Wednesday, July 28, 2010


A word my new chef throws around a lot is "love," and when he says that he means paying attention to details, going the extra mile, making it perfect. Pondering his use of that word got me thinking about my relationship with my old kitchen, which by the end of my stay had certainly evolved into "love" in one of the other senses of the word.

When I first started, I was, quite naturally, The New Guy. I didn't know what was going on, where things were, what I needed to do. I often felt incompetent and out of place. Even knowing one of the other cooks before I started didn't help me feel like part of the family. Despite the overall positive energy of that kitchen, there were times when I got so down on myself that I wanted to leave the job. Ironically, the night that my friend left our kitchen to move to another state was when I started to really become a part of the kitchen. I've never been able to figure out what about that night made it transformative; it could have been me loosening up and having a few drinks with everyone else or maybe it was just being part of that combination ceremony/celebration/parting of ways. After that night, I got more and more involved in keeping the kitchen going and trying to improve our food. I started contributing more specials and developing dishes. I became somehow emotionally invested in what we were doing, which naturally lead to giving more "love" to everything I did there. I don't think that kind of caring attitude can't be invented or imposed. For me, whether it develops or not has everything to do with love for the kitchen, which itself surely has unknowable roots.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hi, I'm the New Guy

I started a new job about two weeks ago on Monday the 12th. I changed restaurants because, though I loved my old kitchen to death, I felt that it would never take my skills to the next level of refinement. My new job, butchering and cooking all the proteins for one of the top fine dining restaurants in DC, is definitely already shaping me into a faster, more precise cook. I am shedding old habits and gaining new ones (especially keeping everything clean clean and neat neat!) and making a real effort to open my mind to everything I see and am told. It's far too easy to act receptive outwardly while in fact rejecting new ideas out of arrogance or laziness.

I believe my learning curve at the new restaurant is going to be different than at previous jobs. At my first real restaurant job, things were tough at first, and then I quickly got competent and lazy and my learning rate dropped steadily. The kitchen that I just left kept me learning because it had a great spirit of curiosity and valued experimentation. I learned about new techniques and products because we were all enthusiastic about educating ourselves and doing new things. At my new job, I hope the learning rate with stay high for months to come. Right now I am focused on learning how to be fast on the line. It sucks to be the one holding everyone else up. Tonight was the first super-busy day (almost every day is busy) that I really handled decently, so I'm hoping that I'll start focusing on improving my butchery skills. After I've mastered the butchery I'm responsible for, I hope to start learning the mise for other stations, because there's a lot of really interesting technique being applied elsewhere in the kitchen. People are always curing fish or making gels or doing other stuff that I'd be thrilled to be learning, but right now I'm too busy just trying to keep my head above water to get involved.