Sunday, August 7, 2011
Most of us have idols when we are young, the ones we devotedly and blindly try to emulate, first it's the super heroes; how many "flying attempt" accidents do you recall from your childhood? (even tough mom kept telling you nobody can fly). Then it was the rock or pop stars who made us dress like a crack addict with insane amounts of eye liner and a hair that looked like he/she gave a blow job to an electric socket (but now we pray all evidence is burned and unattainable). Later in life, when paths were chosen (or re-directed) we still have those "super heroes" to give us a sense that nothing is beyond our reach.
For us cooks, that's Ferran Adria.
El Bulli became Mecca for the truly determined cook and mad food scientist out there. It was a breathing, moving and never ending fountain of innovation and creativity.
The Adria, having ideas about food (and incredibly precise execution) way WAY ahead of our time, were at times crucified by the media and what I like to call a bunch of purist, narrow minded little biatches. It is always easy to criticize and destroy what your mind is too dumb to comprehend. Don't get me wrong, I understand that thanks to El Bulli we have a ton of foam-maniacs and arrogant smart asses to deal with, but hey! that is not the Adria brother's fault.
Passion for food was always a driving force in that kitchen, you can see it in the way the cooks move, in the way the plates look, and (so the lucky ones say) the way everything tasted.
I'm a sucker for creativity, and they pushed its boundaries every day with every course. It was like my mom finally told me to jump of the window, because flying was finally possible.
I have strong opinions against chemicals in food, that is no secret (but i mostly mean modifying tomatoes with spider genes for instance), and I have to admit to several failed experiments in my own kitchen (yes even I tried to spherificate things), also God knows I freaking hate Marcel's obsession with ill prepared-and-oh-so-pointless foams (sadly that's all we remember him for anyway).
In order to get a glimpse of what this restaurant really is/was and always will be, I strongly recommend you to watch both No Reservations episodes on El Bulli, although the first one is more like a documentary, but you get my point.
Last Monday's episode was an extremely well put together and insightful depiction of the mind of Ferran Adria, his brother Albert, and what they have been doing all along. (Not because I am a fan of the show, but because I think it was great.)
This was the place where elite cooks of the world would go and hustle like in no other kitchen, this was the place that showed them the path to greatness. As an impressionable young chef I was dying to go there, but it was not meant to be, maybe life has something different in store for my own quest for greatness, or maybe I should have even tried to go and saved money for the trip, but what can I do now?
To get a glimpse into the "madness" of Adria's genius was an outburst of inspiration, I (and I say this with the most humbleness possible) realized I am not "mad" myself, yes I might be obsessed with food and what it does to us, but I am not alone in the world, there's a titan of the industry who has pretty much dedicated his life to the possibilities and potential of food.
Some say it's the end of an era, I don't think so and it's a cliche but heck, who cares, I think it's the beginning of an even more exciting one. El Bulli is set to reopen as a foundation dedicated to culinary research, development and creativity. Blueprints for the new center were actually shown in the No Reservations episode, and it looks amazing.
Maybe my research will pay off and land me a spot there... perhaps I should try this time.
In short, the culinary world may mourn the closing of the greatest restaurant of our time , but will rejoice in the findings and contributions of what's ahead.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
I had the opportunity to have a blast with most of the guys, and to dance like I haven't dance since I was 15 for the official going away party. I had a blast, the perfect start to the summer vacation I so desperately need.
Service for the last time was a blend of withdrawal and joy, I tried to treat that Friday night just like any other Friday night, but I was unsuccessful. I was still riding the wave of excitement of having made staff meal earlier that day (the first time a pastry person made staff ever). The meal was simple: sausage, rice (flavored with ancho and pasilla peppers) pico de gallo, and tortillas. I was so concerned about making an awesome staff...I wanted to show these people how much I care, how much they really mean to me, but as usual and like in any other restaurant kitchen, the waiters (or piranhas as anybody else would call them) annihilated whatever was on their path, causing some other poor, less agile bastard to ensure a much smaller portion.
