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The Wilderness Years

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I know this is a food blog, but this is not a post about cooking your book, but rather about the food service industry. I finally got around to reading “Kitchen Confidential” and remember my own lost years which, hey, go figure – also involved food service. I didn’t stick with it though, I had neither the culinary degree, nor felt the calling like you describe.

I’m not sorry, either. Let’s be honest, for all but a precious few who have broken out to a larger success like you, working in restaurants is a pretty shitty job. My very first job was at 13 years old as a dish washer/ prep monkey at a mom-and-pop Cheesesteak/Italian restaurant in Philly. Even at that young age, I was just tall enough to reach into the sink to do the dishes, even though the chemicals nearly melted my flesh off. It didn’t though, so I just missed ending up a supervillain there, I guess. I also used the industrial Hobart slicer to slice sirloin from giant bloody chunks of meat for the sandwiches. I had to stand on a cardboard box to reach the slicer, but hey, it was the 80’s, safety and child labor was less of a big deal, you know? Once I’d sliced the steak, I had to chop it into about 1/4″ chunks with a big ol’ knife. You’d think starting on the chopping that young, I’d have some pretty hot knife skills today – but it just isn’t so. I’m a plodding, pedestrian knife-wielder, even though I’ve tried to get better.

S’anyway, I did a year of college and then stalled out. Mostly because I was a knucklehead, not because I couldn’t hack it. I ended up waiting tables for the next three years or so – and while I never ended up addicted to heroin or really anything other than sloth and slovenliness, I also didn’t managed to get much done. Some stuff happened, and I realized I couldn’t see myself waiting tables or working in the kitchen for a living. I picked up some shifts as a cook, too – the station for salads, cold sandwiches and desserts. It was your basic T.G.I. McFunster’s, though so it’s not like I learned anything other than to really loathe my life.

Flash foward 20 years, and God, has it been that long? I’ve never worked in a restaurant or kitchen since, and I do not regret it one little bit. I’ve had some seriously shitty jobs in my life, jobs that involved things like jumping out of airplanes in the dark, or being the test case for a brain scanner, or working a tech support line. None of these jobs are even a fraction as shitty as restaurant work though. I mean, the Army was less stressful than waiting tables – doesn’t that tell you something?

So for the past while or so, I’ve been working for a company (and it’s a great job, and I’m really lucky!) that has constantly teetered on the edge of shutting down, getting bought, etc etc. No job security – and the economy is such that if I did get laid off it might be tricky getting hired again, there’s not much out there. So in the back of my mind, I’m thinking “Hey, I like cooking, maybe I should open a restaurant or one of those gourmet food trucks and dang, what’s on CNN, oh wait, I think I need a drink I wonder if I should get bigger pants or will I seriously get back to the gym heh I wonder what the dog is doing right now…” My thoughts wander, ok? You asked. Well, no you didn’t.

Reading “Kitchen Confidential” recalled to me my own wilderness years. Working till 2 or 3AM for a few measly bucks and then going out to drink and bitch about work with other waiters and cooks. Then getting a few short hours of restless sleep full of stress dreams before waking up and doing it again. I can see why heroin, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol were such tempting releases. Maybe I’d have been a happier loser if I had indulged. As it was I lived in a grotty apartment with two other slacker losers, and never  had enough money to pay all the bills, much less get even slightly ahead. It was a pretty miserable time.  On the other hand, I was skinny, so there was that.

So no. This is a great hobby, and I like taking my time to cook some really delectable meals, and learn new techniques – but I like not having to do it over and over again a hundred times a night under pressure to get it done RIGHT FUCKING NOW! No thanks. I’ll stick with computer geekery and really sumptuous meals with friends and loved ones – that’s the best of both worlds. And you know the biggest difference between me and professionals is? (Other than wearing clogs. Never.) I get to eat what I make. Better than just eating it, I get to share it with people I like, who I specifically invited over because I figured they’d really enjoy it, and be good company, too. That’s the part I like. So yeah, I’ve got a passion for food, but it’s for eating the food as much as making it! (Also why I’m no longer skinny.)

But I’m really glad you’re out there blazing the trail and reminding me how much it sucks.

Thanks, chef!

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

What have I learned so far?

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Believe it or not, this isn’t JUST a plea for attention – no, I actually set out to learn about what’s been missing from my culinary skills.  So it makes sense to think about what I’ve learned from the dishes I’ve made so far. I’m only a fraction of the way through the book, with all of the most challenging recipes yet to come. But still, if I haven’t learned anything at this point, then I’m basically a brick with lips and should probably hang it up.

Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Stock day and poulet roti video

November 7, 2010 3 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

With many apologies for its amateur nature, I present the video I made on stock day. I also apologize for my drunken ranting after Nathan from Ikillit.com and I broke into the third bottle of wine. But, for your entertainment, “Stock Day”.

Man. The camera puts on more than ten pounds!

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Low Hanging Fruit

November 2, 2010 1 comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Quite a lot of your recipes call for ingredients that are hard to come by. My brother-in-law-to-be is having his birthday this weekend, and I’ve been invited to contribute a dish or two to the celebration. He’s a good guy, so I figure I ought to do something pretty good, rather than just phoning in an apple pie or something. So instead, I’m going to work on a couple of recipes from Les Halles, to keep on schedule.

But Tony – can I call you Tony when I haven’t been drinking all the cooking wine? Tony, seriously, there are no vegetable recipes in this book. Does no one in bistros eat veggies? Or is it just that they’re such a given, a little olive oil, sauteed, a bit of sea-salt, that the recipe isn’t called for?

So, I wanted to try for one of the more ambitious dishes, since I have the weekend to prepare. But I still haven’t found a proper butcher here in LA, and when I ask the guys over at Whole Foods or Gelsons for stuff like caul fat, they look at me like I’ve just asked for a cake with baby in it. Funny story, that happened once – I was trying to get King Cake for Mardi Gras a few years ago, and I asked the woman at the bakery counter at a supermarket if they had it. Her English wasn’t very good, so she wasn’t sure what I meant. So I clarified; “King Cake – you know, the cake with the baby in it?” She looked utterly horrified and said “With BABY in it?”

I left it at that, it was clear they didn’t really have it there, so far more amusing to let her explain to her coworkers some mad cannibal was looking for cake. Anyway, trying to get the more esoteric cuts around here is about like asking for cake with baby in it.

So I’m going with low-hanging fruit – apple tart with custard and potatoes au gratin. But I have to stop with the easy stuff, and get working on tracking down the harder stuff locally. If anyone else who’s reading this – both of you! – knows a good butcher or meatmonger of any sort in LA, let me know.

Happily, some of the harder recipes involve cooking with wine. I like that. Let’s do more of it!

Cheers;

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Another Fucking Food Blog

October 12, 2010 3 comments

Dear Anthony Bourdain;

I’ve talked about this project with my lovely fiancee, and she’s excited, too. Did I just start in media res? I think so, let me back up.  I’m going to cook every recipe from your book, “Les Halles Cookbook: Classic Bistro Cooking“, over the next year. I’m going to recruit assistants to taste, critique, eat and enjoy – but I’m going to cook every one of the 100+ recipes myself. I’m going to start with my first dinner on Monday, Nov 1st, and before we roll around to Nov. 1st, 2011, I’ll make everything you’ve got, even the weird stuff and the game recipes. You claim bistro style cooking is something any modestly skilled home cook can manage, and let me tell you, brother – I am a modestly skilled home cook!

So let’s see, Chef Bourdain, if your recipes and methods match up to your reputation. I love your writing, and I’m a big fan of “No Reservations” which is where I first became aware of your iconoclastic reputation. You’re a funny cat, Chef – you hate things with wild abandon, and then turn around and love things all in the same breath. I figure you’re onto something- draining life’s cup to the dregs and tasting every drop, the bitter and the sweet. So I’m in – and in a year, maybe I’ll have made some great meals, or maybe it’ll turn out your book is a crock, but I’ll probably be a better cook.

My fiancee and friends are enthusiastic about this at the moment, and if that weren’t true, I wouldn’t do it. It takes a mad loner to love to cook only for themselves. To me, that’s not what it’s all about – it’s really all about getting people you love around a table (or leaning against a counter in the kitchen, or in the case of my dog, watching my every move in the kitchen…) and give them something that you think is going to knock their socks off. It’s food; it’s crucial, it’s beautiful, it’s life and love and beauty and art all at once – what better thing to share?

I’ve got a lot of great people in my life, and I hope their enthusiasm for this project lasts till I’m done. If not, I’ll try not to blame you, Chef. I mean really, what do you care about what a middle-aged nerd in Los Angeles thinks? On the other hand, if it turns out amazing and they all rave – I’ll do my best to give you some credit. I’m a decent cook at the moment, with certain glaring weaknesses – principally sauces, really. We’ll see if your words and methods can take someone without any knife skills, without any professional experience, but a decent palate and a love of good food and irreverent writing – and turn them into a decent cook of French bistro cuisine.

Since this is a letter to you, Anthony Bourdaine, I feel obliged to drop an “f” bomb. So fuck yeah, let’s cue up the Ramones, break out the book, and get cooking!

Yours Fucking Truly;

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized
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