Category Archives: Musings

Channeling Positive Energy

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I was pretty upset by the time I got home today but then I spent a solid three hours poring over recipe websites, YouTube videos, and my Charcuterie book/bible frantic with inspiration. The story unfolds…

See, the Pantry Boys got totally reamed by Chef again today during service. They were taking so long to push out some of their tickets that Chef, in his impatience, left the pass and personally started plating some salads. He enlisted my assistance, having me gather the ingredients he would need while he worked at my station. Eventually though, I had a few tickets to work on, so he had to fetch the final garnishes himself.  Upon closer inspection of their station and its disorganized mess, he completely lost it. “This is a joke!” he shouted. “You two are not fit to run your own station! At this rate, you’ll be spending the next two years on Pantry at LEAST!”

I felt bad for them; Musician Stage especially seemed to be taking it pretty hard. But at the same time, it made me think again about asking Chef for a raise. After all, things like that don’t happen under my watch. I work hard, I am focused, and I care a great deal (certainly more than these kids who don’t seem to give a flying you-know-what).

I approached Fish Guy for advice since I know I can trust him. I told him that I felt it was time I moved up from the starting rate, especially when I see how the new kids are under-performing. He confided that he knows how much everyone makes and he told me that, actually, the Pantry Boys had managed to negotiate higher day rates than mine. WHAT THE HELL. I felt more than a little slighted, and Fish Guy reminded me that Chef is first and foremost a businessman — in the interest of keeping costs down, he’s not just going to offer me a raise out of the blue even if I deserve one. I’d have to ask for it and present my case. So, I reminded myself, it’s nothing personal.

Honey Bunny was kind enough to let me rant to him, and after I got the anger out of my system, I channeled my energy into researching my next charcuterie project. (I’m generally a positive person, so I was grateful for a distraction to put me in a better mood.)

I’ve been wanting to bring in a whole pig’s head and make a coppa di testa salumi, a delicious Italian cured meat that Honey Bunny and I tracked down at a tiny hole-in-the-wall salumeria in Boston. Browsing through recipes, however, I stumbled across a related forgotten favorite — Vietnamese gio thu, head cheese that is essentially the same thing as coppa but with a different spice palate. I take for granted that charcuterie is a part of every cuisine and culture; until now, I only thought of fancy French pates and Italian salumis. For example, I was mind blown when I realized that Chinese sausage (lap xuong or lap chong) is, too, charcuterie. Anyway, I am finally caught up on my mise (and well-stocked with terrines, garnishes, and pickles) so I can make time to take on new projects or start learning salumis. These are just a few ideas I’ve been considering. I think this forum for creativity is why just about everyone who has worked this station loved it.

Money is just money. Even if Chef says no (assuming I work up the courage to ask), this learning opportunity is incredibly unique. There are not many restaurants that do their own charcuterie and even fewer willing to teach. You can bet that I will be honing these skills for the rest of my culinary career.

Life is too short to be angry, so for now, I’m going to continue working my ass off and practicing the new techniques I’m learning. After all, everything works out in the end, right?

PS: I don’t think I mentioned it, but Honey Bunny and I went to see the movie Chef the other night. It’s a hilarious movie, enjoyable for anyone but especially relatable for those of us committed to Kitchen Life. I really liked it, although I did not find it quite as life-changing as Fish Guy had hyped it up to be. For those who have seen the movie (or even just the trailer), I leave you with this:

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Overheard in the Kitchen: I’m Going Down!

A Cross-Section View of the Chicken Liver Mousse Terrine

A Cross-Section View of the Chicken Liver Mousse Terrine

Today was filled with hilarious interactions and conversations so I’m going to do my best to retell the stories (they may well end up being the kind of stories where you just “had to be there” but I promise to try to provide context.

First, I was working in the walk-in to painstakingly butter a chicken liver mousse terrine when I accidentally dropped the pint cup i had been using to scrape chicken mousse off the plastic buttering card. Thinking I was alone, I let out a startled (and probably squeaky) “Oh no!” and when I turned around to pick it up, I found myself face to face with Chef himself, hands on his hips, chuckling as he shook his head. Of course, of all the people who could have caught me in that moment, it just HAD to be Chef.