Overall the meal was well received, so I'm happy I did it.
I slept almost 2 days straight afterwards, the combined stress of finals plus work was dragging for weeks. I was done.
There were blurry memories of chilling via a glass of wine and a cigarette after insanely long and busy days plus the vague recollection of having wrapped the maitre d's corvette with Saran wrap . This was an awesome ride.
It's been over a week since that last day, and it took that long for it to sink in, for me to stop thinking about work, for me to stop wondering if I'll have to come in, for me to realize I decided to and actually moved on.
I came into this kitchen with the intention of learning as much as I could while holding nothing back, I came with the intention of not only being myself but also of leaving that cold hearted bitch persona behind. I thought it was my way of saying "I no longer care' but instead I left caring even more than I did before.
It was a year in pastry like I have planned I would do, but the lessons and the memories I have will be with me for so much longer than that. This place, namely its people moved me in ways that are too difficult to explain. I became more aware of the stories and the people that make a team, and I was able to see passion for the trade and for the food, and for the team (what in football [soccer] people describe as 'love for the shirt") I've made friendships I hope I will have for life , and most importantly I learned that I am capable and suitable for this job.
I am no longer afraid of busy nights: 900 people? bring it on, I've done it. And I had fun while at it! That's the beauty of a great crew, no matter how hard it gets you pull trough, you have a drink and you have fun.
I miss the jokes and the singing that went down behind closed doors (the restaurant doors that is), I miss the camaraderie, the group therapy, and the pressure. All the things that make a kitchen feel like home, and this particular kitchen actually felt like home.
What will happen next still remains uncertain, but the "how it all began" story will forever remain in my heart and in my memory. Bice's kitchen might not have been my first or second, it might not be where I did my stage, but it was were I've realized just how much I can handle and it made me lose the fear to difficulties. I've grown so much over the course of this year, and I now know that's just the begging. I've lost my fears and I thank everybody who poked me and pushed me along the way to get to this point.
Saying goodbye is always hard but is not like I can't show my face there no more!
What happens next who knows , I will submerge myself in research, books and essay writing, but we all know where my soul belongs. The time to open my very own bad credit time bomb (a.k.a. first restaurant) is imminent, after I graduate of course. And the confidence to do so comes from hanging out, and working with incredibly passionate people who (indeed bitch a lot) through sexual innuendo, complaints, arguing, a few fights, and locking me in the walk in, kept my flame alive, and for that I am immensely grateful.
Mingia bro, I'm so cheesy.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
But if you work in a kitchen...it's a different story, it's a "holy fuck grand prix is ruining me" type of feeling. The crew has been working extremely long hours the past week, and will only get crazier this one, with a massive party of 1000 (yes one thousand) people on Saturday night alone. The fridge is packed to the point getting anything in or out is a task not suitable for the faint of heart (and the not so flexible, there's lots of bending and so on).
The sheer amount of prep required to pull this one off is mind blowing, 10 cases of octopus to be cleaned and cooked, masters of shrimp also to be cleaned, 10 plus litters of vinaigrette (of each type) and that's pretty much running out by today.
The morale is not particularly high, exhaustion is to blame in part, but the sense of this being the last summer we are together is a big factor. I'm leaving on the 17, that's my official last day, and so is Allen's, Kim is leaving 2 days after, and more are set to new paths in the following weeks. It's sad of course, like when a family member moves away for college, or to a different city because they finally got that dream job. We are a tight bunch, we are each other pillar when we are in the shits and emotionally unstable, we eat together (at times sitting outside looking like a flock of birds sitting on the stairs) and for crying out loud, we get freaking lap dances together.
We know how to push each other's buttons and make a joke out of it, even though we might lose our cool for a split second, we laugh at our own downfalls.
This week will be the biggest bitch in the history of...well, this year since it's an annual event, we will be tired, overworked, in a bad mood, burned, cut, injured, bruised and extremely volatile, but we will (as we always do) push trough.
