Category Archives: Uncategorized

My Time On Tinder

     Many new things have been going on in my little sphere of existence. I relocated to a new city. I finally bought a smart phone. I found a new job. Also, and this may not surprise anyone who knows me, I went through another break-up. It was easily the most mature and smoothly transitioned break-up with which I have dealt. As much of an interesting story as it was it’s not the break-up, itself, that is this focus of this entry, but the results it brought about.

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     I can happily say that my now Ex and I are still good friends and we were talking about my new single life. I’m not sure if it was because I was newly single, because I was still new to the city or simply because I am inescapably a guy, but I felt the need to go out and mingle again. Ex, as she shall be affectionately known for the intents of this entry, suggested I use my new toy and look into dating apps. What started as a curiosity into such phenomena quickly turned into a joke, and then ended up being more of a part of my continual study of human nature.

I downloaded Tinder.

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     This app makes no sense. And it’s not the app, itself, that makes no sense. It’s the aura of confusing WHAT-THE-HELL that surrounds it. First let’s have a look at what it is and how it works.

You upload a few photos of yourself.

You describe yourself in an allotted space that doesn’t feel like much more than two times a tweet.

You set a preference of age range and distance from your location of people you seek.

You then view others’ profiles at random.

     That’s it. All you see is a picture and a small caption. The rest of how the app works suits this limited bit of information quite well. Let’s look at how you use it.

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     You look at profiles and have the option of swiping them left or right. Swiping right indicates you “Like” the person. Swiping left shows the word “Nope” flash on the screen. You can look at more pictures of them if you choose but that is all. It becomes confusing, too, because you swipe left to view more pictures so it is easy to accidentally “Nope” someone. Once you do so, you will never see their profile again, and they will never see yours. It’s ominously final. If, however, you and a potentially attractive stranger both “Like” each other, you may then (and only then) message each other and take it from there.

     Seems pretty simple and straightforward, yes? To objectively weigh the mechanism of the app, it’s a straight-up hook-up app. There’s nothing substantial. There is little detail. It is absolutely impossible to encapsulate someone’s entire identity and laundry list of personal nuances into a few digital photos and a doubletweet.

     If you are a male sifting through female’s profiles you begin to notice a pattern, and this is where it becomes confusing to me. A solid 8 out of 10 of them put a little disclaimer in their doubletweet, life-encompassing profile that says something to the effect of, “Not here for a hook-up.” Such limited space to say whatever they can to seem attractive or reveal something honest, and that’s what they choose to say.

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      Then what the hell are you here for? Whether or not you have solid morals and good intentions, you are making your choice about a total stranger based on the thought, “Meh, I’d fuck ya…” If even subconsciously. There’s just not enough time or space in it to put anything of real, substantial worth.

     The app is genius, really. It is perfectly tailored to our desire for more, and quicker, and now. The issue is that someone who is looking for something so fast, easy and immediate is likely not the type of person who wants to get to know the inner depths of someone else’s true self and all of their idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities. There’s a lack of reconciliation between such expressed desire and high IQ. What I’m saying is that anyone who is on something like Tinder for any substantial amount of time for “not a hook-up” is probably an idiot. Or in some way socially ignorant if only of other, better dating apps.

     It’s a white girl app. A spot to look pretty, feel attractive and be affirmed. I can’t tell you how much duck face I saw

The Horror...

The Horror…

     I uninstalled it after a week and went for OkCupid. Further observations pending…

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15 Kitchen Tools You Will Never Need

             “Need” is a strong word. “I need a better phone charger.” “I need a beer.” There is a vast difference between what we need and what we want, and advertisers love what we want, but think we need. There are endless advertisements for new, innovative pieces of sci-fi kitchen gadgetry that have gone from fictional to functional. They can lure you in to spending money you shouldn’t for stuff you’ll never use. Know when to borrow someone else’s specificity junk for the ONE time you will actually need it. Or pull an Alton Brown and improvise!

"Grind my own pepper? You're funny."

“Grind my own pepper? You’re funny.”

            Remember, advertisers don’t care whether or not you really have a need something; they just want you to buy it. They’re favorite strategy is to create a need when there is none. Most of the junk they’re selling is stuff you might think you need, you might actually need once or that just looks really, really cool. So here, for the safety and betterment of all, I offer you my list of kitchen tools you will never, ever need.

1. Egg yolk separator

20120507115056888Problem number one is that they take forever. This might be ok for a single egg, but if I’m baking I’m usually doing at least half a dozen. Problem number two is that they simply don’t work very well. Use a spoon, or best of all, your hands.

2. melon baller

0007675333347_500X500When? When will you really need to make perfect little spheres of cantaloupe? Fancy yourself a full-time, at-home entertainer/mixologist? Go for it. Plus, one of these guys will do the job just fine and has a whole host of other uses.

3. egg slicer

Egg-SlicerIt looks so maniacal. Unless you want perfectly sliced boiled eggs on a daily basis, this takes up precious drawer space. A paring knife will do the same thing just fine and also won’t rust the way these tend to.

4. strawberry huller

strawberry-hullerCute, isn’t it? It’s also useless and ironically not very good at the one job after which it’s named. If you demand your strawberries come without cores, carve ’em out with a paring knife or use a star pastry tip like ol’ Alton Brown does.

