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Blood at LaMotta's


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#1 Daily Gullet Staff

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 08:37 AM

The Daily Gullet is pleased to present the first of three excerpts from the forthcoming book The Seasoning of a Chef: My Journey from Diner to Ducasse and Beyond (Broadway, 13 September 2005).

by Doug Psaltis with Michael Psaltis

LaMotta’s, a seafood restaurant in a wealthy town on the north shore of Long Island, had both inside and outside dining areas. The deck dining area looked out to the marina and wrapped around the building. The last table on the deck was only a few feet away from the kitchen’s back door. During my first few weeks working there, I spent a lot of time staring out that back door watching people enjoy themselves. I couldn’t help but wish I was out there, too, eating steamers and drinking beer. But I’d pay a price for this daydreaming, on a busy Thursday afternoon during my third week on the job.

We were in the middle of lunch service and I was shucking oysters by the dozen, crushing ice to serve with them, and then back to shucking more oysters. I grabbed the first of a new dozen and laid it on the counter. The palm of my left hand pressed the oyster to the counter as the oyster knife in my right hand pushed and jerked its way into the shell’s opening. It takes a lot of force to open an oyster shell and I’d gotten a lot of little cuts when I paid too much attention to a boat passing by or another rich girl sitting down for a mid-week lunch.

As I’m opening the next oyster, I watch Ronbo (which is what we called Chef Ron Labo) at the grill. Darrin is helping him -- and working the deep fryer -- but they’re buried in orders. It’s an unusually busy Thursday afternoon, and true to form LaMotta’s owner, Guy LaMotta (or GLM, as he called himself), is on the scene. Whenever we are really slammed with orders, he comes into the kitchen to ask us to make him something special. This day he’s coming in and out of the kitchen in his aviator sunglasses making sure his table gets whatever they want.

From what I can see, the outside deck is filling up with what looks like a college graduation party. There are several cute girls out there. Then I look down to see blood flowing around my hand. I don’t feel much pain, but I can see a tear in the side of my left hand. It’s a deep cut and I almost get sick looking at it. I rush over to the sink with a towel pressed to my hand. There’s still no pain, but there’s lots of blood. Chris, another cook, comes over to help me. Chris is almost always sweating and nervous during service. He gives me more towels and then yells to the chef that I cut myself. Ronbo looks over his shoulder quickly, but he barely has the time to make a grimace before turning back to the grill.

“It looks bad,” Chris says. “You should probably get to the hospital.”

I remove the towel and look at the cut. It’s at least an inch long and deep, but the bleeding is starting to slow down. GLM comes up behind me and Chris disappears. “Let me see,” GLM says and I show it to him. I don’t know if he even looks at my hand before leading me out of the kitchen and toward the kitchen office. He starts searching around the office, looking, I assume, for the first aid kit while I stand in the entrance waiting for him to tell me how to get to the hospital. Then he turns to me and takes my hand in his. He removes the towel and starts wrapping duct tape around my hand. He’s taping my hand up tight. Around and around, he wraps the tape. I look at him to see if he’s serious -- his weathered face is expressionless. He keeps wrapping the tape around my hand. Then he stops and grabs my hand firmly. “How does that feel?” he asks.

I look at my hand, and twist my wrist back and forth. Besides the tape being a bit tight, it feels: “Fine,” I say.

“Good, let’s get back in there,” he says, patting my shoulder and leading the way out of the office and into the kitchen. And I’m back to shucking the oysters, except now I have to catch up with the orders I’m behind on, and putting any force on my left hand hurts. I know there’s no way to stop doing my job without walking out the door for good, but that’s not even an option -- actually that thought has never entered my mind. I made a mistake, but I definitely wasn’t going to quit because of it. The cut -- and any pain that goes with it -- is just incidental: a small complication to getting my work done.

After the lunch service died down, Ron surprised me by being mostly upset with GLM. While he warned me about being careful and told me to use a towel wrapped around my left hand instead of just using a bare hand when shucking, he didn’t think duct tape was the best way to take care of the problem -- even if I didn’t need stitches and my hand would end up being fine. As I leaned against the deck outside of the kitchen, Ron smoked a cigarette and told me about the many times he’d gotten cut or burned. With the cigarette dangling from his mouth, he stuck his hands out to me. They were thick and rough -- battle scarred. “You’ve got to remember,” he said, “you’re here to help the restaurant, but the restaurant isn’t always here to help you. You have to take care of yourself, because sometimes no one else will.”

I didn’t just stop daydreaming after that; I changed my whole reason for being there. I had taken the job at LaMotta’s because it seemed to be as good a job as any other, but I quickly realized that it would take more than just being at LaMotta’s to ever really cook in that kitchen. The clearest of all separations in most kitchens is between the cooks who are there to learn and to be a part of something and the cooks who are there just to work. I wasn’t satisfied doing prep work all day, but I was sure that GLM would have been content if I had just clocked in, done that work, and left. That’s mostly what I’d done at the other restaurants I’d worked in, but I wanted more. I wasn’t there just to work.

I realized that if I wanted to cook there, I’d have to do more than check in and stare out the kitchen door. I was determined that when something was being done in the kitchen that I had never seen before, I’d be among the first in the kitchen to volunteer to help out. And, if I got hurt because I wasn’t paying attention, my distraction would be something in the kitchen -- not a passing boat or beauty.


Doug Psaltis is the Executive Chef of Country Restaurant, which will open soon in New York City. He has cooked in some of the world’s finest restaurants and with some of the most acclaimed chefs.

Michael Psaltis is a literary agent in New York City. He works with both fiction and nonfiction authors through his own literary agency, and also heads up a division of Regal Literary that is dedicated solely to food writers and cookbook authors.

