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Waiting for Go & Dough

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169703606/gallery_29805_1195_3434.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Joseph Carey

Third in a series.

Slow nights -- a phenomenon that is cause for considerable despair in the restaurant business -- at The Ordinary were the worst. Waiting for the customers. And staying focused while waiting. It can be an interminable period. Unnamable pain. Hopeful Vladimir, Alors? On y va? And the dour herbal Estragon, Allons-y; biding their time, discussing doing something, but not moving, filling the hours with nonsense. The waiters -- well, we were all waiters waiting --I mean the service personnel, bartenders and waitrons depend on traffic for their livelihood. Part of the chef/manager/owner’s job is to maintain morale during these moments.

And while the motivation of the kitchen staff may be somewhat different, waiting is every bit as painful for them. Most chefs and line cooks are adrenaline junkies, never happier than when they’re up to their asses in alligators. They want to move. They want to go! And even the dishwasher, the final receptacle for the detritus of our business, is hoping the restaurant will be there tomorrow, so that he may have a paycheck. There is nowhere to go. No exit. Everyone praying that the game is not up. We need asses in chairs and bellies to fill! Bag ‘em, gag ‘em and tag ‘em!

Even the most successful of restaurants have these moments. They are horrific. There is only so much prep one can do, and once one is comfortably ensconced in ennui, a massive energy surge is required to come up to speed.

Now, there are some restaurants on this planet that have professional waiters. Usually, these joints are in the “food-destination” cities: New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, where service personnel can make a very handsome living. The last time I ate at Galatoire’s in New Orleans, for instance, they no longer knew me (it had been years and years since my Aunt Maye had taken me there) and I was assigned a waiter who had been there a relatively short time and had no seniority to speak of. He’d only been there 17 years. But, this is the exception; on the remote possibility you’ve never booked an eating tour to Oakland, California, let me clue you in -- it ain’t a food destination.

So, what most restaurants do for service personnel is try to find people who possess some social skills, half a brain, and clean up pretty good. Honesty is a good thing, too. Experience would be an added bonus. Without exception, these folks are transient, trawling culinary concubines in the wine-dark seas of gastronomy on their way to riches and fame in a real profession. To them, the restaurant is a temporary money machine to tide them over until they score in their real occupation, so loyalty is something of a problem. Slow nights will cause them begin seeking other employment. These nights, did, however, give me the opportunity to get to know some of these people. Here are some sketches of the front and back of the house at The Ordinary.

Partial dramatis personae. Well, lots of gays. I had two guys who were a couple early on, both very moody artists. Trouble from the get go; one in particular. I had just closed The Ordinary one night -- it was very late. He was zonked – and driving me and my girlfriend home. A cop saw him driving erratically in the parking lot. This was at the height of the Black Panther era in Oakland. Running in a couple of hippies was as welcome as a coffee break -- with a doughnut -- for these guys. They rummaged through his purse and found a bunch of drugs. I piped up and said we were just in the parking lot on private property and they had no right blah, blah, blah. They told me to shut up and to pull my legs into their car or the door would be slammed on them. I shut up and pulled my legs in. My girlfriend piped up. They told her to shut up. She didn't. They opened the door, told me to get out, put her in my place, and took the both of them off to the jailhouse, letting me go. I got them out. No charges were filed against her.

I also had a black gay guy -- Booker -- who was 6’-8’’. with an Afro on top of that. He decided he knew my white musical taste and once gave me a copy of a Jack Jones album -- this during the early days of The Ordinary, when I played nothing but New Orleans jazz on the speaker system. I never really understood how he came up with the cultural leap to Jack Jones after hearing me play King Oliver (he had a pretty good horn player named Louis Armstrong), and Jelly Roll Morton. Maybe someone gave it to him, and he decided I would be more appreciative.

Conrad, on the other hand, paid closer attention than Booker. Conrad was straight, an excellent waiter and a very handsome guy who resembled a young Omar Sharif -- and was also a music critic for The San Francisco Chronicle. He gave me tickets to The Last Waltz, The Band’s farewell concert at Winterland in San Francisco. This was my favorite rock band. Although the night of the concert -- Thanksgiving, 1976 -- had all the earmarks of a very slow night at the restaurant, I had taken reservations for about 20. I was making a special menu featuring a dish of duckling with cherry sauce, and I didn’t know anybody who could pull it off in my stead. I had to give the tickets away. I sigh every time I watch the video of the evening, directed by another favorite of mine, Martin Scorese. Conrad died a very unusual death. A car pinned his leg between two bumpers one night and he developed a wound that wouldn’t heal -- the suffering went on for months. He died of a staph infection.