Service started off with a not-so-happy happy hour. I think we had 2 tickets in the first 40 minutes – so slow! But then dinner really picked up. I got into the flow of the rush – sending out my terrines at lightning speed, helping out the boys on Pantry (it’s more fun making those salads when it’s just a once in a while thing), and hopping over to Hot Apps. I heard Singing Hot-Apps Guy shout out, “If I don’t get some help right now, I WILL go down!” I answered the call and he seemed relieved to have an extra pair of hands help with his eight tickets all simultaneously on fire. He and I work well together. I plated dishes, walked orders to the window, refilled his mise en place with trays of pasta from the walk-in, and perhaps most importantly, was there to listen as he talked through the tasks at hand and got himself straightened out. Then Sous Chef S came over to bail him out so I could get back to charcuterie. I later learned that we ALL heard his cries of “Oh no, I’m going down!!!” and we all had a good laugh in retrospect.

Speaking of Singing Hot-Apps Guy… a little character development: he lives in a local trendy neighborhood with his Instagram-famous girlfriend, sports a mustache/beard with or without Movember, wears highlighter colored t-shirts and plastic neon stunner shades (“ironically” of course), and scoffs at coffee that is not fair trade, organic, etc in favor of the brew he brings from home in a mason jar that was either Etsy-purchased or Pinterest-inspired. He is a nice guy but I love to tease him about how hipster he is. Today he was telling us about how he’s getting a new bike (he was recently in a motorist accident that landed him in the hospital – though he still showed up for work the next day, bruises and all!). His bicycle was totaled and he said today that he must get a new one because “that’s his thing.” Pastry Girl made the first comment about his hipster-ness and I remarked, “So, if I were to throw your mason jar mug out the window, that would just be the icing on the cake, wouldn’t it?” Pastry Girl almost fell over laughing and Singing Hot-Apps Guy chuckled heartily at the friendly jab.

Back to my brief comment about working together well, “flow” in the kitchen is incredibly important, especially when working in close quarters with a partner. You really need to be self aware and to anticipate what your partner will do next, where he/she will need to stand or walk, what drawer he/she would need to open, etc. Fumbling around and being in the way just leads to disaster. Apparently it’s hard to find someone you “jive” with and when you do, you find that you always want to work with them. This makes me strive to be someone who is easy to work with by working clean, being efficient and systematic, keeping a well-organized mise, staying calm under pressure, and recognizing and anticipating the needs of others.

Anyway, just some thoughts and musings from today.

PS: We had a great ticket come in today. “Mushroom Pizza — NO MUSHROOMS.” WTF.

Spontaneous Sushi

Maguro (tuna) sashimi

Maguro (tuna) sashimi

[Backdated to Thursday 3/13]

Last night Honey Bunny and I spontaneously decided to go out on a dinner date at our favorite local hole-in-the-wall sushi joint. What better way to celebrate on a Wednesday night than with fresh fish and a strictly BYOB alcohol policy? I love the omakase here and it was a momentous occasion– I had been here a few times with bff S and Honey Bunny even came here with his bff Z but this was the first time that he and I actually dined here together. We brought a six-pack of Asahi to share with the kitchen staff.

The food was fantastic but what made the evening extra special was that our counter seats afforded us the intimate opportunity to connect with our chef. He has a hilariously dry and sarcastic sense of humor. After an obviously painful exchange we overheard between him and a clueless patron, I had to ask him, “Tell me, does your soul die a little inside every time you have to make a California roll?” He looked me in the eye and said “Yes. No one had ever asked quite like that. But yes.” He then chuckled and continued handling the board of orders that was quickly filling up.