Copyright © 2005 by Doug Psaltis and Michael Psaltis. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


#2 johnnyd

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 11:44 AM

While he warned me about being careful and told me to use a towel wrapped around my left hand instead of just using a bare hand when shucking,


:blink: :wacko:

So I just have to ask why this was not done. Even I, at twenty one, perpetually hungover and essentially clueless, knew enough to use kitchen rags for a hand-guard when opening the many bushels of oysters that summer long ago.
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#3 project

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 04:33 PM

Yup, it's <i>literature</i> alright:
Sooooooo, as is traditional,
let's have some <i>literary criticism:</i>
<br><br>
Right at the
beginning we meet the protagonist
in their interesting situation
with money, boats,
beautiful young women,
the North Shore of Long Island
likely not far from the location of one of
F. Scott's stories.
We've already got <i>passion.</i>
Soon we
can imagine that we are there
and that it's happening to us;
we
have <i>character identification.</i>
<br><br>
True to form, the protagonist gets
a problem -- a cut hand.
Then we get
<i>pathos:</i>
The boss gives him no sympathy
or trip to the hospital
and, instead,
wraps his cut hand in
duct tape, possibly
putting duct tape
adhesive in the wound.
Then we learn that
this is the surprising and sad
plight of
someone admirably
trying to <i>make it</i>
in a restaurant kitchen --
we've got <i>poignancy.</i>
<br><br>
So, it's an example of the
usual definition of <i>art</i>
as <i>communication, interpretation of
human experience, emotion</i> with
a protagonist and
passion, pathos, and poignancy.
All that's missing is the poetry.
<br><br>
Semi-, pseudo-, quasi-hurray:
Never do we really learn even
the first thing about
how to
look for oysters,
harvest oysters,
sell oysters,
buy oysters,
select oysters,
shuck oysters,
make sauce for oysters,
serve oysters,
make oyster stew,
bread oysters,
fry oysters,
eat oysters,
etc.
We get nothing to help
us get food on the table or
in our belly.
<br><br>
We get nothing to help us make money,
pay the check at such a restaurant,
buy a yacht to travel to such a restaurant,
etc.
<br><br>
It is a curious fact that people can be
nearly as interested in a vicarious
experience as a real one.
So, with such a <i>story</i>
we get
a 19th Century literary
romantic
vicarious escapist
fantasy experience (VEFE).
<br><br>
Well, there is a large culture of
people who really like VEFE:
They are deep into
education and force
people to study VEFE for years
in high school and college.
Some of these people who so like VEFE
have careers in
VEFE <i>writing</i> VEFE
for people who read VEFE.
They constitute one of
C. Snow's <i>Two Cultures.</i>
<br><br>
In Hollywood, not pork fat but
VEFE rules:
From there,
when tired,
with
two beers,
and a pizza or maybe a dozen oysters,
can watch a movie where
a protagonist
has a problem, solves the problem,
and gets the girl.
Might even watch it with the girl.
<br><br>
Otherwise we can notice, this far into the
21st Century, in the 20th Century,
the other one of
<i>Two Cultures,</i>
with mathematics,
physical science,
engineering,
technology,
and medical science,
showed us some grand
new standards of intellectual
safety and efficacy.
In comparison, VEFE,
for any direct
practical purpose
(I omit indirect purposes such as
VEFE people
creating make-work jobs for VEFE people
by forcing students to sit in classes
studying VEFE)
has been relegated to
the junk heap of history
along with superstition,
witchcraft, and
reading of the entrails of
dead chickens.
<br><br>
With VEFE,
according to 19th Century standards of
<i>belle lettre,</i>
we get <i>insight</i> into people
and personality,
but according to 20th Century
standards of intellectual safety and
efficacy we get nothing better than
some dog baying at the moon and
really, actually, do not learn
anything solid about anything important.
<br><br>
Food and cooking are important subjects.
So is restaurant operations.
Pursued as technology,
we can get some information that is useful.
Pursued as <i>literature,</i>
we get nothing we can actually use.
<br><br>
About the only hope is, in the
second installment, the
protagonist meets the challenges
of a restaurant kitchen and, in the third,
gets one of the girls he has been watching.
Then, there should be a movie.
Let us know when there's a movie.
<br><br>
Hopefully the movie will achieve the
highest accomplishment possible
with VEFE -- falling off the
chair laughter.
<br><br>
In the meanwhile,
let the word go forth from
this time and place
for all the world to
hear loud and clear that
this is a new millennium,
and some people
are eager to leave VEFE
in the 19th Century and
to move ahead.
In particular, some people were
forced to take a few too many years of
VEFE in school when what they really
wanted to have studied was
mathematical physics.
Food chemistry and restaurant
operations would have been a good second.
Some people deeply profoundly
bitterly hate and despise VEFE --
except for an occasional
good movie!
VEFE is nearly always
junk information, and not
everyone likes it.
<br><br>
I do have a special sore spot about the
role of VEFE in cooking:
Have long been eager to
raise own level of knowledge and skills
about cooking and, to this end,
have shelves of cookbooks and come to eG.
Each cookbook
has been published by
a book publisher.
The book publishers, however,
are run by people with backgrounds in VEFE,
who really like VEFE,
who notice that books are
<i>writing</i> and, thus,
conclude that they should be
written as in VEFE.
So, I have lots of VEFE about
romantic experiences in the south of
France but nothing in solid
information about how to
cook anything good from the
south of France.
Actually, according to 20th Century
standards of intellectual safety and efficacy,
the books, all of them,
are sources of mostly just
grotesquely low quality information.
The situation is much the same
for TV cooking shows --
not instructional information on cooking
to really actually teach people
how to cook, actually, really,
but just VEFE so that the
viewers can then order
pizza or Chinese carry-out.
Bummer.
Gigantically wasteful bummer.
<br><br>
We need to be clear:
VEFE can nearly never be good
documentation of
information and instruction
about cooking.
Thus, time
to get the VEFE out of
the documentation of
information and instruction
about important subjects such as
cooking.

What would be the right food and wine to go with
R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

#4 Carrot Top

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 05:06 PM

project. . .to my mind, it was a story.