Then there was Richard -- ah, Richard -- straight, but not so you would have known it. Great waiter, but, like many, avaricious. A skinny little guy, he got laid a lot by acting gay -- had it down to an art. (Logic dictates that he got laid by Geena Davis – many times, as he was her first husband.) Richard was very East Coast, cynical and hip. He grew up with some of the East Coast mobsters, and I recollect he was mentioned in the book Murder Machine. He escaped that life, though.

One of my waitrons, Tre, was a very gifted potter. She made me a series of neat blue and white bowls for presentation (she later sold a bunch of her stuff to Neiman Marcus.) I still have one of them -- it holds about 1-1/2 quarts, and has a series of happy-looking blue frogs in various postures arrayed around the outside of the bowl on a white background. On the bottom of the bowl is two frogs going at it doggie- . . . er . . . froggie-style. On the outside bottom of the bowl is the legend: Bufo bufo in amplexus, axillary. I didn’t (and don’t) give this bowl to just anyone. (The rest of the series was G-rated, I might add.) Note: For decades I have been calling this “The Frog Bowl.” I only recently found out just how ignorant I am of amphibian anatomy. Bufo bufo is a toad: the common toad.)

I had my own Mexican beer connection -- Mr. Ceballos, a truly nice human who for some reason took a shine to me. When they were in short supply, he still kept me in Tres Equis and Noche Buena (this is an end-of-the-year bock, featuring poinsettias on the label). George and Spencer, with some small assistance from me, insured that we never made a profit on these beers. We were also one of the first places outside San Francisco to have Anchor Steam on tap.

Then there was my wine connection. My house wine, a closely guarded secret -- Chateau Rege-- was loved by all. To get the discount, I had to pick it up -- ten case minimum -- at their storefront on Powell in San Francisco, at a price of $10.00 a case -- plus tax. Later I moved up to their premium wine, Chateau Rege Reserve: $12.00 per case. It only came in gallon jugs. I served it in carafes.

We had a couple of near misses with Hollywood around this time. The first came right after I opened. A location producer asked about using The Ordinary for a week or so for a shoot. Something called Klute. He decided against it at the last moment. Later, a producer approached me about being a consultant on a film about Vietnam. Gave me the script (titled The Prisoner; not to be confused with the Patrick McGoohan thing) to read, and told me they would pay me handsomely. Robert Blake was to star. It sounded great, and this starving restaurateur could sure have used the loot. Calls back and forth for several months. The last call I got said the project was on hold: Blake had accepted an offer -- though he was pretty sure it would be short-lived -- for some television thing called Baretta. Guess the cockatoo got my money.

Line cooks were in short supply in Oakland at this time. Mostly I took what I thought were smart people with little experience. Hell, no Bay Area cooks had experience with Creole food, anyway. Well, these were the people I knew: poets, writers, sculptors, painters. They became cooks, kinda. Unlike most of the restaurants I was to do after The Ordinary, where the entire menus were a la carte, most of my items were what we call “batch” items. I settled on a menu that I thought most of my cooks could handle.

Spencer had owned gas stations and had been a mechanic. He’d quit all that and was a hippie living in a commune when I met him. Spencer became a very good cook, and went on to have his own restaurants.

Denis, who helped out when he could, had always been a good cook. He didn’t make fans of the black ladies to whom he sent out some not-spicy-enough gumbo -- they could be heard throughout the restaurant, shouting “Who done cooked this trash?” In addition to teaching college, Denis taught wine appreciation and wine-making classes.

Then there was Bunkie, former air force officer. (This may scare you, folks. Just don’t dwell on our country’s security too much and you’ll get through it.) He was easily addled. He had the attention span of a bipolar gnat -- except when it came to drugs. Psychedelics were his favorite. Lots. Often. He did have his charm though. He had a succession of attractive girlfriends.

One of Bunkie’s string of sweeties was Susan, a Foster, the first of four memorable sisters about which, for some reason -- we could speculate that drugs play a part here -- I don’t remember much.