I've been lucky enough to not be doing double shifts, unlike many (if not the majority of the kitchen) and I'm so tired I passed out on my desk trying to write this post last night. I cannot even begin to understand how tired the guys must feel, and I just wish (as the good mother hen I tend to be at times) that there was something I could do to raise their spirits.
My idea so far has been taking care of staff meal on my last day, the plan so far is to make chorizo and grill it with some leek, poblano peppers and more delicious accompaniments, and just let them go taco happy. Hopefully that will be done.
This week from hell is just beginning, but by Sunday it will be all gone, and we'll have brand new stories of semi naked promo models going wild and what not, and the pride that comes with saying "yeah we did 1000 people Saturday night, bring on the next year".
For now all I can say is that is getting harder and harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but is not because we are behind, is just we are so tired our eyes are slightly less open. And like we all know, it is always darkest before daylight. Keep pushing.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I can't believe my last post was in September last year! I won't promise the usual "I'll write more" because I was completely unable of doing so for the past 8 months; I can just say how much I dislike the fact that my little project has been neglected, and my apologies to my readers, although I am aware by now the number must be limited to a handful, still I appreciate the loyalty.
I'll do my best attempt to summarize what I've been upto, and try to actually put down my ideas for the future...they have been a blur of stoned words that I haven't managed to settle.
School for the most part was rewarding... but in retrospect that is a fairly easy statement, while I was spending numerous sleepless nights, trying to make sense of what a bunch of racist and ethnocentric self proclaimed anthropologists wrote and then writing...have some coffee...write more...oh wait is it morning now? write some more, it was not. It has been by far the most difficult school year I've encountered so far, and you know what? It will only get worse/better (depends on how you look at it).
I've proven to myself I do know a lot about food and culture, in fact a class named exactly like that was my favorite (and best grade), even though it was frustrating at times because I had assumed everyone knew how important food is in a culture, which turned out to not be the case.
I ended up in a clinic with a nervous breakdown. It seems I can handle dinner service for 400 people, but I was ill prepared for University level final exams plus a job.
The winter semester was better, I worked less days and I treated school like a prep day, with my master prep list, scheduling and all. It pays off to be obsessive that way.
This 8 months have taken such a toll on my mental health, imagine hearing your own voice in your head reciting back everything you have read so far, not knowing what day you live in, because after so many nights up in front of the computer from day light to the next , you forget what day of the week it is.
The most difficult part was to get back into the 'groove' after being away from the academic world, and I guess it resembled my fear of coming back on the line after being away for a long time, but the line is a more mechanical process, you need to get your speed back, you need to get your timing back, and you are not alone if you get in the weeds. In school, you are on your own, you need to think differently, you need to write differently (I got shit because my essays are not 'formal enough') and if you are in the shits...like I was for most part of the first semester, you are on your own.
I do not regret choosing this path, in fact I am excited because I start the research stage in September, what it is on you ask? Well I have no idea yet! I do...but is not properly formulated to this day, hopefully I will clear that monumental doubt pronto.
I regret being away from the kitchen, even though I had a couple of shifts a week, service sort of helped me keep my cool, who would have thought?
Life has been extremely complicated as well, I moved twice in less than 3 months, and I'm still living between boxes. I am no longer looking forward to the craziest, busiest nights of the year, with 4 turns and people by the hundreds. I am tired. Mentally, emotionally, physically tired. All I can think of is how much I'd like to sleep for 3 days straight, and how much I want silence.
I do but at the same time I don't want to start planning how this coming academic year will flow, I could start the readings, start preparing....but fuck who am I kidding? I am completely burned out.
I gave my notice (way in advance) at work, maybe because I knew that if I didn't do it asap I would not have done it. It is hard to leave when you love the crew so much... I get annoyed about my schedule and yes, the pay ain't great and there is a lot of proprietor bullshit to deal with, but I will most definitely miss the guys (and gals), technically I have less than 2 months left there, what will happen next is both exciting and insanely scary: I'm going away.
