I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 3, 2013

Observations of Kitchen Life (what I learned Trailing)

I am as much as a FNG (fucking new guy) in the kitchen as you can be. If you are like me, and a starting off the best thing to do and everyone will tell you is to trail in any kitchen you can get into. A trail is when you basically work/observe a shift or spend a day in the kitchen for free. Yes for free, I know, your time and labor is just so important that the idea of spending a few hours of your precious time (apologies for taking up time from your research in restructuring the EuroZone) but honestly, I have done a few and even with an externship/stage secured, I continue to find places that will have me. In the kitchen world, not only do you learn (hey after peel a box of apples, you now know how to peel apples efficiently!) especially in top kitchens and bakeries there is a mentality and demeanor that all the cooks have: I want to do better. That is one thing that you cannot learn in any school unfortunately, that drive and desire to constantly do better.
 School as much as it is helpful, is a safety blanket and a luxury (working I have met some cooks that will let you know how much of a luxury it is, so having a thick skin helps). The equipment, the unlimited supplies of towels (more on this later) is simply a dream. Sure you always try (at least I do) to make the best cake or something in class, but in the back of your mind, you know that if you completely fuck this up, it is okay. This is not going to cost you, no one is waiting on it and if it taste bad, only you and your dog will really know. Doing a trail gives you a taste (#seewhatIdidthere) of what working in a kitchen is really like, and I emphasize on the “taste” part, they know that you essentially know shit and keep you from completely screwing everything up. I cannot emphasize enough on how much you learn by trailing or kitchen experience, especially for someone that has really never been in a kitchen. My advice (like I am really in any position to give advice) trail wherever you can at whatever you consider the best and do not settle for less.  

 Here are some interesting observations I have made so far:

1.       Towels are a valuable commodity
You get maybe at most, 2 towels. From drying your hands, wiping down you space (got to work clean) and grabbing hot stuff (sorry no animal shaped oven mitts). In school, you basically can get like unlimited towels, but in the kitchen, that shit cost money.
2.       Deli pints and quarts are valuable
The plastic containers that Chinese takeout or deli salads come in is like the storage bins of the kitchen. Also, your drinking cup. I literally do not know what the hell cooks did before these plastic containers, they are versatile and people will hide these containers all over the place (found a stack in an exhaust hood or just empties in a refrigerator)
3.       Sriracha and Choula is amazing
A bottle of one or both (if you got both in the kitchen, you fancy huh?) are present at family meal. Salt and pepper maybe the basic seasonings on your plate but we will drown everything in this during family meal. Basically you get palate fatigue, especially in pastry, you crave spicy, sour and salt and the cock sauce and Mama Choula gives you that. Respect it.
4.       Spoons are universally the most important tool, pastry or savory
Spooning out butter, basting, quenelles or saucing, you need a spoon. Everyone has a few spoons at their station used for whatever. Oh and don’t steal spoons, I pretty sure if in kitchen law, you could die from committing such a heinous act. (or your street clothes may get frozen in a block of ice in the walk in)
5.       Your allergies/diet restrictions are no fun
Fine you have celiac or legitimately lactose and cannot have cheese. But some strange ones I heard, “allergic to garlic and onions” or “will not eat meat but veal stock” but be smart and plan ahead. If you are allergic to mangoes, do not order something that has the mango sorbet in it. Do not be that guy.
6.       Well done dry aged beef= no
We will laugh at you
7.       Veal Sweetbreads do not have carbs
8.       There is more to Mexican desserts besides Churros
9.       You can always work cleaner
10.   Shilling for free food or hook ups, makes you look like an ass. We will laugh at your sad attempts to get “hooked up”
Wow, you will write a good review on Yelp? Thanks! Do you know who gets hooked up in a restaurant? Regulars and industry people and especially people that do not try and shill (I write a blog) for food. I never understood why people ask you for free crap especially if you are in the food industry. It is a business too and cost money people should realize and the “free advertisement” is not a legitimate argument. If your neighbor is a mailman do you ask him to hook you up with free stamps? Here is the deal, if you are a teacher and come into a restaurant and trying to get free food, I want like, markers or boxes of free sharpies or if my kid sucks at algebra, you tutor his ass Fair?
11.   Have a sense of humor
The work is hard and the hours are long having a sense of humor helps a lot

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back to School...Back to School...

