Monday, October 19, 2009

My really cool job is what cooking is all about for!

I know most of you have been following along with my career these past few years. If you were an earlier reader, you no doubt will remember my original blog titled "Day in the Life of  Corporate Chef" followed by "Day in the Life of a Private Chef", coming to the current title you read above. Before my life as a "semi-pro food blogger", I did everything from diners to fast food joints to nursing homes to country clubs. To say I've had an interesting career in the many facets of running a kitchen is an understatement!

We chefs that have been around awhile may try to look back at all the great and not-so-great things we've had to endure along the way and roll our eyes a little. To think of all the HUNDREDS or THOUSANDS of hours we spent on our feet, slamming pans, scrubbing pots and cutting shallots, it makes our heads spin!

Crazy, looking back, I remember thinking while cutting french fries on the dank basement of Lenny's Lunch when I was 13 that, if this is cooking, I don't want ANYTHING to do with it!!! A few years/ jobs later, while flipping square burgers at the local fast food chain, that "If THIS is cooking, I don't want anything to do with it!". And yes, a few years/ jobs later, while frying bellied clams, cleaning the hoods and boiling out the fryers that "If THIS is cooking, I don't want ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT,  AHHHH!!!".

And now, a few years/ jobs later, here I am, typing to you, I think I finally made it over the hump. All that bullshit, griping, whining and stuff lead me to this day. Wow, crazy.

I heard a couple new guys I have working for me complaining about peeling snap peas, dicing a few shallots and washing some dishes and I remember those same complaints my fellow grunts used to endure from ME and laugh a little.

I wonder how long it takes for us "lifers" to stop complaining and become overwhelmed with joy that we are chefs? I have NO idea. Its like this imaginary line that we cross one day in our careers where washing dishes, peeling carrots and chopping onions just becomes part of our soul and we are given the ability to pass that shit on to others, thanking God in a small way that we don't have to do that medial crap anymore, lol

See, I love cooking, and all the creative processes that lead up to a finished dish. I think, however, I like to mentor others into doing it for me better. Leading a team, I've finally figured, is what cooking is all about. It's like becoming a doctor or a classical pianists, you bitch and moan about the years of commitment, the practice, the books, the practice, the lack of sleep, whining along the way to, finally, get your lab coat or to lead an orchestra. You think, "Wow", I get it now!!! Well, that's where I'm at, finally.

I returned to the country club scene after a 4.5 year stint with the corporate food world. Let's just say it was one of the more enduring times of my career. I loved the work but didn't care for many of the people above my pay scale, to be honest. Aside from a few "real" people that I loved and respected dearly, everyone else that worked for that company that I had to answer to was a bunch of shallow, arrogant douche bags that deserve each other. Although I appreciate the experience at the time, they are NOT what cooking is all about, truly. If you need a carrot dangled in front of your face to keep you motivated, then the corporate food service scene is for you. (Well, the hours were great and I got to meet some famous people, lol, that was cool :) )

Anyway, back to the country club. It's a blast. We get to make some amazing food that most members appreciate. I get to share my vision with the team and we put it out with smiles, fun. Since I began about 4 1/2 months ago, we cleaned that shit hole up, re-organized the staff, brought the food quality up to par, made some members happy and began a great relationship with a few local farmers. I'm having the time of my life man! And, to make it even better, I'm 10 minutes from home. Finally, no commute! I've had to drive for 45 minutes each way for years.

So, if you're starting out in this crazy biz and are committed to it 100% and feel that you JUST can't pop another fava bean or that you are going to kill the sous chef for burning the sauce in the bottom of the pot AGAIN!!!, breath. Just BREATH and hang in there. A few years from now, you'll have some cool stories, a few scars, a bad back and varicose veins to share with that dude that says "this sucks" under his breath next to you every 10 minutes. (and, hey, remember, chicks dig a dude that can cook! :) )

Friday, October 02, 2009

3 days and 2 nights of fresh air, great food and awe inspiring views...

It was time to just to get away and hang out without any distractions. We were blessed with the ability to visit Western, NC for three days and two nights. We saw some jaw dropping views, ate some pretty awesome food and met some great people! And, most importantly, got some much needed rest.

