Saturday, March 27, 2010


Last night a friend of mine grilled me about why I hadn't posted anything on my blog in so long.  And I didn't really have an answer for him.  We left the conversation with a promise from me to post something soon (here you go!).  I think the conversation weighed on me in my sleep because as soon as I woke up this morning I started thinking about my blog and why it had been so long since I'd posted anything.

My conclusion: burnout.  For the most part I think my last job in the food industry just sucked me dry of all my passion for food.  I've been at home for two weeks now.  And since that time I've barely gotten up the energy to cook at all.  When I do cook it's been the easy stuff, the stuff I could throw together in my sleep.  The stuff not worth mentioning here.  Not only that but I haven't eaten out anywhere since then.  It's like someone zapped me with some energy gun and took all my love for food away.

Another issue is that I'm getting ready to move to Taipei for 8 months.  This is a really recent development - we didn't even know about it until a few weeks ago.  As a foodie I should be really excited about the move.  I know Taipei is going to be thrilling and have more amazing food to eat than I might ever get around to.  But for some reason it's just adding to my burnout.  Especially with gardening.  Right now I should be feverishly working on my spring garden, but we aren't going to be here in a month or two so it would be pretty pointless.  I'm definitely fueled by my garden.  And it just depresses me now to look out at the mostly empty space where only a few winter vegetables are clinging to the soil for dear life, heartlessly neglected.

I have to get out of this funk.  I miss being excited about food.  I miss the thrill of putting together new combinations, trying new ingredients, eating at new restaurants.  There has to be something I can do to fix the situation.  I'm thinking that something drastic might be in order.  Going on a restaurant binge.  Buying live animals from the Asian market.  Maybe a new kitchen tool to shake things up.  Anybody out there have any suggestions for me?  I'd love to find my passion again...

Friday, March 5, 2010

In The Kitchen

I started the day full of nerves. The coffee I'd chugged to jolt me awake for my 6:00AM start time was making my stomach rumble - a tempest brewing. My first day in a real commercial kitchen was going to be a tough one.

I'd been hired a few months before for catering - I was told that I'd be doing mostly front-of-house stuff (setting up tables, polishing glasses and silverware, decorating, serving) but that I might work in the kitchen sometimes too. So after two months of only working front-of-house, my day had finally come. Except now that the real thing was upon me, I wasn't so sure I wanted it. The friend who got me the job wasn’t working my first day and I'd be in the kitchen with four guys I didn't know well. I had terrors the night before, remembering stories from Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly about the harassment that happens in the kitchen.

I walked in that first day full of fear. I clocked in and followed the executive chef to his office where he gave me a chef coat, apron, and baseball cap (to keep my hair out of the food). As soon as I put on that jacket I started getting pretty excited. This was really happening! I was wearing a chef coat!

That's about where the fun ended. I got a list of things to do. Well it wasn't a physical list. The executive chef kept coming over and saying "you cut the fruit", "you make 6 dozen cookies", etc., not waiting for one task to be done before he told me three others, not explaining how he wanted the fruit cut, where to find anything I needed, how to work the ovens or the fryer, expecting me to know all this.

I asked a lot of stupid questions. I did a lot of things the hard way. I didn't cut the fruit right. I couldn’t find anything in the walk-in cooler. I had no idea what a 400 pan was. I made a huge mess trying to sear 500 pieces of chicken. I basically felt like an idiot all day.

I went home that day after 6 hours in the kitchen and felt completely exhausted. My feet were throbbing. My back was aching from bending over the too short metal countertops. All I could smell on myself and around me was that ever-present scent of fryer oil. All I could think about was my 10 hour shift coming up the next day.  I felt physically, mentally, and emotionally drained

Over the last month I’ve spent in the kitchen I’ve gotten a little bit more used to things. I know much more now than when I started. But there are still things I don’t know. And a lot of times the work isn’t very fun. Although there are some things I enjoy. A few days ago I got to teach some of the chefs how to make Indian food properly (no one else knew some of the things I did). And every now and then when I’m making a cheese tray or plating desserts I stop and think to myself "wow, I'm really getting paid for this."

The biggest problem I've had with working in catering in general is that I come home too tired to do anything else. And cooking all day at work drains me of any desire to cook at home (probably the main reason I haven't been blogging much lately - sorry!) I've had fun and learned a lot about making food for 100 or 300 or 500 people, but I really miss cooking for 2. I miss getting fresh produce from my garden and coming up with new recipes to try. I miss being in love with food.

My stint in the kitchen and in catering is almost over. I’m leaving in a couple of weeks to move on to other things. Overall I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had a lot of cool experiences, met some really interesting people. I know how to cook for a crowd. But I also know now that I’d rather cook for just a few. I’d rather have energy at the end of the day to go out and weed my garden or take my dog on a walk. I’d rather be a foodie than a chef.