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Cooking ain’t no Ratatoullie, cute rats cooking food, have you ever seen a NYC rat? Do not want that making a bernaise, rats in a kitchen, total health code violation

Updates have been slow on this blog mainly because I entered a new phase. I decided against better and rational judgment, to finally go to culinary school specifically pastry, sweets and other things from the sugar kingdom. Though I have extensively read about reasons not go to culinary school, besides the ridiculous price tag, I can justify it for the fact I am coming in cold and as a career changer, if you want to call my current job a career, culinary school I have been able to better network and easier to trail at kitchens with the school. As for affordability, I am on the weekend schedule, meaning Saturday and Sunday for the day, I am stuck in a kitchen but I still work my 9-5 on the weekday. I got cash flow and not straight broke…yet but I am going to leave The Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) debt free.
Also, I am the only dude in my pastry class, all my other dude friends are like, hells yeah, surrounded by girls all the time. But I fail to mention that they are basically all married and also, I am sorry, but no one, guy or girl looks attractive in checkered pajama pants and commis hat. If this turns you on…well whatever you are into. Also, I know more about girl drama than I ever want to know; now I understand what being in a CW TV show is like.
As much as I have this romantic notion of cooking and baking, one thing that I made sure and clear when I started this is to accept the facts of cooking:

1.       You are going to be broke. You are not going to make that much money, and if you wanted to make more, take that money and go to graduate school instead. Unless you become a TV whore or create Donkey sauce, you will not be rolling around in dough (and I personally think if that is your end goal, you are cooking for the wrong reasons but that is another time)
2.       You work when people play. Friday, Saturdays and holidays? Workdays and money days. When “normal” people relax, your ass is in the kitchen, which leads too…
3.       LONG HOURS. You may officially put in a 35-40 hour a week as mandated by Labor Laws but if you are working at a top tier restaurant, do be surprised and be ready to work double shifts 16-17 hours Also the curse of pastry and baking, you have to wake up and go in at ungodly hours that only on-call hospital workers and junkies know about. And pastry in a kitchen, guess who is the last one to break down their station? Unfortunately, dessert does not come first.
4.       Your comfort does not exist. Kitchen to hot? Suck it up and don’t sweat on the muffins. Too cold? Think warm thoughts. Hungry at noon? It’s the lunch rush, maybe you can sneak some nuts from your mise. Feet hurt?
5.       Social life does not exist, you are going to miss birthday parties, bat mitzvahs and weddings. All Facebook invites will be unanswered.
6.       Physically demanding job. Cooking is physical, lots of bending down, hunched over and sacks of potatoes and flours are not light. Remember to lift with your knees and girls, chivalry is dead in the kitchen. If I am arms deep in a meringue, I do not have time and cannot move that tray of dough. Just lift from the knees
7.       This is a dirty job which I never understand why Chef whites are said color, I have been stained multiple colors and take your watch off before whisking a bowl of meringue, shit is hard to clean off.
8.       You will get hurt. You will cut yourself. You will burn yourself. Sugar is really hot.
9.       Repetition. Sure scooping out cookies is fun at home, but are you prepared to scoop out trays and trays of cookies of uniform size and amount? And do not think about licking that scooper (health code violation). Lemon curd is not thick enough? Do it again. Broken ganache? Again. Bread ain’t right? Again.

Okay, so I may have written a grim view of the culinary world and this does not pertain to everyone in the culinary world. You can go work corporate and actually have vacation days and benefits. It is possible to have a relationship and a social life outside of work. I just know that these are things that I can expect when working and the sooner I accept these facts, I can concentrate on cooking and making good food. I mean hell, what do I know? I am just a culinary student, I am not doing my first trail until Monday.

 I mean, none of this sounds great. At all, joining the Marine Corps when I had the chance sounds more appealing, so why do I want to do this? Am I a masochist? Is it because I cannot hack it at a normal job? Is the simple fact that I like feeding people a legitimate reason to do this? That I love food and making it? Even when I am tired and sore and half asleep, I still think about making food and how I can do it better? Are these ideals enough to survive on and enough to cloud the reality of the job? I do not know. I won’t know for a while and I may never know the answer to this. Though the more experience and things I learn (in cooking you are always learning, that I am sure and to survive in this business you need to keep learning) my ideas and thoughts change. One thing that changed was the idea of blogging about food were suddenly, now that I am about to be part of this industry, it just seemed weird and awkward to write and critique the food of others. Does having fat kid tendencies and eating a lot legitimate credentials to play blogger? I learned to just enjoy the moment and the food and just enjoy the damn meal.

I will still be blogging, less updates. I may blog things about places I go and eat depending on how I feel.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sam's BBQ: Austin, Texas

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: need to get some more lamb ribs