I haven't seen my father in over 12 years, for circumstances that I am yet to fully understand and many others beyond my control, but I will do it this year at least for a week. Chicago should be a cool place to visit, and I already have a list of restaurants to check out...I just hope my dad won't be thrown off by the prices, I know he'll eat anything once, so I'm not concerned about that. I just hope I can afford the "gastronomic adventure/bonding time".
After I'm done setting foot for first time on American soil, I will spend a month in Mexico. It's been 5 years since the last time, and I'm unsure of what I will find. Last visit was emotional and an eye opener, I knew then I could not come back to live there, I'm hoping this time I'll discover that even though it is not the place for me to live my life the way I want to, it is still a place for me. One cannot erase where one comes from, but I have grown incredibly distant from my home land, the political situation has made if difficult to want to come back, and I fear for my family's safety; I was mourning the Mexico I knew and sadly, I thought it was never coming back.
The purpose of this trip (besides paying a visit to my family) is to collect as much information about Mexico's culinary traditions. I will visit Oaxaca's central region, which I believe has better kept its pre-hispanic culinary traditions. I will also document fruits, vegetables and herbs that are disappearing in an attempt to collect as much information as I can, so that they don't get sucked into oblivion. And most importantly, I am going to collect as many recipes as I possibly can, and bring them back to Canada, so people finally know what Mexican food is all about, and why Mexican food was the first cuisine in the world to be named intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. Yes that means I am finally working towards opening my own place, just after graduation...or maybe not, that has not been decided yet.
I'm the kind of person who won't stand 'not feeling it' for too long, and the way I'm living now I cannot stand. I am ready for change, a vacation...and why not? an investor. I am sick of hearing the "it will get better some day" I'm going to take matters in my own hands, fuck the hierarchical kitchen life, fuck the low pay, fuck the books...at least for now I need some time for myself.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Even though my decision to go back to school was due to the never ending bullshit outbursts, the lack of respect and occasional sexual harassment that I endured since I set foot in a professional kitchen for the first time, it is no longer the case.
The only kitchen I had fallen in love with before lasted very little, it was a heartbreak and I thought the chances of finding "the" kitchen were slim.
During that time I felt as the bitter single woman looking for Miss. right, being jealous of my friends who found the one already and had a happy relationship, secretly hating on them and wishing they would not last.
Saying that the kitchen staff dynamics are just like a romantic relationship is an understatement, you not only spend most of your days with the brigade, you also go through the shits together and you have a beer right after, you joke around (some even fool around) and sing cheesy songs during prep to amuse yourselves; this people end up being your friends, family, and therapist.
"Maybe that was it, and it is now lost forever" I told myself many times while enduring yet more crap, with eyes and hands on the knife, counting down the hours left until the end of my shift.
I would come home, and curse the day I chose this path,I would hate myself because I knew that deep down I was still hoping the stories of happy brigades I've read and seen on TV were true.
The day I decided to "take a break" was the day I realized that perhaps I was to never set foot in a restaurant kitchen again, that the path I was choosing to take would most probably take me to a distant place, and that even though I would not dare say it out loud that place would have nothing to do with cooking.
I knew I was slowly killing the better part of myself.
Something happened one hot summer day, I had seen a job post that on paper was very promising, but I was jaded, I didn't allow myself to have any hope, I wasn't gonna get all excited and happy for getting the job either. "I'll do my best, but I will not give a shit" I reassured myself.
The summer went by too fast, the sounds of loud fraternity chants and cheering drunk students mark the beginning of frosh, announcing that the time for me to stick to my decisions has come.
Classes being a week from now, and I'll be up to my neck in projects and research papers with very little time for anything else.