5. tomato corer

red-handle-tomato-corerNoticing a pattern with “-er” words? These things are better at puncturing innocently bystanding finger flesh than they are at cleanly removing a tomato core. They’re ok on those black potato spots, though.  Again, use a paring knife.

6. pineapple slicer/corer

pineapple_slicerMust you? Must you have perfect pineapple rings? Let me guess, for the grill? For your upside-down cake? If you’re cooking  them like that, just grab canned, slice pineapple anyway. It’ll have the same nutrient content by the time you’re done with it. You also won’t end up with a bunch of wasted pineapple flesh.

7. Corn peeler

corn-pealerI just… wow. No. Cooked corn is so delicious right off the cob, but if you’re removing it for any number of acceptable reasons, use a serrated knife. How often will you really need this thing? You’ll probably lose or break it.

8. Herb mincer

zyliss-herb-mincerThis thing looks like a perfectly good pizza roller after it came out of the teleporter from “The Fly”. This, unlike a good chef’s knife, won’t mince herbs, it will bruise them and make a huge mess. Go ahead. Try it out. I dare you.

9. avacado slicer

31soOqmFPsL._SY300_I’m upset. Cool idea, sure, but not all avocados are created equally and this won’t work right every time. Plus that paring knife OR a serrated knife I keep bringing up will do everything this thing can but probably better. And you can use those for other tasks. What else can you do with this? Kind of looks like a cockatiel with a mohawk and braces.

10. Shrimp cleaning tool

31G13DFM55LThere’s not even a clever name for this one. First of all, that black line running down a shrimp’s back is the digestive tract, not a vein. I can understand how some want to remove it, but this thing looks tricky to operate. And to clean. Know what I’d use? You guessed it, my sweet little oh-so-useful paring knife.

11. automatic anything

open3Can openers, wine openers, etc. Having something with a lot of tiny, moving parts for such simple tasks seems like hunting rabbit with an elephant gun. This just one more thing that can run out of batteries, or you’ll drop in the sink.

12. wine aeration vortex thingies

41F2rR-TdML._SY300_You mean to tell me you’re so picky about having your aerated wine and that you want it so very right now, you need a device that does it as you pour into your glass??? My friend, you have a problem. Seriously, though, who doesn’t enjoy wine? Wine should be aerated, right? Well, that’s what decanters are for.

UPDATE: I took the Pepsi Challenge using one of these things and it really does make a difference, but you better drink like a fish to justify having one hangin’ out in your kitchen.

13. This f*cking thing

Multifunctional-fruit-font-b-peeler-b-font-paring-knife-font-b-sugar-b-font-font-b Marketed as the Multifunctional Fruit Peeler Paring Knife Sugar Cane Knife, my friend dubbed it, “The Sharknado of Cutlery.” It’s a seemingly honest attempt at a combination paring knife/peeler/bottle opener/fish scaler? I saw one at a Vietnamese market and thought, “Well, I’m not not buying that.” I almost never used it, it didn’t really work at all and then it broke. Remember, the longer it takes you to say something, the less you probably need it in your life.

14. Utility knife

modern-utility-knivesCooks love their knives, but I just never understood this one. It’s too big to perform the microsurgery of a paring knife. It’s too short and narrow to chop, mince and otherwise be a chef’s knife. Sometimes they’re serrated and sometimes they’re not. It’s name suggests no clear purpose. I always saw one in other cook’s knife bags, but never in their hands. I think it’s the knife you buy when you want the chef’s knife, but this little one is more affordable.

15. garlic press

kuhn-rikon-epicurean-garlic-press-2I hate these things. I hate them so much. I first saw one left in the kitchen after I moved into a new house. I thought it was for cheese, and it worked great. When I found out it was for garlic, I was baffled. Why invent a machine for turning fresh garlic into useless mush? You can chop garlic, roast it, con fit it, use in sauces, etc. I just never understood the end game here. Know what works great on garlic? A Slap Chop. You’ll never hear me bash those.

            I hope this saves some time and money for anyone furnishing a new kitchen or seeing a late-night infomercial and thinking, “Hmm, I could use that.” Find yourself a good chef’s knife, paring knife and a serrated knife and you’ll be well-equipped. Take a little time to practice and you’ll be in business. Unless you’re just lazy, then reach for the Slap Chop. I love my Slap Chop.

It’s The Little Things

            Often films and novels are named after an amount of time to indicate the intensity or drama that a certain time frame can add to a situation. The easiest example is “127 Hours”, a film depicting the struggle of a mountain climber crushed by a falling boulder and his fight for survival. Taking this into consideration, and the crutch of so-called “first world problems” on which we can often lean, I want to call my drive from New Orleans to Los Angeles “39 hours”.

            “39 Hours” depicts the struggles of a well-fed American with all the food and money he could need to embark on his exercise of freedom that is driving about 2,000 miles across five states to move because, well, he sort of felt like it. The most dramatic curve ball “39 Hours” has to offer is that I was pretty sick when I left and had a dog with me who, tragically, had a smaller bladder than I.

            Other than pouting and sleeping too much, the dog heroically survived the ordeal and has become this generation’s Lassie. I managed to navigate the obstacles of unforeseen speed zones and other such horrors as trying, for the love of God, to decide which album I wanted to play next.