Sam’s Barbecue is located in East Austin and may not show up on a lot of people’s radar but that is their mistake. The place is run down, it is old, there are faded photographs on the wall and there is no air running through that place. The tables are clean, but have that layer or that sticky coating. You sit on the vinyl booths and you question if you are able to get yourself up because the heat of the place and you sweating, you just maybe stuck to the chair. Weirdly enough, the only “modern” thing was the television in the middle of the dining area, blaring some old Western. Walking in there is the notable slogan of Sam’s Barbecue, “you don’t need no teeth, to eat our beef”. 
I was already bursting at the seams with meat, eating and despite my usual meaty trifecta, I was straight going to die (I had Black’s and Salt Lick earlier that day). I went with the two plate combo of brisket and mutton, came with a side of beans and potato salad and came to the grand total of 10.95. The cheapest barbecue I had yet. The mutton was the special here and the thing to get. The mutton is from the breast/ribs and fatty. 
“Do you like the fat” He asked. I acknowledge that I did and that fat is where the flavor is at and that gave him a chuckle. I kept thinking back to the tagged mantra “no teeth to eat our beef” as he carved the mutton, its meat sagging over the ribs and the brisket, that required both hands to scoop up into the tray. He ladled on a sauce without a choice, but did give me the choice of either white or wheat bread, surprising that I actually had options and being a first. 

I decided to take my chances outside in the hot Texas sun and besides, barbecue taste better outside…especially when it is like 101 degrees. The mutton was great; it had a great gamey flavor to it and hint of smoke. He was not kidding about it being fatty, I am pretty sure that the meat basically confited. The brisket was again, moist and almost like pot roast however, I think the overall fattiness of the beef, did not allow smoke penetration to the meat. The sauce was plain, straight tomato based sauce but overall neutral. It lacked any acidity or sweetness, and just tasted like tomatoes. I guess it served as a lubricant rather than a flavor enhancer but like all the barbecue I have had in Austin, it did not need sauce. 

As I was sitting there baking in the sun, I cannot help and think of the history behind this place. Admittedly, this place is not located in the best part of East Austin. I mean you would feel nervous coming here late at night. But this you cannot help and admire at all the pictures on the wall, unintentionally chronicling the history of this place and Austin. Upon further research, Sam’s is one of the oldest African American owned barbecue joints in Austin. Though there has been some negative press about the place recently, it is still a place that barbecue eaters should continue to go and it is true, you don’t need any teeth to eat their beef.

Sam’s BBQ
2000 East 12th Street
 Austin, TX

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Red Hook Vendors

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Meals taste better off of crappy paper plates

Unless you live in Carroll Gardens/Red Hook, getting to the Red Hook Vendors is a bit of a hike. The closest stop is the Carroll Street stop on the F and G line and even then, it is a good 20 minute walk (I think for normal people that do not walk stupid fast like me). That is a lot of travelling for food. But it is worth it to eat some good food and support a local community. I first saw the vendors on television a while back, I think it was on either Bourdain’s show or Zimmerman’s, either way, outdoor street vendors making non-Gringo’d food? I am so there. 

Unfortunately throughout the years, the numbers of vendors have dwindled but this should not deter you because you are going to eat well either way. They line the soccer fields and one of the most popular trucks is the Country Boys truck that you can try at Smorgasburg too, but the lines here are hipster free! They are doing Mexican food though they have tacos, do not miss out on their huraches or their sopes. A Hurache is a gut bomb; think of it as one huge taco that gets topped with refried beans, vegetables and a choice of meat. It comes on two plates and requires you to use both your hands. Sopes are deceptively heavy, masa cakes that are filled with refried beans and then topped with meat and vegetables. I love the chicharrons they are doing here, in this case meaning fried pork skin, little bits of fried crunchy goodness.

The Cesina (salted beef) is something that I also like and got on one of the Sopes, only thing is I kind of wish they chopped it up for easier consumption. Another cart was frying up empanadas which I suggest getting the chicken and cheese empanada rather than the straight cheese which can get thick and gummy as it cools down. Crispy shell that shatters with each bite with a savory running filling makes this an idea snack…or light meal. 

Guatemala and Central American vendors are here too making great ceviches. I got the shrimp ceviche topped with a nasal clearing hot sauce and cancha, the mutant gigantic roasted corn kernels that are found in Peru and other places. The ceviche is another meal in a bowl, though some would question buying ceviche from the back of a truck, it is perfectly fine. Filled with shrimp and onions, the ceviche broth is refreshing to drink down on a hot day.

 The pupusas from the El Salvadorian truck is a winner too. I got a pupusa platter one with chorizo and cheese and the other with loroco and cheese. Loroco is a flower/plant found in Central America. Heard about it, never had it, got it out of curiosity and it taste like a vegetable. Good but it did not have a distinct taste, but then again, shoved in a corn cake and cheese, nothing is really distinct. The pupusas are topped with an addicting pickled cabbage that I could really just eat all on its own. Get the cashew juice here, it is sweet and refreshing and despite what you may think, not nutty in anyway. 

The Red Hook Vendors are great to visit and you can eat well without spending a whole lot. Everyone here is friendly, the food is good and if you really want, you can watch the kids play soccer (in a non-Megan’s law creepy way of course). This is another thing where showing up with a group is a good thing so you can try many things from different carts. I hope the Red Hook Vendors continue to do business and are around next summer, it is a must do for everyone.