A simple story, which I have the right to enjoy just as a story, without the angry intellectual hyperbole that might be wished upon it. I also have the right to not enjoy it, as you obviously did not.

But it might be a bit unfair to take a piece of work that someone created for another persons pleasure, as well as possibly for a paycheck, and trash it because it does not do for you whatever it is that you seek from it. . .which is apparently teach you how to cook.

Perhaps you should have tried the route I did. Drop out of school in the beginning of the ninth grade, somehow find the right books to read to self-educate, do so, and end up as an Executive Chef who not only figured out how to cook but also how not to be angry at the world.

Best of luck. There are lots of libraries, lots of bookstores. Perhaps it would be a better use of your time to go find a book you might like than to trash those that don't appeal to your intellectual vigor.

#5 project

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 05:16 PM

Carrot Top:
<br><br>
Now we are into a case of criticism of criticism and, thus,
well into the highest form of
literary accomplishment! :smile:
What would be the right food and wine to go with
R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

#6 Carrot Top

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 05:22 PM

Carrot Top:
<br><br>
Now we are into a case of criticism of criticism and, thus,
well into the highest form of
literary accomplishment!  :smile:

View Post


Sigh. Please go have a nice glass of wine, project. :wink:

( :smile: back to you.)

#7 Carrot Top

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Posted 10 September 2005 - 08:21 AM

I am sorry if I sounded brusque or dismissive last night.

This morning, let me put my thoughts in better order:

The person who wrote that real-life little vignette in "Seasoning of a Chef" has probably been asked a thousand times by people "not in the business" for stories of "what it is like in the business".

People are hungry for these little stories. Personally I do not think that means that they have crossed the line to insipid over-sentimentality and dreadful heavy romanticism of the life of a chef, the life of One Who Cooks. It just means they are hungry for stories.

Stories serve a need in the human mind and heart just as science serves a need in human existence.

Indeed, I am sure that stories serve the greatest need, in this thing that we call the human heart or "soul" or spirit or whatever other words one wants to apply to it.

Not everything in life is a symphony, either. Most of it, is not. It is silly little tunes, some of which make no great sense and that are of no great importance.

That's okay by me. I would not demand a symphony of life daily for then it might demand a symphony from me right back.

project, you sound like a very well-educated person and one who cares deeply about learning the ways of cookery. If I were someone wanting to learn to cook, personally I would start by reading an older version of Larousse Gastronomique from cover to cover without missing an entry. The next book I would head to would be one of the older Julia Child ones wherein she gives step-by-step instructions. This worked for me. Of course, there are many more books and ways (this would likely be a good thread for eGullet. . .the best books to learn to cook from! everyone has their favorites) but of course the thing is a process. It doesn't get learned with one book, one semester, one course. But if you do it each day, not thinking about it too much but just letting your hands do most of the work, it will happen. And again, I am sorry if I was rude.

Karen

Edited by Carrot Top, 10 September 2005 - 08:45 AM.


#8 iriee

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Posted 10 September 2005 - 09:16 PM

projecy,,,what the hell are u talking about?? he cut his hand!,,,omg!

#9 crinoidgirl

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 06:06 PM

project, you sound like a very well-educated person and one who cares deeply about learning the ways of cookery. If I were someone wanting to learn to cook, personally I would start by reading an older version of Larousse Gastronomique from cover to cover without missing an entry. The next book I would head to would be one of the older Julia Child ones wherein she gives step-by-step instructions. This worked for me. Of course, there are many more books and ways (this would likely be a good thread for eGullet. . .the best books to learn to cook from! everyone has their favorites) but of course the thing is a process. It doesn't get learned with one book, one semester, one course. But if you do it each day, not thinking about it too much but just  letting your hands do most of the work, it will happen. And again, I am sorry if I was rude.

Karen

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Yes - those who can do, do. Those who want to do, try. Those who can't do, criticize.
V

#10 Carrot Top

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 07:08 PM

Yes - those who can do, do.  Those who want to do, try.  Those who can't do, criticize.

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Why, yes, crinoidgirl. I must admit to having an almost unbearably strong urge to change my "signature" to the line "Nobody ever erected a statue to a critic" last night. But that happens to me every once in a while. I took myself by the ear and gasping for air through a haze of enthusiam to make my point known while attempting to be subtle about it, posted instead the one below, which is a rather obtuse attempt to show a Zen-like appreciation of the subtleties of the situation.

But do let's click a glass together on your thought above. :biggrin:

#11 JAZ

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 08:56 AM

I don't think the point of the story is to teach you how to cook, but to me, it illustrates really well how one person started to learn to cook.

I read this as a description of an epiphany: the moment in this cook's life when it struck him just how much dedication it would take to turn his casual summer job into a career. More important, he realized that he wanted to take that step.

Such moments can seem pretty minor (a cut hand) from the outside, but they're earth-shaking from the inside, because they really do change your life. I've never cooked professionally, but I remember a similar moment in graduate school when I realized the difference between me and a few of my fellow grad students. We were having an ordinary conversation; one minute I felt like one of the gang, and the next minute someone said something that made me realize that the others were dedicated to the subject in a way that I would never be. I guess it was a negative epiphany for me, but it was no less earth-shaking for that. So I completely understand that moment in the author's life, even though I've never worked as a cook, and, in fact, have never even shucked an oyster.

#12 AlexP

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 09:36 AM

I enjoyed the piece. Actually, I am looking forward to the other excerpts and may consider buying the book sometime.

Alex

#13 Andy Lynes

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 09:47 AM

I recently reviewed this book for a British publication and I would recommend it to anyone either in the business or with a keen interest in it. That would be the eGullet membership then I guess.

#14 Fat Guy

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 01:40 PM

"I realized that if I wanted to cook there, I’d have to do more than check in and stare out the kitchen door. I was determined that when something was being done in the kitchen that I had never seen before, I’d be among the first in the kitchen to volunteer to help out."