            But in all honesty, when I arrived I was quite sleep-deprived and feeling pretty awful. Lousy road food and lack of sleep had turned my cold-like annoyance into an “I should probably see a doctor” kind of problem. Moving, in and of itself, can be completely unpleasant because you’ve uprooted your entire home. Depending on the circumstances you may not even have a definite destination. In my case I arrived in a new place that felt generally alien and, therefore, alienating as well.

            I slept, made due and went through the day unpacking and recovering, but didn’t really feel like it was over until that evening. That evening I discovered a little Mexican eatery around the corner no bigger than a generic fast food place. It was harshly lit, full of Latinos and blaring Tejano accordion. Two years living in Austin, Texas had made me despise that accordion with more hatred than I knew I possessed. But time heals all wounds, and two more years living in New Orleans had made me miss good Mexican food with a passion that Everything But The Girl could never adequately describe.

            Six dollars, some awkward Spanglish and a fat chili relleno later, I was home. I sat hunched over my relleno combo plate with ever-present beans and rice sniffling, coughing and shoving in my face every bit of delicious, rich, home-style Mexican food my then delicate stomach could handle. It was cheap, simple well-made and full of flavor. I ate more than my fill and slowly lumbered home to a heavy sleep as only greasy, refried starch can deliver. The journey was over thanks to Que Ricos, as the place was called.

            I later saw that the place was open 24 hours, and began to budget my weekly self control.

Surrounded By Idiots

     It takes me about eight minutes to get to work. According to Google Pedometer  it is exactly 1.4314 miles from my front door to the entrance to the parking garage at the hotel where my restaurant operates. Only ten blocks of Marigny and twelve blocks of French Quarter sit between where I work and where I play. My best time on my bike with little traffic, well-timed lights and almost no fumbling pedestrian tourists was six minutes. But seeing as how I make the trip twice a day it is possible for one to believe that somehow, within such a small, brief space, stupid people can not only ruin my day, but nearly kill me.

     I was cruising along next to stand-still traffic when one of the drivers made a couple of decisions. First of all, he decided he absolutely had to have a parking spot on the side of the street, and secondly, he decided obtaining aforementioned spot was more important than my life, or at least well-being. With no warning, no blinker and no side mirror for that matter, he quite suddenly jerked his car into me, ramming me off of the road. I fell off my bike and halfway into his open passenger-side window before finally stopping on the ground. I wonder had I not actually entered his vehicle, would he have stopped at all?

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     I stood up and yelled a stream of profanities indicating he should have at least used his blinker. He didn’t hear me.

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     I leaned into his window and yelled it again. “Fucking blinker, maybe!?” With a bewildered faced he yelled back, “Blinker?”

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     I returned his bewildered stare with my own and realized I had nothing left to say I deemed within his processing capacities. At a complete loss, I repositioned the chain on my bike, adjusted my brakes, and continued on to work dumbfounded.

     I think we all know the feeling. We’re so overwhelmed with the evident idiocy bearing down on us we just cave into silence as if anything we could say would fall upon deaf ears. I’ve noticed this trend too often abroad and at work. A fellow cook tried to tell me oil doesn’t burn. Oil. Yes, oil. The very same oil that, through combustion (burning) powers much our technology. He told me that when heated in a skillet, oil wouldn’t burn. As if that weren’t enough he told me water WOULD burn.

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     To be sure I asked, “Are you thinking of when a little water mixes with your oil and makes it flare up? Is that what you mean?” He assured me, it was not what he meant. So with the power of science I heated two pans as hot as I could and poured water into one. Naturally it evaporated out. Then I poured a little oil into the other, equally hot pan and low and behold it burst into flame! He shook his head and said, “I don’t know, man that oil must be dirty or something.” Never mind that I poured it from a new bottle. As if channeling Bill O’Reilly, he simply shrugged off and dismissed any new information not to his liking.

i-watch-fox-news-sometimes-but-only-to-laugh-at-bill-o-amp-039-reilly_o_2879455

      Some people also tend to generalize with “everybody” when trying to prove a point, as well. I asked a coworker yesterday why she and her familiars were all so sue-happy. She responded, “’Cause everybody’s broke! We all need money!” Any claim with “everybody” is too easily disproved. I said, “I’m not broke. I’m part of ‘everybody’. I just proved you wrong.”

      Today, in fact, I was trying to teach someone how to make a sauce he’d never made. As soon as he saw me cooking on the stove he (the student) told me (the teacher), “Let me show you how to sauté.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, yeah, ‘hot skillets’, I know, but it doesn’t matter for this.” He said, “But that’s how it’s done.” I told him, “I’m not doing it, am I? It looks like ‘it’s done’ all kinds of ways, doesn’t it? If you keep doing things ‘how it’s done’ you’ll never do anything new.”

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     That’s really my main concern; that nothing new will happen. Sure, the feeling of being surrounded by idiots is frustrating and annoying. We want to be understood, but some people are either less intelligent or simply communicate differently than we do. With so many people from so many varying backgrounds, occasional misunderstanding and miscommunication is inevitable. What I think can be prevented, however, is the hindrance of intellectual progress due to in-the-box thinking and poor education.

     When an adult with a registered driver’s license operating a motor vehicle doesn’t know what a blinker is there is a problem. When an adult working as a professional cook doesn’t know that combustible liquid combusts when heated – or rather, fire = bad – there is a problem. And if we keep on doing things “how it’s done” then we’ll never contribute to the overall learning in the human experience. We have to challenge ourselves and constantly question all around us. Fix what isn’t broken, or in another word, improve.