Susan was freshly sprung from a German prison -- something to do with borders and contraband. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the Foster convoy rolled in from Chicago: Ellen, Mary and Janet, hard living, brash broads, and all attractive. I’m sure they sucked the air right out of The Windy City when they left there. Berkeley wasn’t ready for them. They didn’t care about political correctness, or fitting into the Berkeley culture. These girls just wanted to have fun: sex -- a man a minute, and no commitments. Mary, given a quarter of a chance, would, upon being introduced to a man, whip out her tits and say, “How you like them puppies?” They were cute and pettable. Kinda large for puppies, though. She and Ellen went on to work for Spencer at Mama’s Royal Café.

Nestor didn’t want to work out front -- just in the kitchen. His real name was John and he became a very good friend. He decorated the employee bathroom walls extensively with clever graffiti, drawings, “sandwiches,” and silly slogans, some of which elicited surprising responses. In particular, what Nestor had scribbled about the SLA attracted the attention of the feds: things like, “Call me Cinque,” and “Meet me out back at 11:00, Patty.” One day they came to look at the wall and photograph it. Somewhere in their files are these examples of your tax dollars at work.

John lived with me for a while. Nestor Marzipan was his . . . alter ego, or maybe better, his alter id. Most of the time he looked sorta like a hippie -- John, not Nestor, a bright, educated guy. The Nestor part of him wore a fedora, a zoot suit and tie -- or sometimes, a nurse’s outfit. He talked about having an office in a dingy hall in a building in Monterey and sitting behind a desk with a pint in the drawer and a sign on the door, “Nestor Marzipan, Private Detective.” He became obsessed with one case he was working on. A missing emotion case -- what ever happened to tenderness? He became a very good cook. He died too young. I miss him a lot.

One last slow-night amusement: throwing a damp plunger at a wall 20 feet away and making it stick. Spencer says he can beat me; I dispute this claim.

It’s hard to wrap up this section. Maybe I’ll let Beckett do it for me. From Waiting for Godot. This time in English.

Vladimir: That passed the time.

Estragon: It would have passed in any case.

Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

<div align="center">+ + + + +</div>

Joseph Carey, aka ChefCarey, is the author of Creole Nouvelle: Contemporary Creole Cookery and Chef on Fire: The Five Techniques for Using Heat Like a Pro. He cooks, teaches and writes in Memphis, Tennessee.

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I am one of your avid readers ChefCarey. Once again, you never fail to amuse and delight me with your writings and your memories. Thanks for sharing again.


Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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John lived with me for a while. Nestor Marzipan was his . . . alter ego, or maybe better, his alter id. Most of the time he looked sorta like a hippie -- John, not Nestor, a bright, educated guy. The Nestor part of him wore a fedora, a zoot suit and tie -- or sometimes, a nurse’s outfit. He talked about having an office in a dingy hall in a building in Monterey and sitting behind a desk with a pint in the drawer and a sign on the door, “Nestor Marzipan, Private Detective.” He became obsessed with one case he was working on. A missing emotion case -- what ever happened to tenderness? He became a very good cook. He died too young. I miss him a lot.

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

It’s hard to wrap up this section. Maybe I’ll let Beckett do it for me. From Waiting for Godot. This time in English.

Vladimir: That passed the time.

Estragon: It would have passed in any case.

Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

Love that line about Nestor. :biggrin:

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

Reading your stories (and the thread currently running where line cooks play jokes on people like putting LSD in their drinks or magic mushrooms on their toast as practical joke) is truly a "flashback" of sorts.

The zinging total silliness of it all - drugs sex and rock-and-roll - the altered experience that finally had to shift into a reality for those that lived it that did *not* (as Nestor did, and as some of the kindest gentlest most creative people among the crowd did) die young, too young.

Edged on the other side by the black undercurrent that *is* the flip side of this.

I was the thirteen year old girl at the edge of the crowd of hippies, the skinny one with the long red hair. The one that smiled a lot. There were more of us than just me, teenagers whose parents weren't watching too closely or who were not watching at all, though we were a minority in the gangs of college students, dropouts and trust fund babies that flitted with tie dyed t-shirts and unbrushed teeth through the days living for the freedom of whatever sort that was being sought.

It was me, the tiny one, that would get grabbed at the rock festivals, given a drink laced with whatever hallucinogenics the fun-seeker that was seeking "fun" had on hand (without being told till afterwards that the drink had something in it) and then it was me who would get grabbed and lifted onto the portable trampoline that ten people were carrying around to bounce other people

on "for fun", it was me who was bounced without being wanted to, ten feet into the air, flailing without the ability to make them stop, hallucinating from the drugs while trying to maintain some sort of grip on a thirteen-year olds sanity, tryng to scream "stop!" as one does in a dream but being unable to get any sound out at all, while those doing it laughed and laughed and laughed, their faces distorting into mudpiles of sludgy rubber as I prayed to the depths of my soul that somehow it would end.