This is exactly the opposite of my work ethic. I prefer to check in and stare, and to do the bare minimum whenever possible. I'm the last person to volunteer for anything. This qualifies me to be a restaurant reviewer.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#15 Laurie Woolever

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 01:38 PM

For those who plan to read the book (or have already read it) and want some clues about the identities of the anonymous or name-changed persons in the text, see here:

www.snack.blogs.com

The September 13 post teases the information, ultimately letting the reader match the proper nouns to the obscured names.
<b>Laurie Woolever</b>

#16 Andy Lynes

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 04:38 PM

I thought leaving some of the names out in the book was a little bit odd. It's a matter of record that Chodorow was a partner in the restaurant so why not name him? (Can the lawers on staff help with this one?)

#17 cdh

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 06:03 PM

A good piece of writing... did Ruhlman have anything to do with the book, or are the Psalti just riffing on his meme?

As to the criticism of escapist literature above, well... this seems more like a map than technical manual... how to get from where you are to running the French Laundry. It may be a idiosyncratic map, but it is one nonetheless. So, project, it doesn't tell you any equations that might help you calibrate your hotplate to perfectly produce your beef stroganoff... but it does demonstrate how a real person made the real trip from Long Island to Yountville behind a stove. Belittle it as unrepeatable if you like, and certainly unmathematical, but it is anything but fantasy.
Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

----- De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

#18 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 06:30 PM

I thought leaving some of the names out in the book was a little bit odd. It's a matter of record that Chodorow was a partner in the restaurant so why not name him? (Can the lawers on staff help with this one?)

View Post

It's unnecessary and irrational. But having been in the position of being an author (and a lawyer) having his manuscript reviewed by a publisher's legal department, I can tell you that your choice is to do it their way or not have the book published -- there is very little room for negotiation, even if you're a literary agent like Michael Psaltis is (he is my literary agent). So some lawyer at Random House mistakenly thought it would make some sort of difference not to name Chodorow, Blue Hill, etc., and the Psaltises surely had no choice but to comply. Since it's pretty easy to figure out what's what, I guess it doesn't really matter.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#19 YoChefGregg

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Posted 15 September 2005 - 11:24 AM

Carrot Top-I love you.
You are an oasis in a vast desert of over analyzation :wacko:
VEFE, damned VEFE. Get some on your chef's coat and it'll never come out.
-------------------------
Water Boils Roughly
Cold Eggs Coagulating
Egg Salad On Rye
-------------------------
Gregg Robinson

#20 Carrot Top

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Posted 15 September 2005 - 12:29 PM

VEFE is soon to be added to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Gregg.

It is a paralyzing disease that happens to the over-Ph.D.'d.

.................................................

Your love is taken kindly, chef-to-chef. Love is a good thing. And love from a poet that can cook is even better! :biggrin: :wink:

Karen

#21 project

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Posted 15 September 2005 - 11:40 PM

Belittle it as unrepeatable if you like, and certainly
unmathematical, but it is anything but fantasy.

View Post

In vicarious escapist fantasy experience (VEFE), the location
of, the person with, the fantasy is the reader, not
necessarily the writer.
<br><br>
So, maybe the <i>story</i> really is an accurate
communication, interpretation of a real case of human
experience, emotion, but what, then, would a reader get?
E.g., does the reader really learn information about cooking
or restaurant operations? E.g., does the reader learn how to
shuck an oyster safely? Clearly, no.
<br><br>
So, the attraction, result, for a reader is to participate
<i>vicariously,</i> and "escapist" and "fantasy" are fairly
clear.
<br><br>
If someone really wants to go from the back door of a
restaurant kitchen to head of The French Laundry or such a
place, then they should concentrate on solid documentation of
high quality information on cooking. Learning to shuck
oysters safely would be one early lesson.

What would be the right food and wine to go with
R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

#22 Pan

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Posted 15 September 2005 - 11:55 PM

You may be right, project, but what about the possibility that someone might like reading about someone's experience just to learn what things were like for them? You don't have to be experiencing the story in an escapist manner to learn something about the way human beings live -- in this case, a cook, but a person could read a biographical story about an athlete, a scientist, a musician, a bank-robber, a priest, or a basket-weaver. Whether the reader learns anything about the human condition from a biographical story is more a function of how good the writing is than whether there's some practical bit of knowledge for them to apply to their own quest to be an athlete, a scientist, etc. Not everything has to be a method book or teach-yourself article.

Furthermore, I think that oyster-shucking would be best dealt with elsewhere on the site, such as in a course on the safe preparation of shellfish or merely a step-by-step demonstration on the Cooking forum.

#23 kitchenmage

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Posted 16 September 2005 - 01:31 AM

I'm with whoever (FG?) said it was the epiphanic moment. Well they said "epiphany" but I think I have enough pocket change to pay "epiphanic" just once. And since it didn't mention testicles descending, it's a winner in my book. (if you don't know, you'll have to go search, or ask Carrot Top) :biggrin: :raz:

#24 project

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Posted 16 September 2005 - 04:41 AM

You may be right, project, but what about the possibility that
someone might like reading about someone's experience just to
learn what things were like for them? You don't have to be
experiencing the story in an escapist manner to learn
something about the way human beings live -- in this case, a
cook, but a person could read a biographical story about an
athlete, a scientist, a musician, a bank-robber, a priest, or
a basket-weaver. Whether the reader learns anything about the
human condition from a biographical story is more a function
of how good the writing is than whether there's some practical
bit of knowledge for them to apply to their own quest to be an
athlete, a scientist, etc. Not everything has to be a method
book or teach-yourself article.
<br><br>
Furthermore, I think that oyster-shucking would be best dealt
with elsewhere on the site, such as in a course on the safe
preparation of shellfish or merely a step-by-step
demonstration on the Cooking forum.

View Post

Yes, your "... what about the possibility that someone might
like reading about someone's experience just to learn what
things were like for them?" is essentially the case for
"communication, interpretation of human experience, emotion"
which is a common definition of art.