Our trip began with a 3 hour drive (two pee stops) to Waynesville, NC where we stayed at the gorgeous Waynesville Inn. It was one of the best views we've ever sipped our morning coffee to and, for the money, one of the nicest places to stay. The service was great and, aside from the weeds growing out of the gutters and a couple mold spots on the ceiling in our room, the place was impeccable. (I know, I'm such a pain in the ass noticing the details, but hey, that's what chefs do! :) )

We had a great meal there our first night at the "Cork and Cleaver Restaurant" on premises. The wife enjoyed the filet mignon, cooked medium, served with au gratin potatoes. I, even though noticing their "Niman Ranch" meat logo, opted for their 12 ounce veal porter house, cooked very rare served with awesome stone-ground aged-Gouda grits. I think there was a salad involved in all this, but I don't quite remember. That veal erased my memory. Everything was amazing (well, the cook needs to learn how to cook a filet medium, he sent it out mid-rare, but our server had that fixed, thanks!). Dessert, we split the chefs special "Apple Fritters with Vanilla Ice Cream", yum, basically an apple compote filled won-ton wrapper, deep fried and tossed in cinnamon sugar, delicious and warm.

After an amazing nights sleep in this huge king sized bed (weird, we never touched once in this cavernous thing!), we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast (great coffee!) and a ride into Bryson City, NC where we rode the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad through the beautifully historic smokey mountains. It was a 4.5 hour round trip train ride with a stop half way for a quick lunch on the Nantahala river. (nothing worth writing about, we just had hot dogs, chips, coke and ice cream bars, lol). The temperature was a cool 68 degrees, perfect early fall weather! To say that that area was beautifully breath taking is a HUGE understatement. The pictures I took do not do it justice.

On our way back to the Inn, we decided to take the long way and drive into Cherokee, NC. Which is basically a place where it's legal to gamble and is marketed solely to tourists. It wasn't what we expected. It kinda reminded us of Myrtle Beach, SC but without the ocean. Was a shame, really. I hear there are really nice places to see there, but I guess we didn't drive down the right side street or something.

After stopping into about 3 t-shirt shops, we heading on our way taking a short cut through the Blue Ridge Parkway. We've talked about driving through there for years but never got around to it. Wow, words cannot describe how amazing it is. You drive through these winding roads with breath taking views around every bend. Just crazy pretty. Please go if you get the chance, whether you just drive it for a few minutes or try to travel the entire 400plus miles of it, its a "must see before you die" kinda place.

We finally got back to our room with empty bellies and off we went to find nourishment. One of the guys that ran one of the t-shirt shacks we went to suggested the "Sweet Onion" restaurant in downtown Waynesville. This is my kinda place. Great ambiance, great smells, open kitchen and great food! We really stuffed ourselves at this place, wasn't hard, everything on the menu looked great! We started off splitting two appetizers; Stuffed Fried Risotto (gooey filed risotto, breaded and deep fried served with an awesome red sauce) and the Ahi Tuna Sashimi (perfectly pan-seared sesame crusted ahi tuna served simply with soy sauce and wasabi, perfect). Our main courses were fettuccine Alfredo for the wife and, (not sure what I was thinking) a gut bomb of a bacon wrapped meatloaf served with mac and cheese and a crisp cucumber salad. Aside from the meatloaf being a little dry, the meal was perfect for both of us! No, no dessert, we didn't dare try. It would have been kinda like that guy on the Monty Python skit with the "thin way-fare" and we surely would have exploded all over the place, could have been messy.

After a nice walk down town, and a stop in a bookstore, we headed back for a long nights sleep, heading home the next day.

That next morning, after check out, I discovered a great cigar shop and just had to stop by. The wife thought it would be a good idea to go shopping well I stunk up myself. I met some great guys and look forward to seeing them in the future. Smoked a great CAO CX2 cigar as well, which topped off a great trip perfectly!

If you live in the Carolinas and just want to get away for a quick weekend trip, check out Western, NC, there's tons to do and, compared to the big city, is like another planet!

Got some pics below, enjoy.

Half-eaten rare veal port house, whoa!

In Cherokee, NC in front of one of many "1/2 off Moccasins" shops

After taking a golf cart out onto the 18 hole course located in front of our bedroom at the Waynesville Inn, I discovered a wild apple tree and ate my weight in crisp, tart apples! I put some in Aprils purse for later, lol.

Nice :)

Perfect Ahi Tuna

Lunch on the Nantahala, what a great place to enjoy a hot dog, lol

The Blue Ridge Parkway, God's county, just awesome.

Amazing train ride, just amazing!