This is a simple example and one that does not focus on things that might really offend people that would read of the times and how people acted within that mileu.

The nostalgia resonates, and the nostalgia is good in the ways that it should be. But for those who might think this nostalgia, this world, was a lightweight easy sort of wheeeee! (which could happen if one were not there, or if one chose not to think of these things) with lots of sourdough bread, brown rice and LSD as pleasure, I have to point out the other side as balancing factor.

Nestor. I'll remember him, though I never met him, with pleasure though (though he is gone).

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

I wonder if anyone ever went to "Earth People's Park". :biggrin: Remember that place/idea?

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

But Vladamir and Estragon have the right idea. A story passes the time in the best sort of way. :wink:

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And, again, eminently readable and enjoyable, and to an outsider, blushable.

And I'm with Good Ole Nestor---there just ain't enough tenderness to go around.  All that bloviation and preposterone in the air crowded it off to somewhere else. :unsure:

We can hope, though.

Blushable? Does that mean you were putting it on your cheeks?

Yes, next to my mother and father Nestor is at the top of my list of those who are gone and I wish weren't.

I hope to include some of Nestor's work in the book. We are working on it right now.

Thanks for the kind words about my scribbles.

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[

Love that line about Nestor.  :biggrin:

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

Reading your stories (and the thread currently running where line cooks play jokes on people like putting LSD in their drinks or magic mushrooms on their toast as practical joke) is truly a "flashback" of sorts.

The zinging total silliness of it all - drugs sex and rock-and-roll - the altered experience that finally had to shift into a reality for those that lived it that did *not* (as Nestor did, and as some of the kindest gentlest most creative people among the crowd did) die young, too young.

Edged on the other side by the black undercurrent that *is* the flip side of this.

I was the thirteen year old girl at the edge of the crowd of hippies, the skinny one with the long red hair. The one that smiled a lot. There were more of us than just me, teenagers whose parents weren't watching too closely or who were not watching at all, though we were a minority in the gangs of college students, dropouts and trust fund babies that flitted with tie dyed t-shirts and unbrushed teeth through the days living for the freedom of whatever sort that was being sought.

It was me, the tiny one, that would get grabbed at the rock festivals, given a drink laced with whatever hallucinogenics the fun-seeker that was seeking "fun" had on hand (without being told till afterwards that the drink had something in it) and then it was me who would get grabbed and lifted onto the portable trampoline that ten people were carrying around to bounce other people

on "for fun", it was me who was bounced without being wanted to, ten feet into the air, flailing without the ability to make them stop, hallucinating from the drugs while trying to maintain some sort of grip on a thirteen-year olds sanity, tryng to scream "stop!" as one does in a dream but being unable to get any sound out at all, while those doing it laughed and laughed and laughed, their faces distorting into mudpiles of sludgy rubber as I prayed to the depths of my soul that somehow it would end.

This is a simple example and one that does not focus on things that might really offend people that would read of the times and how people acted within that mileu.

The nostalgia resonates, and the nostalgia is good in the ways that it should be. But for those who might think this nostalgia, this world, was a lightweight easy sort of wheeeee! (which could happen if one were not there, or if one chose not to think of these things) with lots of sourdough bread, brown rice and LSD as pleasure, I have to point out the other side as balancing factor.

Nestor. I'll remember him, though I never met him, with pleasure though (though he is gone).

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

I wonder if anyone ever went to "Earth People's Park".  :biggrin: Remember that place/idea?

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

But Vladamir and Estragon have the right idea. A story passes the time in the best sort of way.  :wink:

I haven't read that thread. No cook who worked for me would ever have tampered with the food in any manner. Or he or she would have had their ass kicked out of my kitchen pronto. Despite our multitudinous character flaws, we were all very serious about feeding folk.

I can sympathize with your plight. I had a girlfriend who gave her child - under 5 years old - marijuana. He would just lie on the floor and spin around in circles. It made me very uncomfortable.

I have a piece coming up a little later from the book about the first time I took LSD - it was not by choice, either. I met some wolves that evening. Real, not figurative, wolves.

