a machine?  How do you follow a harassment suit against automated messages?

Although I am a terrible client, GrubHub does not care.  I know that tomorrow, and the next day, and forever on, GrubHub will never forget me.

I will never give my heart to you, Grub Hub. I have given my heart to a refrigerator full of fresh produce, marinating meat, stocked high with leftovers, and crammed full of bubblers.


Pigeon #Hole

I am glad that we are talking about sexual oppression, but it is beginning to be a media obsession that is pigeonholing the larger issues of gender inequality.

Focusing singularly on this one aspect of female oppression is making the overall issue of gender inequality virtually unaddressed.   It is about respect, and I don’t want to see the same argument being spun in the mud, losing traction against even the greater mission of making all people equal.  Yes, I would like to start with women’s equality- that would afford me with a higher quality of life.  I would have more money in my pocket a long time ago, my career would not have been so stagnant, my apartment and clothes would be nicer, I would have a car, my life would have been easier.

But so many people feel this way.  We can say without a doubt that racism is extremely prevalent in this country.  The #metoo movement is about people telling their story, but inequality between men and women runs way deeper than this one terrible spin-off.  The inequality issue is about not having the same opportunities in jobs, in politics, in finance, in education, in visibility as the male counterpart.  Sexual oppression is one terrible side effect of a historical patriarchal system.

The movement needs to evolve into an uplifting and empowerment movement of people who are systematically abused, one the encompasses both gender and race.  The movement needs to open its pledge beyond this one aspect if it is going to help end discrimination.