<br><br>
Commonly people do like this.

Heck, I like this.

The most common <i>plot</i> in fiction is a good guy, who
encounters a problem, solves the problem, and gets the girl.

To get the "communication, interpretation of human experience,
emotion" of this plot, can just listen to R. Strauss's <i>Ein
Heldenleben!</i>

<br><br>
One of the brightest people I have ever known was my wife.

She was Valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa, Woodrow Wilson, Ph.D.,
etc.

She was plenty good enough at music -- for six years in grade
school provided piano accompaniment for operettas.

She sang in the choir, played clarinet in the band, etc.

Her final view of music, shortly before she died, was "It
doesn't mean anything."

I believe that she was correct.

I'm absolutely in love with some of the best of classical
music, and even worked my way through much of the Bach
<i>Chaconne</i> on violin, but I still have to agree that it
doesn't mean anything.

<i>Fiction</i> is, to borrow from what J. Heifetz once said
about music critics, "the words without the music". For me,
one problem with the words of fiction is that they mostly
cannot mean very much and appear to mean more -- are often
claimed to mean much more -- than that.

<br><br>
I'm eager to make progress in understanding things.

For eG, mostly my goal is to understand cooking better.

Also would like to understand restaurant operations.

Heck, I could even be interested in understanding some about
what restaurant workers go through, if only to help with the
management part of restaurant operations or other cases of
management.

<br><br>
More generally, there is a common claim that the literature of
fiction actually does tell us a lot about people, but
eventually I concluded that literature rarely tells us
anything very solid about people.

My guess is that the authors mostly have not formulated any
very solid lessons about people; besides, documentation of
such lessons is not what publishers of fiction have looked
for.

<br><br>
Heck, I got dragged from Chaucer through Milton, Shakespeare,
Wordsworth, Dickens, etc. read some literature in German, read
lots of 20th Century short stories, etc., all the while being
told that I was learning big things about people.

Eventually I concluded that I was not, that the density of big
lessons was low, and the number of fallacious lessons was
about the same as the rest.

<br><br>
Solid lessons about people really are possible, but they are
not easy to identify, formulate, establish, or document.

Easy they ain't.

I had to conclude that the traditions of literature were too
lacking in discipline and methodology to be a good source of
solid lessons.

<br><br>
So, I had to conclude that, even if we want to know about
people and their experiences and emotions, <i>fiction</i> is a
poor source of such information.

Net, fiction is good for light entertainment only.

E.g., Hollywood can use it to make movies.

<br><br>
Given my claim "Solid lessons about people really are possible
...", I am at risk of rivers of accusations of writing absurd
nonsense unless I can give at least one example!

For an example, no, I won't use literary fiction, in light of
your remark, not even if the stories were true!

Instead, there is D. Tannen, a professor at Georgetown
University in DC.

She was a student of I. Goffman, generally considered really
difficult to read.

Ah, my wife went through Goffman at speed reading rates,
finding it all obvious!

Given that she also read Henry James's <i>The Golden Bowl</i>
easily quickly for fun, no wonder she could read Goffman!

<br><br>
Well, Tannen explains that men and women typically approach
problems differently:

Seeing a problem, a man rushes to implement a solution.

A woman, instead, rushes to find someone to communicate the
human experience, emotion of the sad situation.

Women find the men's approach to be crude, insensitive, and
lacking in sympathy and empathy.

Men find the women's approach to be feeling the pains but
doing nothing to remove them and, thus, tragically
incompetent.

Thus, from Tannen we can see that literature and art are
closer to what women do with problems than what men do.

<br><br>
That someone eager to make it in the restaurant business cut
his hand shucking oysters I believe cries out for some
documentation of some solid lessons on how to shuck oysters
safely and efficiently; the more one is concerned about the
cut hand, the more one should want some documentation to get a
solution; just communicating the experience, emotion of the
passion, pathos, poignancy, and pain of the cut hand doesn't
directly make any progress at all on solving the very real
problem of an injured hand; and that one is interested in the
restaurant business should mean that they should be especially
interested in documentation of solid lessons of how to solve
the problems of the restaurant business!

Ah, but those are just the reactions of D. Tannen's "typical"
men and me; I'm likely an anomaly; and Tannen may have been
wrong about men!

<br><br>
Yes, there is the explanation that

[A] someone has struggles;

[B] they wonder if these are inevitable for nearly everyone or
just peculiar to their own circumstances or inadequacies;

[C] learn about others that have some such struggles and,
thus, conclude "inevitable" instead of the alternatives;

[D] conclude that so far the evidence is that they are 'okay';

[E] feel better about themselves.

That's usually not very good evidence, but, okay, and a way to
feel better that is cheaper and less harmful than some
prescription drugs!

<br><br>
If people enjoy <i>stories,</i> then, fine.

But I concluded at least for myself that that soup is at least
99% just water, and about 50% of the rest is rotten, i.e.,
fills much needed gaps in our understanding of people!

<br><br>
In contrast, the Bach <i>Chaconne</i> and <i>Ein
Heldenleben,</i> since they do not mean anything at all,
cannot be accused of having fallacious meaning!

<br><br>
For documentation of how to shuck oysters safely and
efficiently, yes, with some irony, we should be able to agree
that that would not be <i>literary</i> and, hence, should be
on, say, eGCI!

<br><br>
For working ones way from the first back door of a restaurant
to a leadership position in the industry, actually how to do
that would be valuable to some people and at least interesting
to me.

Possibly important topics might be
[A] what skills need to be learned,
[B] best means of learning skills,
[C] what special talents are useful,
[D] role of food science and food chemistry,
[E] means of career recognition and <i>certification</i>
[F] role of formal training,
[G] the basics of the business models of restaurant operations
and how much money is involved,
[H] how career <i>networking</i> works in the industry,
[I] how the industry is changing,
[J] where it appears the opportunities are and are not,
[K] how to get experience and promotions,
[L] how to make ends meet until the <i>big bucks</i> arrive,
[M] issues of <i>occupational health and safety</i> (more
irony!),
[N] legal and regulatory issues,
[O] efficiency, productivity, and automation,
[P] equipment, supplies, vendors, and purchasing, etc.