      I don’t think anyone is really stupid; I think there are people who don’t often enough challenge or critically view their surroundings and habits. They take it all for granted. How much do you do in a day just because you were told to? How many things do you do they way you do them because no one ever told you any differently? Look at your day differently and see what you can come up with. I bet you’ll be surprised.

The Problem With Being Happy

                Here’s one you’ve heard before: I had my ass handed to me today.

                Any cook line is ideally set up to evenly disperse the work load of cooking for hundreds of people in a two-to-three-hour time span, among the five or eight cooks depending on the restaurant. The idea, of course, being no one person carries the weight of the most difficult or most numerous tasks. But this is seldom the reality. Many restaurants have a station referred to as “The Bitch” or “Punishment” or something of that sort. It’s the one station that, no matter what happens, seems to always get it worse than anyone else. One might clock in, check the schedule to see where one will be working for an evening, and quickly hear a chef yell, “Bend over, dude, you’re on broiler tonight!”

Aforementioned Broiler Guy

Aforementioned Broiler Guy

                That aside, whoever bears the burden of preparing the most dishes can vary from day to day. Some days everyone wants seafood. Some days everyone wants fried food. Some days it seems that every diner passing through the doors wants the exact same thing for no explicable reason. At my current restaurant that always seems to be the pasta guy. He does several appetizers as well as (I believe) more entrees that any other station. After the expo shouts out four or six things for each station, the pasta guy will have eight or fifteen things called to him. He’s known for shouting back, “Thank you, Chef! May I have another?”

                Today, however, that guy was me. They came for me today, with a spiteful, hellish vengeance. I don’t know who I offended in the world in some previous lifetime but hoards of sandwich-gobbling cheapskates annihilated my stations this morning.

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                This is not the problem. It’s part of the job, and it happens to one of us or another all the time. We sink or we swim. We may or may not receive help, but at the end of the day we’re still fine and breathing.

Plus or minus some endorphins or blood alcohol content.

Plus or minus some endorphins or blood alcohol content.

                The problem is that I consider myself a pretty happy guy. I usually let things roll off my shoulders, I find joy in the little things and I tend not to sweat the small stuff. I’ve had fellow cooks fail to help me when in need because I didn’t look panicked or freaked out, dripping sweat onto my plates, and they had no idea I needed help. Even when I calmly said, “Hey, man, can you give me hand?” They thought I was kidding. Not until they’d see me jumping rope with my strand of tickets would they rush to my aid.

                Today, however, I clearly displayed that I was flustered. Everyone ordered from my stations and very little from everyone else’s, so I had loads to do right out of the gate. When this happens I go into Focus Mode. I start ignoring everyone because I have a bunch of tickets in my head and can’t be bothered to listen to them ranting about the game yesterday, their significant others (or worse, exes), or some shit they cooked at home last week. I stop smiling because I’m focused on what I’m doing, where hands are landing, not burning or cutting myself. I have to remember which entrees go out in which order, and how far along in there cook times they are.

                How many plates I did throw in the oven to warm? Did I drop those sides of fries? Are they burning? Did I just use my last ramekin? How much grated cheddar do I have left? I stole chef’s tooth picks, did I put them back? Did they want two sandwiches or three? How long does the broiler guy have on that filet? Did garde manger take my fucking remoulade again?

                 Apparently my trademark of Go Mode is that I start “slamming shit”, which I’ll have you know, I don’t. I certainly get louder. I trade subtlety for speed. Cast-iron skillets landing on metal burners are loud when you don’t gingerly set them down, and when the one on my hand is literally engulfed in flame, I don’t bother doing much gingerly. If I have to plate something, I put the plate on my cutting board. If I have to plate five somethings I slide the stack down my board like playing cards. It’s loud, but it’s fast. Coworkers have always complained. “Dude, why are you being so loud?” “Dude, chill out.” I’m not mad. I’m in a hurry, and as a universal rule kitchens are loud. I currently work around thirty feet of roaring vent hoods, four high oven fans, clanking pans, scraping plates, chopping knives, slamming tenderizers and screaming expos. Hell yeah, it’s loud.

                  The problem about being happy all the time, is that people notice. People don’t notice when you’re pissed off all day. It’s a bit more of a norm in this industry. Justifiably so, due to ubiquitous hypocrisy and BS, but it’s also an environment full of jaded burn-outs or overworked souls with three jobs who are just perpetually grumpy. The bubbly, happy ones like me are the anomalies. When the army veteran running on two hours of sleep due to a second job and a new baby starts cursing under his breath during a rush, no one gives it a second thought. When the perky young guy or girl who always has a smile on his or her face drops the smile for two seconds, everyone wants to know why.

"Just, No"

“Just, No”

                 There are three bits of irony in this situation. The first is that when I’m happy, hyper and wearing a flamboyant smile, some people are pretty bothered by it. They don’t have the energy to put forth patience to answer my How are you’s and What’s going on’s with anything more than a nod in return. They find the in-your-face happiness of someone else obnoxious. I’ve been asked to tone it down. What’s ironic is that when I do tone it down, for whatever reason, everyone is unsettled by it. It’s as though happy people are held to a higher standard of emotional stability. I’m expected to be happy all the time. I’m not allowed to have a shitty day. “You should have seen it, Chef, even Casey was pissed!” As though it’s against the laws of nature.