Yes, all was not always roses during that era, but my personality is such that I retain the positive (for the most part) and trash the negative. Don't have room for that kind of shit in my brain.

Nestor is remembered by many. I hope to be able to be the one to immortalize him.

I know virtually nothing about "Earth People's Park." But, I know a great deal about the original People's Park in Berkeley. I was living there at the time and had friends involved in it. I have stuff in the book about it.

I have not measured out my life in coffee spoons; I have spent a lot of time, though, with the women, watching them come and go, and sometimes talk of Michelangelo and I've eaten a *lot* of peaches.

(Just replaced a period with a comma in my edit.)


Edited by ChefCarey (log)

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Yes, all was not always roses during that era, but my personality is such that I retain the positive (for the most part) and trash the negative. Don't have room for that kind of shit in my brain.

Nestor is remembered by many. I hope to be able to be the one to immortalize him.

I know virtually nothing about "Earth People's Park." But, I know a great deal about the original People's Park in Berkeley. I was living there at the time and had friends involved in it. I have stuff in the book about it.

I forget the negative in daily life, but retain some memories under the listing of "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it". Sweet is one of the flavor profiles of life, but what would it taste like without the linked concept of the flavor of bitterness? Perhaps sweet or any other good thing would not be as full, standing alone unchallenged or with alter-balance. . .

I think "Earth People's Park" was a take-off in ways of People's Park. Here's a link. What can I say about it. Lots, but let's just stick to the fact that the food was dreadful. :biggrin::wink:

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I think a lot can be hung on Santayana's words. I agree with you to the extent that the negative memories are there, but, then, it's really all in how we choose to view and use them, isn't it?

Take, Iraq for example. Had Mr. Cheney not asked for five deferrments during the Vietnam era and had Mr. Bush not been unavailable for combat duty, we might well have never gotten ourselves into this current morass. I can't believe that anyone who saw combat duty in Vietnam could *possibly* have committed us to an unwinnable war yet again, whatever their motivation.

I went to that war and upon my return went to work for The American Friends Service Committee running a draft counseling center and became a staff member and contributor to a pro-GI/antiwar newspaper, Vietnam GI. I took what could have become a bitter and ugly memory and used it in the most positive fashion I could think of.

(I have a piece upcoming here about my year at that war.)

Here's the link to The American Friends Service Committee's People's Park page:

People's Park

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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I think a lot can be hung on Santayana's words. I agree with you to the extent that the negative memories are there, but, then, it's really all in how we choose to view and use them, isn't it?

Absolutely. Otherwise they can and do try to use us. :wink:

Sorry if I sounded gloomy earlier - I've been reading a "Paris Review" collection of short stories and my outlook (because of it, I believe) is becoming quite morose. Must switch to a different book. :biggrin:

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So. . .Joe. . .do you have a favorite food you like to cook?

P.S. Hey. Maybe we can exchange stories of how we each became executive chefs for the first time, rather than just "chef". That might be fun. :wink:


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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P.S. Hey. Maybe we can exchange stories of how we each became executive chefs for the first time, rather than just "chef". That might be fun.  :wink:

Oops. Let me take that one back. Saving that story for my own book. :wink:

But the other question remains. . .you know, the favorite food one. . .the one that every chef gets asked by every person that is not a chef?

Always difficult to answer. Particularly when recipes are then asked for. :biggrin:

(Did I say "meow" yet? No? Well, then. "Meow." :smile: )

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

I like to cook many things, but not too much of the sixties stuff. Beef Wellington. Sigh. Tournedos "however". Or alternately brown rice with mushrooms. Blech.

Food to my mind has improved greatly here in the US since then. And of course food is the most important thing, sometimes the only thing, one can really talk about.

I wonder what everyone reading was cooking in the sixties or seventies if they were there.

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P.S. Hey. Maybe we can exchange stories of how we each became executive chefs for the first time, rather than just "chef". That might be fun.  :wink:

Oops. Let me take that one back. Saving that story for my own book. :wink:

But the other question remains. . .you know, the favorite food one. . .the one that every chef gets asked by every person that is not a chef?

Always difficult to answer. Particularly when recipes are then asked for. :biggrin:

(Did I say "meow" yet? No? Well, then. "Meow." :smile: )

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

I like to cook many things, but not too much of the sixties stuff. Beef Wellington. Sigh. Tournedos "however". Or alternately brown rice with mushrooms. Blech.

Food to my mind has improved greatly here in the US since then. And of course food is the most important thing, sometimes the only thing, one can really talk about.