<br><br>
For how it feels to get a badly cut hand while trying to shuck
an oyster, just listen to the death of Siegfried from the end
of <i>The Ring!</i> (well, maybe just one cut hand isn't quite
that bad!).

For how it feels to shuck a dozen oysters 100 times in one
shift without any problems at all, just listen to the
overture to <i>The Flying Dutchman!</i>

More generally, for the roller coaster emotions of a common
man going through common life, listen to the Heifetz
performance of Bruch's <i>Scottish Fantasy.</i>

For the roller coaster emotions of a grandly noble effort
confronting the most profound aspects of life, listen to the
Bach <i>Chaconne.</i>

Gee, how come the composers get such greater variety and depth
than the fiction people, all while music doesn't mean anything
at all and <i>literature</i> is supposed to have great lessons
about what it means to be human?

<br><br>
Or, if one just wants to get a sense of what some human
struggle feels like, then listen to some appropriate music.

If one wants actually to make some real progress on such a
struggle, then get some documentation of some solid
information, e.g., on how to shuck oysters!

<br><br>
There is some evidence the shucking oysters should not be
extremely difficult:

There have been claims that mostly humans now do not have
nearly the highest standard of living in history and that,
instead, after the last ice age, humans that spread to the
newly warmed land did much better.

One of the examples is just food and, in particular, oysters:

Supposedly a human family could find a nice cave beside a nice
body of water and basically live on oysters.

Clothes?

Just some animal skins or just f'get about it!

Shelter?

That cave.

Food?

Those oysters; just walk down to the body of water and pick up
dinner!

Net, do all the work needed in under two hours a day!

These days, a worker can spend more time than that just
commuting to work!

Of course, after a few years, a family eating this way would
accumulate one heck of a big pile of oyster shells, and such
piles have been mentioned as evidence of such a life style.

<br><br>
Well, then, those piles of shells show that humans had found
some safe ways to <i>shuck</i> oysters!

<br><br>
If I have indicated some qualified admiration for <i>belle
lettre,</i> then I've had my say and delivered some
retribution for the transgression of my being dragged through
all those years of literature and won't wait for literature to
obtain any redemption!

The literature people have long controlled nearly all the ink
and paper, and only with the Internet can objections be
presented!

Just in case all those English literature teachers thought
that everyone agreed that they were teaching really good stuff
and that everyone liked it, I've now put my counterexample
forward!

<br><br>
Still, I concede, some people really <b>do</b> like it, for
whatever reasons, a <b>lot</b> and that, further, it is likely
not the worst thing some people like!

<br><br>
But, is there a connection between [A] such a critique of art
and literature and [B] food?

Likely, yes:

After going to enough high end restaurants, eventually I
concluded that they had more to do with theater than
nutrition!

<br><br>
So, would-be chefs listen up:

The real goal in the front of the house is to give the
customer an escapist fantasy experience so that they can leave
feeling <b>terrific!</b>

E.g., in a high end French restaurant serving classic French
food, make the customers feel like European royalty of 100
years ago!

Today, say, in Manhattan, make them feel like a titan of
industry, ready to go out tomorrow and close some big deals,
e.g., sell half of Chicago and buy half of Boston!

Expensive?

<b>Sure</b> it's expensive; European royalty, US titans of
industry, they have lots of money and know how to use it!

<br><br>
All your skills in cooking, talents in flavors, creativity in
presentation, etc., really, are to contribute to that escapist
fantasy experience much more than to nutrition!

Sure, for some fairly solid reasons from food chemistry,
sauces based on various reductions and butter can taste
terrific; still, the main goal is that <i>experience!</i>

Uh, clearly, some wines can help!

Even some music can help!

<br><br>
Still, even if the customer gets an escapist experience,
actually <b>providing</b> that experience takes lots of hard
work, skill, etc.; for the oysters, what is needed is
documentation of how to shuck them, not a fantasy experience
in not knowing how!

What would be the right food and wine to go with
R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

#25 Carrot Top

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Posted 16 September 2005 - 05:29 AM

project, you might enjoy searching the bookstore or library (or Amazon under "Professional Books") for books specifically detailing restaurant operations and management. They do cover the subjects you seek knowledge about.

As far as words used in fiction being a lesser carrier of emotion or the grand meaning of things, that is up to each individual to decide. As science has discovered, we all learn differently and what words can do for one person they may not do for another. Chacun sa gout.

There is no "one way".

If you are angry about what you were taught in school, or feel that you were forced to learn things that were just plain wrong, that is one thing. If it is very important to you that this not be so for other people then it would seem to me that the way to help others see the light would be to write (?) something that they would take to in response.

Would music have people understanding your point?

Would art, to the general public, have them understanding your point? Or would it take the years of formal education in the subject for one to capture your meaning?

Would science have people understanding your point?

It might, but it would need be put into words, for most of us speak in words, in language. Perhaps you would have us all speaking mathematics so all would be clear and concise.

But as we have been speaking language for thousands of years, you would need the words to teach the mathematics, to do the translation.

If you would have people understand your point, it must be done in language, and it must be done well, and it must be done so that it is appealing. It must appeal to the human spirit for most human beings to be interested in reading the words that would lead to any truth of any sort.

You sound so very angry with fiction.

.................................................................................

I will tell you one thing. You want to know how to become a chef. How to walk that path. A path must be walked and even sometimes chopped through based on one's own personal narrative. Fiction provides narratives. Personally, I never could have become anything at all in life but probably a victim of sorts given the circumstances of my own young life if it were not for fiction. For books. For stories. Believing as a child that I *was* in a sense Pippi Longstocking carried me to being a chef. Much more than any knife skills or oyster-opening skills did. They were only the way. Not, the path. Both are required. A way and a path.