F*ck you, nature

F*ck you, nature

                 The second irony is that any time I’m bombarded by coworkers asking what’s wrong, or why I’m “slamming” my stuff around, there is never anything wrong. I’m working! I have a million things to do in two minutes flat. Don’t run over to my station to distract me with your confusion about the well-being of my psyche because you don’t have anything to do. But since you’re here, start plating my food! Yes, my personal life is fine. I get plenty of sleep. I eat well. No, I’m not hung over. No, my girlfriend and I aren’t fighting, I don’t have a girlfriend. Shut up and pull my shrimp off, they’re burning.

                 The final irony is that while I’m busy, focused and “in the zone” apparently looking like I’m balls deep in a murder fantasy, nothing is wrong. It’s just work and I’m doin’ the damn thing. I’m only annoyed, infuriated, agitated, aggravated, flustered or pissed off after ten guys have bothered me trying to see what’s wrong. By the time I’m done putting out food and rebuilding the apocalypse that was once my work space, I really am pissed off. It’s hard to tell sincerely concerned coworkers when they plea, “Hey what was the problem today?” that “As a matter of fact, YOU were, man.” Then, of course, all you get is the, “Fine, sorry I asked!”

                 I realize this was a lot less insightful and more rant-like in nature, but it needed to come out. I guess there’s a fourth irony. I go from being way too nice for this industry to way too mean and back in one rush of tickets.

The Board of Health

            When the cat’s away the mice will play. They’ll play with their food, too, those unmannerly little bastards.

            It was around 11:00 in the morning. All was going as normally as could be expected. I had most of my station set up, mised out and pretty good-looking. The floor on the line was clean. Little traces of evidence of previously completed projects and recpies were left over on cutting boards and continuing to be put away. The only other morning guy on the line was off somewhere either leaning and chatting over free coffee or hunting down one little ingredient in the Costco Megaplex that is my huge, new restaurant. The sous was off somewhere doing something I assumed was important. I had the line quietly to myself, though I could hear the morning garde manger girl yelling at back-talking food runners already.

     The pastry ladies were thumbing through recipe books and discussing the week’s to-dos. I find it endlessly interesting how their work day seems to more be a series of discussions and planning more than actual execution of said plans. The saucier was already poking, stirring and tasting numerous different cauldrons of fine-smelling mystery liquids. The butcher was just arriving and probably checking the progress of various several-day-long projects he had in progress. The dish washer was most assuredly somewhere far away not washing dishes. All was calm and well and I was enjoying one of the all too rare and brief periods of slow silence in the kitchen. They are rare for reasons.

     Alright, time to wake up. The sous chef came jogging back into the kitchen with frizzy hair, dilated pupils and a shuddering tone in his voice. He looked like he was trying to grip the belief that he had, in fact, actually just outrun a full-grown lion. “Board of Health his here!” he yelled, “Five minutes!!!” This meant we had to stop everything we were doing and had five minutes to convert the already cleaner-than-typical kitchen into Health Department Mode. I have come to believe that this part of my job will chronically irritate me throughout the duration of my culinary career.

I see whatchu cookin', there

“I see whatchu cookin’, there”

     It’s not that I mind it in principle. This system of checks and balances helps to ensure that purveyors of food aren’t purveying disease and pestilence as well. You wouldn’t want to spend eighty dollars on a meal and find fingernails in your salad.

     What bothers me about this is that the kitchen must be converted in the first place. Staying true to my characteristic idealism, I believe that if you spend your days doing nothing wrong, then you spend your days with nothing to fear. Most places I’ve worked have had met their surprise visits from the Board of Health with frantic panic.

                                                                   Bosses be likeSound-the-Alarm-The-Apocalypse-Has-Begun

            The reason I tend to roll my eyes, so arrogantly scoffing at this panic is that I tend to keep my things pretty clean and up to code anyway. I’ve worked at too many corporate places to not have the normal OCD standards a good cook should. The reconciliation of the differences between what the Board of Health expects and what is usually taking place always depends on where you’re working.

Let’s get nasty.

Hair

     The rule is that all hair must be neatly contained and kept off the neck in a hat of some sort completely covering the head.

     The reality is that kitchens are hot and different restaurants vary in how relaxed they are in this rule. Many chain restaurants are fond of the billed hats that make a cook like he just finished the back nine at a country club. Other places are perfectly ok with my personal favorite, the bandana. I wear mine to cover my entire head and keep my mane in check, but a lot of guys just use it to soak up sweat on their foreheads.

     An interesting thing is that the lack of a head covering often indicates a higher rank. Executive chefs never wear hats. Granted, they tend to actually handle food less often, but executive sous chefs, sous chefs, sauciers, butchers, head pastry chefs and anyone with some arguable title other than “cook” almost never wear a hat. It’s a great tell-tale of who’s who when starting a new job, but I find it funny that the leaders choose to indicate their status by obviously breaking a basic sanitation rule.

Up yours, Health Board!

Up yours, Health Board!

            Head coverings are a little weird when it comes to women, and people with dreadlocks. Many women don’t wear any hat because their hair is long enough to bun up, though the Board of Health disagrees. Dreadlocks, on the other hand, are simply too big to fit in any conventional hat so it seems to be an odd no-man’s land in the rule book.

     When the Board of Health ninjas their way into our kitchens it’s typical to see a sous chef running out of an office with a stash of new-looking, unworn, billed hats throwing them at anyone with a sub-par head covering.