I wonder what everyone reading was cooking in the sixties or seventies if they were there.

Well, I was cooking in the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's. And I've been eating even longer.

I was born and partially raised in New Orleans, so that was my first cuisine. Spent time in the Far East, Europe, New York, Chicago, Bloomington, Indiana, California, and Memphis. What I cook was influenced by all those places.

I rarely get asked *that* question anymore since I've written books and have, with gusto, taught classes on Creole cookery, the cooking of the American Southwest, California cookery, Italian cookery, French cookery, cooking techniques, Heart-Healthy cookery, Spanish cookery, soups, breads etc., and, in my day job, for the past 22 years, have taught classes to people wanting to become professional chefs. Also, during that 22-year span, I opened three very eclectic restaurants.

Actually, the question I get asked most often is: What's the difference between a chef and a cook?

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This was really nice to read. FOH for a decade through my 20s, and made me think of all the remarkable people I worked with and passed the dreaded "preps done and first reservation is six" time with.

Some are gone now. I miss them.

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I rarely get asked *that* question anymore since I've written books and have, with gusto, taught classes on Creole cookery, the cooking of the American Southwest, California cookery, Italian cookery, French cookery, cooking techniques, Heart-Healthy cookery, Spanish cookery, soups, breads etc., and, in my day job, for the past 22 years, have taught classes to people wanting to become professional chefs. Also, during that 22-year span, I opened three very eclectic restaurants.

Actually, the question I get asked most often is: What's the difference between a chef and a cook?

You have an impressive list of things that you've done, truly.

Wish I could rattle off a list like that (in ways) but rather than delve into the world of external accomplishment I chose to leave the food world and be a Mom. (This is a job title that used to exist as a real thing that could take a full day of work to do, but whether it is a job title that is thought of in that way anymore is questionable.) I know that some Moms seem able to do more than focus on one thing, but it has been proved that I just really do not want to. :biggrin: So I am the one who cooks at home. (Which actually can be in ways more challenging than cooking for the public, for you just can't ever really get up and walk away from it to do something else! :laugh: )(Well. . .of course unless you hire someone else to do it, but that seems odd to me, for me).

I have mixed feelings about having been an exec chef, often, for sometimes the title seems to be attached to the handshake or smile of the person saying "hello" to me as a persona that must be filled. . .and of course the Mom part is left dangling sideways saying "Hi, this is what I really do". I never really have any mixed feelings about spending a full day as a Mom except when others angle their own stuff about it at me.

Actually, in terms of difficulty, I find that the job of full-time single "Mom" to be much more difficult than being either an exec chef or being a VP in the Operations Division which is the job that followed (the role was managing all foodservices for the corporation.) :wink:

So my question, originally, was tinged with a bit of ruefulness, and there is no smilie to show that.

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

So how do you answer the question about the difference between a chef and a cook when it's asked?


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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You'll never hear me denigrate those quality practitioners of the full-time, single mom profession. They are truly an admirable breed.

As to the question. I'm not sure there is an answer that will satisfy all. Lots of excellent amateur cooks like to appropriate the title "chef." And I certainly am not going to take them to task for that. Bravo(a).

I have been asked so damn often, though that I am struggling to explain to the layman what a professional chef is. I'm not sure I've succeeded.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to my book:

There was a long bleak break in the advancement of culinary arts between the Apicius de re Coquinaria of Marcus Apicius in the 4th century CE and Taillevent’s Le Viandier published in 1380. And there never was a gustatory Hippocratic Oath to guide us through those dark times. I think my original jejune geist, although I have never put much stock in sloganeering, could be lifted directly from Hippocrates’ game plan:

"To consider dear to me as my parents him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and if necessary to share my goods with him;

To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art if they so desire without fee or written promise; to impart to my sons and the sons of the master who taught me and the disciples who have enrolled themselves and have agreed to the rules of the profession, but to these alone the precepts and the instruction.

I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone."

When we decide to become a chef we take a step across a line. We do prescribe regimens. We call them menus. This is the medicine we say you should be taking. And, in a very real sense, those who decide to dine with us are our patients. They entrust their bellies and their health to us. It is our job to make the medicating, the dining experience as pleasant as possible. We take responsibility.

And once you begin running a kitchen you are instantly, like the mantle or not, a de facto teacher. And every apprentice or student to whom you pass on your knowledge is your legacy. In the professional kitchen it is our job to teach the art without fee.