This restaurant is an institution in this town, it's fancy and flashy, and the clientele ranges from rich locals, rich foreigners and the occasional celebrity. I have no complaints about the food, in fact I like it, and even though my utopic locavore nazi-tree hugging-vegetable growing-hippie views were compromised the people I work with made it worth staying and make it extremely difficult to leave.
I knew this day would come, I just didn't think I would be torn between my two worlds.
I didn't think I would be sad to leave but I must confess I am. It is not like I'm quitting my job but I will be pretty much gone, who am I kidding? one day a week at a restaurant is nothing! I won't even improve on my speed this way! But I need that day a week, I really do; I need to be constantly reminded of what I'm leaving behind in order for me to come back, I need the adrenaline of a busy night to feel alive.
Here there's no room for bullshit, there's no antagonism, there's no misogynistic crap either, in fact there are lots of women working in here (the most I've seen in a single kitchen!),
and though I've been told it hasn't always been this way, all it matters to me is that it is like this now. Of course there's always the villain...but let us not even mention that.
One could easily write a sitcom based on the personalities of this kitchen, and I mean this on the best possible way. I could stay for hours just listening to every person's stories; I got to discuss science, fish, women,men, sex, alcohol, video games over a smoke break, hell there's even a personalized yoga class upstairs once in a while!
This place will be a fundamental element of the "back in the day" stories I will share down the road, and if I ever write my memories I can assure you there will be a whole chapter on this place.
I know I sound like I'm saying goodbye to my friends of 10 years, and even though it's only been a few months, this kitchen has revived my faith on the "cuisinier people" of this town and my desire to one day run a kitchen of my own, and for that I will be forever grateful.
This men and women endure far more physical torture than I do, and they work far more hours than I do, yet they are as jovial as their tired minds and bodies allow them to.
Of course there's days where I get the "I'm fucking tired, please don't talk to me" face, but it's normal, this is a kitchen and not sesame street after all.
I gotta mention the dishwashers as well, 'cuz those guys hustle man! (and they sing a lot too).
As corny as this post sounds I mean every word, these people are awesome people, even the waiters, and it must be pointed out there's no war between front and back of the house here either (although we do get pissy when the orders are messed up, but that's the nature of the game).
Someone told me I don't need to go back to school, somebody else told me I can't retire because cooking is in my DNA; there are both right I do not need to go back to school, and it would be very simple to just go to the student services office drop out and get my money back, but this is something I chose and want to do, I can't help it I'm a bookworm too. I made a list of things to do and this is in it, and even though it would be easy to stay here and work, it would only make it harder to leave later on.
This is one of those now or never moments, and I'm sticking to my choices. I'm glad about the fact that I'm leaving because I chose to, and not because I hate it.
Perhaps there will be no open arms welcome when I return to this world of pirates, outcasts, rock stars and pyromaniacs (who also happen to be very nice, caring and fun people to be around), but before this crew came along I wasn't even considering visiting.
I just wanted to say to the Bice staff: Thank you! you guys kick ass.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I am having a cold Stella, hoping to be refreshed. I'm off today and I'm secretly happy I didn't have to be near an oven.
It's an emotional night: I landed here exactly 6 years ago, with a pre-established and carefully planned vision on what my life here was going to be (none of which exists today) leaving my loved ones, city and culture behind.
I owe this town a heck of a lot, I got the rare opportunity of wiping the slate clean in a place where no one knew me, where I could re invent myself if I wanted to do so and where there would be no mayor repercussions for my actions.
My love for food grew stronger in Montreal, I could no longer rely on my grandma's craving pleasing snacks and meals. My palate was bombarded with the flavors of places I might not even get to visit in my lifetime along with those of the places I have sworn to see before I die.
I figured out in some countries it is normal to be obsessed with food, particularly with cured meats and cheese.
I also got my heart and my soul broken in Montreal.
It is here where I decided to finally say "fuck it, I'll cook for a living" out loud, it was also here where I realized how ruthless, enraging and despot this industry and some of the people in it really are.
I became myself in Montreal. I found the love of my life in this town.