     The funniest thing I’ve seen is not hair nets, but the oh-so-hilarious beard nets some companies enforce on any resident lumberjacks.

Love it!

Love it!

Blood

     It should be no secret that we cut ourselves and blood happens. I can confidently tell you that anyone I’ve worked with, regardless of their personal code, always seems to draw the line at blood. They will never let anything that came near their blood interfere with your food. We cut, stab, lance and otherwise pierce ourselves enough to know exactly where to find the first-aid cabinet (or nearest roll of tape) and how to quickly clean the area, dispose of the food and sanitize the offending cutlery.

     I have, however, been caught bleeding all over myself in crucial moments. More than once I have had a nice, polite conversation with a health inspector while casually keeping my punctured hand dripping blood behind my back wrapped up in an old towell, then quickly scurrying off to mend it as soon as she moved on with her inspection. When a health inspector walks by I make it a point to keep hands and arms with obvious open burns and pustules in a pocket or behind my back. I did once open up my thumb while helping a customer at a deli counter. Every second I caught her looking away I’d quickly suck the blood off my thumb and continue wrapping her order with the other hand.

     On the first episode of Mario Batali’s show, he shaved his hand open with a grater mid-shoot and shoved his fist in a bowl of tomato sauce to cover it up until the commercial break. I commend him. That tomatoey acid must not have been fun.

I eat pain for breakfast...

“I eat pain for breakfast.”

Drinks

     The rule is that the only allowed container to use for drinks is a cup with a lid and a straw. This ensures that your hands never accidentally touch the part your mouth does.

     The reality is that this almost never happens. I’ve worked only two jobs that ever enforced this rule. In some kitchens every one drinks out of those always-attainable plastic quart containers – Also makes it easy to measure and make sure you’re getting enough water under the heat of battle. I tend to kill three quarts per shift. My goal is a gallon.

     In other kitchens the staff bring their own bottles, jugs and mugs from home and keep refilling them. Technically a violation but it makes us feel more comfortable in the face of all other stressful stimuli. Some kitchens use… anything. Liquor poorers, squeeze bottles, porcelin bowls, my hands (in a rush), I’ve used them all. My favorite violation is the restaurants that allow shift drinks, that’s right, during the shift. It’s a beautiful thing. Some bourbon on the rocks or a cold beer on the shelf above your work space at arm’s reach at the end of the night while you clean up to mellow you out. Because God knows it’ll be at least an hour after you clock out before you can wind down and manage to sleep anyway.

2:30 A.M. Work in four hours.

2:30 A.M. Work in four hours.

     The problem with the rules regarding drinks is that they require restaurateurs to purchase and supply extra goods (the cups and lids) for which they often have no other need. In the strictest situation, one of my work places didn’t allow your drink in the ktichen at all. In moments of thirst you had to leave the prep area, go down a narrow, dimly lit hall of mystery and internal discovery, and find the designated drink rack, at this point feeling like the holy grail,  where it was likely your drink has already been thrown away by the internal sanitation team.

     Yerba mate‘ (an energy-fueled tea) was very popular there and since it came in a can, we’d often race each other shotgunning twenty-ounce cans of the stuff because we couldn’t keep an open can anywhere and had to get back to work. Drink it all at once or not at all. This resulted in a kitchen full of methed-out speed freaks bouncing around the place like a ball pit at Chuck E Cheese. I think drinks in the work area would have been safer. It’s the same reason I think New Orleans has it right, allowing you to leave the bar with your drink. No rushing necessary.

Eating

      The rule (I found out recently) is that there is a zero-tolerance policy on eating in kitchen.

     Let’s look at this from a professional standpoint. How the hell are we supposed to taste our food, that is, check the quality of our product, without eating it? Technically the board of health wants us to wait for YOU to find out it tastes like a salt lick or like a volcano and send it back to us so we can do it again. Because, ya know, we have time for that.

sweet brown

“…”

            The reality is that the better kitchens have a seemingly unending supply of little, white plastic spoons for the sole purpose of checking and tasting. It’s wasteful as hell, but clean, sanitary and effective.

     The other reality is that we are always surrounded by food, and usually hungry. Most of us end up at the morning shift allowing ourselves zero time for breakfast, or wind up at the night shift completely forgetting to eat before we begin the eight to ten-hour commitment. Some places allow you to make a meal. Some places do a family meal. Some places allow nothing, but turn a blind eye knowing you have to eat something doing all that work.

     We snack, we graze, whatever we do, it is usually rushed because we’re not doing it during service. Not only do we want to make sure we’re not spilling crumbs into your food, but in the middle of the dinner rush we have no time to eat. We tend to end up inhaling the extra plate we accidentally made for table 13 while table 42’s steak is cooking and the skillet is still getting hot for table 33’s shrimp. Doing this long enough makes sitting down to eat feel, in reality, very odd. This BuzzFeed article paints a beautiful picture of the kitchen diet.

Proteins

            The rule is that all proteins (fish, pork, beef, lamb, veal, etc) must be iced down at all times, unless being cooked for an order.

            The reality is, No. No way. Not a chance. Not happenin‘. Mostly with regards to beef. Having seafood iced down is easy enough. Although it is difficult to blindly navigate your coolers in a rush when your main target is covered in ice, we do well enough. Having beef iced down is, to put it simply, just not how you treat it. At least not during service. We need to let your beautiful and expensive steak temper first (that is, let it sit out at room temperature for a few minutes, though longer is ideal). Then once it’s done cooking we need to rest it. To let all those juices we just shocked out of the meat absorb back into it. Unless it’s well-done. Then screw you.