We talked about how I recently gave up office life in favor of Kitchen Life. His reply was that he was proud of me for diving in and we bonded over how different Kitchen Life is from any other career path. He asked that I was doing at the restaurant and casually sneaked in, “Would you be interested in becoming a sushi chef someday?” I mentioned that I had not really considered it, but I love to eat sushi and have a great appreciation for the art form. He nodded and carried on.

He kept us long past closing time, commenting that he likes customers like us and is happy to put in the extra hour of work. He served us live amaebi (sweet shrimp) four ways, live scallop just shucked from its shell, and ankimo (monkfish liver – the foie gras of the sea) among so much other delicious fish. We were so full!

At the end of the night, he told me that he’s been wanting to teach and train a female sushi chef. Wink wink. In the already male-dominated world of the kitchen, arguably the most difficult cuisine in which a woman could try to break through is sushi. He started with Lesson 1, holding up a daikon radish and stated, in a loud and slow voice, “THIS IS A DAIKON.” He then proceeded to take his super sharp knife (with a bolster made of water buffalo horn – it makes a difference, he insisted) and shave an ever-so-thin layer around the outside of the root. A slice so thin, he said, that he should be able to read a newspaper through it. Katsuramuki, it’s called. He told me that if I wanted to get into sushi, I would have to be able to do this. “Try it on a potato,” he suggested, giving me what seems to be my first homework assignment.

Before we left, he came out from behind the counter and gave us each a hug. He seems truly serious about the prospect of taking me on as an apprentice. I still want to stay at my current restaurant for as long as I can (I feel like there’s so much to learn there!) but I’m excited that being part of this world is already opening up these amazing opportunities. You can bet I’ll be buying a potato (or perhaps a daikon radish) on my next day off and practicing my knife skills. Maybe this is where my path will take me next!

PS: Because of the open kitchen, I was able to catch a glimpse into their version of Kitchen Life and I have to tell you — there are many surprising cultural similarities from one kitchen to another. Namely they WILL give each other dead-leg (walking up behind someone and pushing your knee into their knee to make it buckle under) and threaten to burn off each other’s arm hair with the blowtorch. Just another day in the life. I can see what Anthony Bourdain meant when he too was surprised that his story resonated so deeply in cooks and chefs the world over.

Career Trajectory: Quarter Life Crisis

One of my friends shared a link to this article today on Facebook called the Asian American Quarter Life Crisis. I wanted to share it with my friends and Matcha Bunny readers because the story truly resonated in me. My parents have always been incredibly supportive but not without also stressing the importance of education, hard work, and persistence. And so, I could especially sympathize with this: “Most of us have been raised to think about our futures for as long as we can remember.  It starts with math workbooks.  Gifted summer camps.  Endless SAT prep.  All for the sake of fabulous college applications, which lead us to the best universities.  The best internships.  The best (read: most lucrative, most prestigious, most stable) careers, which usually fall somewhere in the vicinity of medicine, law, engineering, and (corporate) business.”

When I tell people about my latest life decision to leave the office and become a line cook, I get generally positive feedback about this lofty idea of pursuing my dreams. “Good for you!” they tell me. But their well-wishes are always tempered with hesitation that they “would never be able to do it” themselves. And it’s not cooking that they refer to… it’s giving up financial security and stability. (Of course, I’m referring to acquaintances, coworkers, clients, etc. My close friends, my family, and Honey Bunny are and have always been genuinely supportive.)

But one person I told — one of my old mentors, an SAT tutor from high school — had something a bit different to say: “In today’s economy, it’s not easy for a person to quit a secure job. But you did it! And you did it for the right reason: to follow your heart. I’m really, really proud of you. You’re an entrepreneurial artist–and I suspect that you have found your calling in life.”

If you asked me where I thought I would be five years ago, this life… is nowhere near anything I could have even begun to imagine. Come to think of it, five years ago I was this close to signing a three-year contract to teach English in Japan. And now at the restaurant, we’ve been taking on more and more stages, so it would seem that I had seized the perfect opportunity to be hired with a bit of seniority.

Just taking a moment to reflect on how funny life works out sometimes. :)