It's quite hard to explain how it feels like.
I've missed everything important back home ever since, but I've accomplished many things I never even imagined I would.
There's things I hate about this town, it is not all cotton candy nice, but what city (worth living in) is like that? I had just about enough of construction noise, and I am sick and tired on language wars and laws; but I'm actually OK with (and by now used to) that.
You can taste the world in Montreal. That is why I might take a sanity break but will always come back.
I learned what winter really is in Montreal, and it's fucking cold!
Ô Montréal tu es tellement froide,
une ourse polaire dans l'autobus
je m'inspire de pire pour m'enrichir
et je t'aime tellement que j'hallucine
I have adopted you as my hometown.
Friday, July 16, 2010
I found out that Mr. Bourdain and his publisher are having a contest, a writing contest!
The idea is this, people write an essay answering the question Why cook well?, people vote on essays, which are also read and judged by the publisher and Anthony Bourdain himself, then he picks a winner. The winning essay gets published in the next paperback edition of Medium Raw, and there's cash (which I don't think much of, after all it is for U.S. residents).
I decided to give it a try, and if because of the legal clauses I cannot be an official winner that is perfectly fine by me, just getting a chance to being read by one of my all time idols is a prize of its own.
I made a the stupid mistake of not triple checking...and 2 totally retarded spelling mistakes ended up in the submission (which cannot be modified), here's the essay (with those mistakes corrected of course) if you like it, please please go vote!!
Why cook well? Don't question it, just do it!
Por que hay que saber cocinar? (Why one must know how to cook well?) I asked my grandmother with an exasperated tone after several failed attempts to make what, according to her standards, is a proper handmade tortilla. The place was Oaxaca, in Southern Mexico and I believe I was around 9 or 10 years old. That was the day when I was promoted from human vegetable peeler to hands on-now you can use fire- little helper. I tried for what seemed to be hours and I could not make the goddamn thing, por que??? (Why) I restated, with even more frustration after yet another one of my mutant tortillas broke to tiny pieces before I could put it on the comal. What she said somewhat translates into “Because it is a way of expressing yourself and transmitting your love to your family, and to everybody else”
I later moved to a country where most of the ingredients for the food I knew where not easily available, forcing me to expand my repertoire and to improvise with what I had, the results were (for my and my roommates benefits) strikingly good.
I have always loved food, and it was no surprise I took a break from academia and went to culinary school. Once I started learning I just couldn’t stop, I wanted to know more and more; what followed in my career can easily fill enough pages for a culinary narrative of its own.
Why should we as a society learn to cook?
Because is it our duty as the reigning sovereigns of the food chain! Out of respect for that little piggy who gave its life in order to provide me (and you) with that vast array of pork finger licking deliciousness which most of us love, because we owe it to the farmer who breaks her back every day working the land she loves and respects, and because it’s cheaper and better for you.
The fact that millions of people in North America don’t know how to cook is an appalling but fixable misfortune: Think of eating a sloppy and thoughtlessly prepared dish as having dry, boring, unmelodious and unsatisfactory sex. Should we find ourselves in such regrettable situation we try our very best to exorcise the evil ghost of bad sex via candles, wine, dirty talk and more wine, or anything with semi aphrodisiac powers we manage to get our hands on. Hence we must do the same in the case of bad cookery, but let it be through tasting, experimenting and most importantly enjoying, not by only watching a certain television network; that would be like trying to learn how to make love by watching hardcore porn! In the same manner no one expects everyone to fuck like Jenna Jameson or Ron Jeremy, do not by any means expect yourself to cook like Thomas Keller, unless you, like me make your living by cooking professionally, in which case we can only aspire to do so.
Here's the link: http://bourdainmediumraw.com/essays/view/685/
You can vote once a day (hint hint), the contest ends in September, so I'm gonna be bugging the hell out of a lot of people.
Oh and also check out Nick's post: http://bourdainmediumraw.com/essays/view/723