            I will confess I have, I’m sorry to say, seen the 5-second rule put into play with certain items, especially those being grilled, broiled or boiled. The idea is that whatever germaphobic funk accumulated on your food when someone dropped it will be burn-murdered right off when it’s fired again. It’s not often done and I’ve only seen it a few times over several years but, hey, life isn’t perfectly seasoned.

            There are other minor rules regarding towels and temps that we either voluntarily break or honestly aren’t aware of, but nothing you aren’t likely doing in your own home already. I promise, any Taco Bell is probably cleaner than you keep your kitchen on a given day. You feed yourself and your friends. They feed sue-happy total strangers.

Think outside the soap

Think outside the soap

            There has only been one job I’ve worked that followed every single rule rigorously, and even had its own rules that exceeded the standards of the Board of Health. It took a little time to get used to dressing like a surgeon to cut a few carrots, but after a while it was surprisingly relaxing. A supervisor would walk in and calmly mumble, “Hey guys, Board of Health is here.” Everyone would kind of shrug and say, “Alright” without turning their heads. Everything was so perfectly organized, clean, sanitary and spotless that we didn’t have to do anything other than what we normally did. Now it seems silly to me that at other places everyone freaks out because they are, in fact, breaking the rules. I’m not much for recreational drugs, for example, so it feels nice knowing I can always pass a drug test. I don’t freak out then and I don’t freak out on my station at work. No sweating, no shuffling around, no transforming and rolling out.

transformers-movie-pic3

Sorry buddy

            This was, however, more of a prep facility than a real kitchen. The reality of a real kitchen is that it’s simply not possible to have certain items kept at the right temperature all day or maintained in the right containers and serve good food quickly. It’s the same paradox of not being able to legally drive before taking a driving exam. How else would you practice?

            I honestly think we could all do with a little rule-breaking exposure more often. Sampling occasionally not-so-clean food could, in the best scenario, boost your immune system. Working at Babies R Us floored me because (among many other reasons) there was Purel EVERYWHERE. On shopping carts. Inside bathrooms. Outside bathrooms. By the registers. At the end of the aisles. It was crazy to me. These people were sanitizing their kids to death. When my mom found out her friend’s daughter had Chicken Pox I was sent over for some prompt, infectious snuggle time. I ate mud and played in dirt. The too-clean world we sometimes live in ruins too much of our natural immunity. Know what else does? AIDS.

"...should have had my ribeye rare."

“…should have had my ribeye rare.”

F.N.G.

                It’s a new year and a time for change. Myself included, many argue, “Why wait?” Why should January 1st of the Gregorian, Christian Calendar be the day we all unanimously decide to start sucking at life a little less? Well for my part I know I’m a phenomenal procrastinator. Unfortunately I can argue my way in or out of anything, so I have little difficulty arguing my way out of exercise, writing, job applications and even quitting a job.

                The truth is, it takes a quite a lot for me to leave a job. That is, for the sake of actually running away from that job, rather than to a better offer. If you read the Types of Cooks entry, I view myself as a Mercenary and won’t hesitate to leave my colleagues behind if it means a step up for me. Any balanced individual in the industry would support this, if not act similarly. However, there have to be very particular circumstances for me to leave for the sake of leaving; that is, because I’m not happy. They have to remain so for a good bit of time, as well.

Aaaaaaaany minute now

Aaaaaaaany minute now

                I try to go along considering myself fortunate just to be employed, and to take things in stride. The restaurant handles things in a way I deem unsanitary? Hey, let it go. You don’t own the place. If anything they won’t end up suing you. The boss is a douche? Bosses can be that way, just keep your distance and do a good job. Your coworkers are slacking? Hell, this can be a good thing. Make yourself shine. You’re not happy about the food you’re handling? Well, bills must be paid. Leave pride at the door. Endure, persevere, outlast, outdo and take it all in stride. It’s just a job.

"It's just a job. It's just a job."

“It’s just a job. It’s just a job.”

                Now, are all of these things are happening at once? Ok, time to GTFO! My list of grievances is kind of like a Connect-Four of misery. Suffering’s Sudoku. And things must fit just right to merit my departure. I have a high threshold for annoyances, but sometimes one just has to recognize the signs of a restaurant/business that is just plain bad. Experience teaches us what people, places, romances and jobs will be good, or bad fits for us. I know, for example, that you can’t pay me enough or give me good enough benefits to flip burgers or serve brunch for months on end. I’m not above such food, mind you, but I am above such mindless repetition. If I can do it in my sleep, I’d rather just be asleep.

"Wake me when the oven timer goes off."

“Wake me when the oven timer goes off.”

                So all the pieces fell together just right to form a nice, obvious EXIT sign for me to follow out the door of my last job and, thanks to a tip from an old, trusted friend, I landed where I am now. Now I’m the F.N.G. The F.N.G.is a ubiquitous and unanimously agreed upon term in this industry –and I’m sure others. I’m now the Fuckin’ New Guy. A friend once offered me a job by saying, “We need a new fry bitch, you interested?” I loved his no-nonsense, honest and up-front delivery. That’s what the F.N.G. is, first and foremost. I’m the new bitch, fresh meat, the bottom of the totem pole and by all accounts a burden to everyone else around who has officially been there longer than me, if even by a minute. That minute matters. In this meritocracy, seniority goes a long way. Now, I have none.