.....................................................................................

Edited to add that I am truly sorry to hear of the loss of your wife. She sounds like a most marvellous person, a true and good friend and love. My sincerest condolences and thoughts to you.

Edited by Carrot Top, 16 September 2005 - 06:09 AM.


#26 kitchenmage

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Posted 16 September 2005 - 05:33 AM

The real goal in the front of the house is to give the customer an escapist fantasy experience so that they can leave feeling terrific!

View Post

Project, one might posit that the Daily Gullet is eGullet's FOH presence, and thus the VEFE you seem to be arguing against in food writing is exactly what should be provided here. An escapist fantasy experience, or EFE, that leaves me smiling. It was and I am.

Now if I want shucking lessons so I can escape a similar fate, I'll go look for something illustrated elsewhere...in someplace with a name like "Shellfish techniques, illustrated" perhaps. :biggrin:

#27 Bux

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 08:16 PM

I thought leaving some of the names out in the book was a little bit odd. It's a matter of record that Chodorow was a partner in the restaurant so why not name him? (Can the lawers on staff help with this one?)

View Post

It's unnecessary and irrational. But having been in the position of being an author (and a lawyer) having his manuscript reviewed by a publisher's legal department, I can tell you that your choice is to do it their way or not have the book published -- there is very little room for negotiation, even if you're a literary agent like Michael Psaltis is (he is my literary agent). So some lawyer at Random House mistakenly thought it would make some sort of difference not to name Chodorow, Blue Hill, etc., and the Psaltises surely had no choice but to comply. Since it's pretty easy to figure out what's what, I guess it doesn't really matter.

View Post

To someone outside the publishing industry or legal profession, it's still going to suggest the authors are making claims, stating opinions as facts or otherwise making questionable statements whose veracity cannot easily be challenged. What probably matters to the lawyers, publishers and authors is that putting a fake name to the character pretty much renders that person helpless to make a meaningful defense or claim of damage.
Robert Buxbaum
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Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.
My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

#28 project

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 08:23 PM

Carrot Top:

<br><br>
<b>Thanks</b> for your thoughts!

<br>

you might enjoy searching the bookstore or library
(or Amazon under "Professional Books") for books specifically
detailing restaurant operations and management. They do cover
the subjects you seek knowledge about.

View Post

I've looked at all promising books at a large Barnes and
Noble, and I have some of the best regarded books.

There are also programs on cooking on TV.

<br><br>
I conclude that material on documentation and/or instruction
in cooking is not easy to find in books and on TV.

For why, the shortest explanation I have is that the culture
of what I called VEFE dominates book and TV content on cooking
and drives out documentation and instruction.

<br><br>
For hope for getting around VEFE, there isn't much:

The VEFE culture is pervasive and has even dominated and
ruined video programs in high school and college mathematics
and science, driving out the significant material, getting too
much of the rest wrong, and filling in all the rest with VEFE.

Since the VEFE culture has been able to ruin such high school
and college material, there is little hope for that culture
doing well with cooking.

<br><br>
While VEFE has dominated cooking in books and TV, eG is a real
bright spot.

Thanks to the Internet, Steve, Jason, etc.

<br><br>
It may be that the <i>flip side</i> of the problem of VEFE
blocking instruction and documentation in cooking is an
opportunity:

Go ahead and provide some good instruction and documentation.

Reasons for hope include the prices and capabilities of
digital video cameras, desktop video editing software, DVDs,
the Internet, and eG.

<br>

Would music have people understanding your point?

View Post

Much of what I said about music should be easy enough to

accept:

For music not meaning anything, well, it is super tough to put
it into words.

<br><br>
For what I said about individual pieces, one of the easiest
remarks to agree with would be the one for the R. Strauss
piece <i>Ein Heldenleben</i> (a hero's life):

The music is plainly a <i>story</i> of a man who encounters a
problem, solves the problem, and gets the girl.

So, there are themes for the man, the problem, and the girl.

As I recall, the theme for the man was once used as the theme
for some big TV network news or public affairs program; for
noble human dignity, a <i>hero,</i> it's a good theme.

R. Wagner's four part opera <i>The Ring</i> has some of the
world's most dramatic music:

At the end, the part where the main character Siegfried dies
definitely sounds like something really awful just happened;
it is more than up to communicating the tragedy of a cut hand!

<br><br>
Mostly such classical music, while often very emotional, is
not in <i>one to one</i> correspondence with particular human
situations; instead, several human situations can seem to
correspond to one piece of music.

So, my <i>interpretations</i> of the <i>Scottish Fantasy,
Chaconne,</i> etc. are not the only ones possible; still,
people who know that music might usually find my
interpretations reasonable.

For the <i>Chaconne,</i> I will confess to giving it a
relatively grand interpretation, but to violinists it is
usually near the top of the list.

Each time Hollywood spends the money for an original
orchestral film score, they provide another example of the
importance of music, and movie audiences around the world get
it right away!

<br>

Would art, to the general public, have them understanding your
point?

Or would it take the years of formal education in the subject
for one to capture your meaning?

View Post

Formal education won't have much to do with it.

<br><br>
It's not that people really take VEFE material seriously as
real content about serious subjects; they don't.

E.g., if your dear child has a bad tummy ache, you take them
to a physician, and the physician starts talking VEFE stuff,
then you will be shocked and horrified and suddenly find some
really important reason to leave right away; this would even
be the case for taking your child's dear kitty cat to a
veterinarian who started talking VEFE.

<br><br>
Still, in movies, magazines, and TV media, VEFE rules, almost
universally.

The publishers of books and magazines on cooking and the
producers of TV programs on cooking want VEFE much more than
documentation and instruction.

Would they eat the results prepared by a member of their
target audience?

Not a chance.

<br><br>
Often, but not always, VEFE has made buckets of money.

So, the media believes in VEFE.

