Recipe

Life is more the approximation of cooking than the exactitude of baking.  There are an infinite number of ways to proceed. 

Be curious, consider the methods used by every person you meet, and, in doing so, find your own way.  Develop your own recipes and never hesitate to share them.  To hoard them is to become your own dragon.

Become seasoned by the road of experience, but be wary of hardening.  The residue of clarity yields a suggestion of radiance, unmistakably luminous.        

May your love be a light in dark places.

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Cooking Poetry

There is poetry in cooking, and there is cooking in the writing of poetry.  Both require science, art, observation.  Both require an approach that is – to some extent – a combination of military thinking and creative thinking.  A sense of when to obey the laws, bend the laws, break them, rewrite them, be served by them.

Each poem – like each recipe – requires a different approach, process, procedure.  Maybe you jot down ideas, plan it out ahead of time.  Maybe you listen to something deep inside of yourself and follow it, go by the feeling instead of a recipe.  Maybe you just wing it, see what happens, end up with timeless gold, or some compost to throw on the pile.

One time it comes like a flash in a pan, and any further tinkering might disrupt the integrity of the thing.  Another time it requires marinating, a longer cooking time, a good deal of stirring, a few adjustments.  The end result might be complex or simple, opulent or thrifty.

Cooking or poetry, ingredients or language.  In either case, a transformation has occurred.  Something has developed, something that wasn’t there before.

Poetry and cooking: you will be cut, burned, exhausted, thrilled, fed.  You will feel alive.

Induction

Yesterday morning I got up and went to work.  By 6:30 I had ten pounds of orzo rolling at a gentle boil in two large pots of salted water with a bit of olive oil, stirring often with a huge wooden spoon, rubbing its head against the bottom of the pots every two minutes.  Left untended, orzo has a tendency to settle and stick.  Once it sticks, it begins to scorch, infusing the entire batch of pasta with a burnt odor and flavor.

Once the orzo had been drained, shocked in ice water, drained again, lightly oiled and put away to be mixed with other ingredients later, I got a rondeau of risotto going.  You know the deal: arborio, onions, butter, wine, vegetable stock, beat out the starch, yaddah-yaddah.  While I hunched over the wide shallow French-style pot and stirred the Italian-style rice porridge, the world kept turning, exploding in my imagination with its ten-thousand things.

That was yesterday.  This is today.  So this morning I ask myself, is there a way?  Is there a way I can be here, in this place, a little easier?  And still wanting to know everything without needing to know anything?  I pray those who need rest will get it.  I pray those who need food will have it.  I hope those who struggle to lift their heads might find that quiet strength.  I hope those who crackle with electric energy may continue to burn long into their nights and days, wrapped in the cloak of their own naked fire.

Am I half asleep?  How does this come to me?  It comes to me as I pass stacked boxes of bananas at dawn, as I pass young women running with braided hair, heaps of black garbage bags, tired men collecting cans, dogs, hipsters, strollers being pushed, buses, bicycles, a Dominican barbershop.  It comes to me as if I have plucked at the edge of a web, and the creature at its heart is New York, and the creature has woken while I move along one of its sticky strands.

 

Bittersweet: A Portrait of Professional Cooking

The kitchen end of the restaurant business is a fascinating industry to work in, if you’re fascinated with minds warped by the toll of long hours, intense stress, and hearing the same songs ooze out of grease-addled radio speakers.

Then there are the bodies attached to those cerebral cortexes – bodies beaten into submission over time, driven to require daily doses of pain pills, anti-inflammatory drugs, and – in the case of a couple of Bosnian guys I worked with – horse tranquilizers. In every cook’s toolbox or knife roll, a bottle of something nests between the tomato shark and the channel knife, especially if the cook is upwards of forty years old. He or she may likely find themselves in physical therapy, trying xi gong, having surgery, or all three.

Of course there are chef gigs that are purely administrative, but there will still be days when you find yourself back at the burners because your sous chef couldn’t make it, and tonight’s service will likely spiral out of control if you don’t step in and run the show. C’est la vie.

Do you fancy yourself a foodie, keeping up with the trendy, the unusual, or whatever recently photo-shopped ingredient excites you from brains to bowels? Do you adore playing with multifaceted colors, textures, shapes, and flavors? Gastronomically phenomenal – come and join us.  Just be warned: it may not be quite what you think it is. Kitchens worldwide are havens for burnouts and criminals – there are plenty of weeds among the flowers in the garden of Food and Beverage. I’ve seen fresh hires on day one go out for a smoke and never come back. I’ve seen room service guys offer up sexual harassment to their co-workers, regardless of gender, the likes of which cannot be uttered here.

Once I had the privilege of watching a cook from Argentina throw a knife at a busboy from Peru: the result of some sparkling insults. The knife missed the busboy and they were both promptly fired.

Another time, working at a ritzy hotel chain, I asked where the head chef had gone for vacation. I’d only been there two weeks, but hadn’t seen the chef for days (the sous chef was running the kitchen). I learned that the head chef wasn’t on vacation. This man – who had interviewed me, who I viewed as professional, who everyone addressed as “chef” – had been promptly fired and escorted off the property, after a female dishwasher complained that he had taken out his genitals and shown them to her.  I guess the ugliness of the human race can’t be stifled by the simple construct of a glamorous establishment, even with its lush fountains and marble floors.

But a big part of me loves the restaurant business, and you might too, if you’re crazy enough. Just know that hunkering down to clean out the grease-trap while you gag on the smell (the dishwasher no-called no-showed and there’s nothing to do but roll up your sleeves and do it yourself) might be a hard pill to swallow. Stomping down the overflowing trash in the dumpster because the owner of the restaurant won’t pay for an additional weekly garbage pick-up – well, it might leave a bitter taste in your mouth, one that doesn’t jive with that killer chimichurri you so enjoy making. You may not be able to cope with an old-school chef giving you a public-school ass-chewing, but hey, you probably asked for it.

It is certainly true that a wisp of satisfaction and a share in the stock of Art graces the shoulders of the chef in a spare-no-expense operation, or a high-end restaurant with its own garden out back, cheese ripening in the cellar, and cooks who are so passionate and dedicated to their craft that they are like mini-chefs themselves. This circumstance affords the chef an opportunity to touch tables, hob-knob, sponge compliments, urinate leisurely without any sting, and take more fully into consideration the feedback of the orally anal diners (or privately choose to write off their comments as trite excrement).

Other than that, my young Trotters, it’s back to a never-ending onslaught of administrative tasks mixed with cartilage-grinding labor, traditionally served with good ol’ American bureaucracy.