                Being the F.N.G. is a tried and true test of one’s character. It tests one’s pride, threshold, knowledge, work ethic and above all else, one’s ability to take shit; “Humility” to put it politely. I’ve said before that this testosterone-steeped, fast-paced environment of dog-eat-dog and survival of the fittest can ultimately be about how one handles him/herself under pressure. Everyone working at my new job knows this and they, like any self-respecting restaurant crew, want to see what I can take. If I can’t handle a few innocent jabs at my race, resume, family lineage, height or skill, I for damn sure am going to break down like toddler with a freshly skinned knee cap when Chef start screaming about why my food is wrong, taking too long or, by his standards, fuck-ugly as hell. There’s always a nice, brief period of hazing with jokes about the F.N.G. No matter where I am, what I’m doing or even if I have the day off, everything is my fault. Blame it on the new guy. I could be scrubbing a pot in the back dish pit and the pasta guy still has every right to blame his broken sauce on me. “The fuckin’ new guy re-heated it when we opened, I don’t know what he did.” I, of course, have no clue what he’s talking about because I haven’t touched a sauce all day, but no matter. It’s still my fault.

      Almost everyone is not serious about this. It’s an understood joke. No one will act like it, though, until they see and, more importantly, gauge my reaction. If I come running up to the line in a panic, worried about my reputation as a decent cook and my all-around job security franticly screaming, “Chef, I haven’t re-heated sauce for anyone all day, do you want me to redo it, though?” I will be laughed at (albeit silently) and they will all know that I am weak, and easily shaken. I probably won’t be put on the line on Saturday nights. Maybe garde manger is safer for a weakling of my nervous caliber.

::Sigh:: "Yes, Chef."

::Sigh:: “Yes, Chef.”

     If I take offense and vocalize my paranoid delusions about how the pasta guy has had it out for me from the get-go, they’ll all think I’m a too-serious nut job and be generally wary of me. Such a reaction is suicide, as they’ve all seen such psychosis in coworkers before and know how to handle/avoid it.

Not healthy

Not healthy

     If I smile, say nothing and shrug it off, they’ll all know I can take a good hit, that I get it, and that this is really no concern. I will be viewed pretty normally, and they’ll wait to see what actual cooking skills I have. Now, if I walk casually up to the line and say, “Sorry, Chef I thought that can of Chef Boyardee I snuck in here was gonna cut it,” I’ll get a good laugh and everyone will know that not only can I take a joke, but I can give a tasteful one back, hence my current job security as a busy night heavy hitter.

Nailed-It

     While in the phase of haze I’m given the beautiful opportunity to observe and judge the people around me. The nice ones and the not-so-nice ones. The calm surgeons and the nervous wrecks. The skilled veterans and the jaded lifers.  This environment of newness is the time for epitomizing the concept of willed perception.  When I see a thirty-something fry guy who sighs a lot, never opens his eyes all the way and comments about  his job like Eeyore, I don’t view him as the shining example of how I should set up my station or prepare my dishes. I try to learn quickly which sous chef is the every-man the line cooks love, and which one is the Nazi about hot plates and clean rims. I keep the former smiling with banter, and the latter from frowning, well, by any means necessary.

     The main issue when being F.N.G. is humility. Leave your pride at the door. Leave your experience at the door. As a matter of fact, leave your damn mouth at the door. Just shut up and nod at everything anyone says. No one likes a know-it-all, especially a new one. A fun observation I’ve made in my first couple of weeks here is one surrounding the ideas and mechanisms of judgment. At my last couple of jobs I was deeply and sincerely bothered when I noticed people cutting corners or doing anything in a way that seemed wasteful of time, product or common sense. But really, who was I to judge what was wasteful? I’ve noticed that ignorance, whatever its source, removes the entitlement that fuels judgment. Right now I know nothing. Even if I do, it doesn’t matter. I’m the new guy. I have no room to judge anyone because even if they’re doing it differently than I would, that’s just how it’s done here. For the first time in at least three jobs, I once again feel refreshingly under qualified and have been forced to be blissfully open to and accepting of all I see.

                I’m fortunate to be employed, but I’m very fortunate to be where I am now. It’s a good fit, and I feel good about it. The cooks here are refreshingly professional in their work and delightfully tasteless in their humor. They’re the perfect balance of pro and pirate. Pleasantly unique, they’re some of the nicest people I’ve worked with. I’m often cautious of how much of myself to reveal to a new crew and at what intervals, but this crew gave me no choice. I spent as much time drinking with them (against my will) as I did working with them. They all greeted me by name every shift and said how happy they were to have me aboard.

     The chefs (that is, bosses) are the right balance of silly and terrifying. Some are more conversational than others, but all of them are meticulously attentive to detail and don’t hesitate to tell me when I do a good job, and when I’m ruining everything. Like any job or any situation, it is what you make of it. The grass is green where you water it. I think I’ll be tending this garden for a while.

P.S.

             If you ever get tired of calling a new guy F.N.G. you can go with something a seaman on a Navy submarine told me. My favorite: F.U.N.G.U.S.   Fuck U New Guy U Suck. Happy hazing!