For documentation and instruction, they don't want it.

I do; they don't.

<br>

Would science have people understanding your point?

View Post

In what I'm saying, I'm using mathematics and science only
indirectly, just as examples of material with comparatively
high <i>intellectual safety and efficacy.</i>

<br>

It might, but it would need be put into words, for most of us
speak in words, in language.

Perhaps you would have us all speaking mathematics so all
would be clear and concise.

But as we have been speaking language for thousands of years,
you would need the words to teach the mathematics, to do the
translation.

View Post

I didn't include any mathematics!

<br><br>
Actually, mathematics needs to be written in a natural
language, e.g., English, and in complete sentences.

It is <b>not</b> a different <i>language!</i>

<br><br>
The main confusion on this point is just the symbols common in
mathematics, but, with well written mathematics, there is a
really simple approach to these symbols -- basically they are
just names.

Here is an example:

<blockquote>
For this problem we are considering, there is an important
number, call it <i>x.</i>

In our work, <i>x</i> is a whole number and is positive
(greater than zero).

If <i>y</i> is a positive whole number and if so is
<i>x/y,</i> then we say that <i>y</i> is a <i>divisor</i> of
<i>x</i> and write <i>y</i>|<i>x.</i>

Of course 1|<i>x</i> and <i>x</i>|<i>x.</i>

If the only divisors of <i>x</i> are 1 and <i>x,</i> then we
say that <i>x</i> is a <i>prime</i> number.

We can now prove a theorem:

<blockquote>
There is no largest prime number; so, there must be infinitely
many prime numbers.
</blockquote>

</blockquote>

And so forth.

It's all English sentences; the symbols are just names; the
other notation is just an abbreviation for for what has
previously been defined carefully in English.

<br>

If you would have people understand your point, it must be
done in language, and it must be done well, and it must be
done so that it is appealing.  It must appeal to the human
spirit for most human beings to be interested in reading the
words that would lead to any truth of any sort.

You sound so very angry with fiction.

I will tell you one thing.  You want to know how to become a
chef.  How to walk that path.  A path must be walked and even
sometimes chopped through based on one's own personal
narrative.  Fiction provides narratives.  Personally, I never
could have become anything at all in life but probably a
victim of sorts given the circumstances of my own young life
if it were not for fiction.  For books.  For stories.
Believing as a child that I *was* in a sense Pippi
Longstocking carried me to being a chef.  Much more than any
knife skills or oyster-opening skills did.  They were only the
way.  Not, the path.  Both are required.  A way and a path.

View Post

I have just long wanted to learn how to cook better; that's
why I come to eG.

I just want the documentation, instruction, and information.

I don't much ask that the writing "appeal to the human
spirit".

<br><br>
To me, VEFE has been a huge waste.

But, gee, I didn't say that VEFE was fuming reeking glowing
flaming boiling seething sticky chunky intellectual toxic
waste!

And, why would I deeply profoundly bitterly hate and despise
and be torqued and infuriated about all that huge waste?

Gee, I should spend $35 on scallops, carefully work with
ginger, etc., drive long distances, spend most of a Saturday,
work very carefully, taste the results, say <b>YUCK,</b> flush
the work, boil up four hot dogs, and be happy, happy, happy!

Gee, "very angry with fiction"?

We know what <i>fiction</i> is -- it's not true!

Why should I be "very angry with fiction"?

I should rush right out, get a big sack of oysters, try to
shuck them, cut my hand, spend a few thousand dollars on
medical bills!

Fun, fun, isn't formula fiction just <b>so</b> much fun!

<br><br>
I've worked with hand tools in woodworking, metal working,
cooking, auto maintenance, and electronics and have not yet
seriously hurt myself.

It is possible to use hand tools without losing blood!

<br><br>
The VEFE people are trying to sell their stuff.

I can use some of it for light entertainment.

Otherwise, for any important practical purpose, I can't use it
and, thus, won't buy it.

Maybe their VEFE is the best they have to sell; they deserve
sympathy and empathy for the passion, pathos, poignancy, and
pains of their profoundly perplexing predicament, for some
awful alliteration regarded as so significant in the VEFE
culture.

<br><br>
Glad you did well as a chef.

I've done some good things, some of them more challenging than
I would have ever planned to have attempted, but never did I
ever have or need anything like what you got from Pippi
Longstocking.

Some of what I needed was a willingness to go without a lot of
sleep and to sacrifice and work hard.

<br><br>
Thanks for your thoughts on my late wife; yes, that was a huge
loss.

What would be the right food and wine to go with
R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

#29 Pan

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 08:38 PM

[...]For music not meaning anything, well, it is super tough to put
it into words.[...]

View Post


To which I would only say that there is much meaning that is difficult or impossible to translate into mere words. But I'm not sure there's much use in my going further with this line of discussion, in words, on a site that is about food and not about the meaning of music.

My condolences, too, on the loss of your wife.

#30 Dave the Cook

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 08:54 PM

In addition to trying to explain how to learn how to cook --something that JAZ touched on -- or at least one way to go about it, I think this excerpt teaches you some other things, starting with: you are on your own.

If it's not opening up your hand while shucking oysters, it's cleaning fifty pounds of shrimp and contracting a life-long skin sensitivity, or standing for hours in a zero-degree freezer, banging into rock-solid corpses and maneuvering trays of fragile hors d'oeuvres about in order to count the uncountable. If it's not trying to decide whether or not that bleeding palm requires stitches (which you will pay for, since it's unlikely that you will have medical coverage), it's trying to decide if it's worth getting up early on your first day off in three weeks to take the bus into town and stage at a new place, just because you might learn something.

I'm not sure how much sympathy is required -- or expected -- here. Learning to be a chef is a life people choose, for the most part. And certainly there are other paths: culinary school, formal stages, corporate ladders, if those choices are open to you. But this is the story of a life. It's not escapism to wonder what it's like. It's curiosity. Maybe it's educational.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.