Don’t quibble with me here. Yes, those of us who teach culinary arts outside the working environment require a fee of our students. But, I did give out scholarships, not reimbursed by any governmental agency, every year. And I think you will be hard pressed today to find a medical school for the penniless.

I don’t want to get into the nature vs. nurture squabble here, but I never made a single chef in all my years of running kitchens and teaching. Nobody who ever worked under me or studied under me became a chef because of anything I said or did. It was already there. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing many of them go onto have their own restaurants and catering companies and even become directors of foodservice at hospitals.

Let me try to illustrate this with an example. In California, I worked one time in my life in a “union house.” I stepped into a job as executive chef at a hotel. My agent, culinary, not literary, got me this job. There were two restaurants and banquets up to 1200. In my 30’s, I had about 12 cooks all of whom were at least ten years my senior and very set in their ways. These guys were hardcore cooks. They knew all the tricks. From day one there was no question who was in charge. They just knew. I changed all the menus. It was a nearly seamless transition. It wasn’t just that I knew more about cooking than they did. A chef exudes an aura of confidence and command. (I hated this job, by the way, the general manager of the hotel actually made me join the union, one of the most corrupt in the country.) It is difficult to translate this into terms the layman understands. It really does have less to do with cooking and more to do with that unnamable something that some people have and some, clearly, don’t. Yes, the chef is probably more creative than the average cook. That’s a part of it.

Every one of us in that kitchen knew that I was a chef, always would be and none of them ever would be. The hotel actually changed the name of the fine dining restaurant to the name of a dish I introduced to this kitchen.

The chef is the ultimate risk taker. The cook isn’t. The chef puts his ass on the line every time he puts a plate in front of a diner. His name is written all over it. The cook’s isn’t. But, also, the chef knows it’s impossible to do it alone. He relies on the cook and trusts him. There is a kind of love in the kitchen a lot like what I saw in combat. A mutual reliance, where each must pull his weight or all will sink. I rarely fired anyone. When a cook would not hold up his end his peers would push him out of the kitchen.

The closest approximations to an orgasm I’ve ever experienced occurred at the end of evenings in a busy kitchen when we had just put out a couple of hundred – or more - meals, fresh food, well-prepared, timely, hot food hot, cold food cold and we KNEW we had done it absolutely spot on - as well as any team on earth could have done it. Sweaty, covered with food stains, dirty, completely spent and grinning ear to ear at each other. Damn, that felt good! I’d buy us all a drink and we would toast, clean the kitchen and then come back tomorrow and try to top today.

Then there is the pedestrian work. The chef makes schedules, orders the food, does inventories, is responsible for food cost, labor cost, developing menu items, training, developing purveyor relationships, drafting task outlines and job descriptions. While not fun, except for ordering the food, these are the quotidian necessities of the job. The cook does not seek these responsibilities. I could always tell who was destined to be a chef by how they reacted to taking on some of these tasks for me. Some relished increased responsibility. Some shrank from it.

The relishers give me hope for our species. And I think, to a man – and a woman, for I’ve had many talented women work with me – they would all willingly jump in that foxhole with me again.

Here I trace my careening path from New Orleans to Indiana, New York, Chicago, Vietnam, Europe, Memphis and California, noting what I learned along the way, including all the character flaws, stumbles and pratfalls. Eventually, I became a damn good cook. And I think, ultimately, that’s even more important to me than being a good chef.

As we wend our way, I make frequent mention of music and films. And politics and history as I lived it. This is not serendipitous. To me they are the diegesis to my narrative, an essential element to an understanding of what was going on. Try to hear the music and visualize the films as you read. This was the landscape for my life. The politics will be harder to understand as many of the issues are not yet resolved.

Nearly my entire adult life has been devoted to cooking or teaching cooking and I continue to do both and will as long as I can remain upright. But, even the hardest working among us do not spend 24 hours per day in the kitchen. I hope my story will enlighten you as to what the life of a chef really entails and flesh out the cardboard cutout of a guy in a white coat and gros bonnet, as well as open your eyes about the many different routes one may take to arrive at the point where you are called “chef.”

One of the most common questions from my students over the years was, “How will I know when I am a chef?”

The answer is simple. You are a chef the first time a line cook begins talking to you and places the word “Chef” at the beginning of the sentence. You have been permanently imprinted. You have arrived.

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Thanks for the kind words, Anne.

Yep, that waiting was always the hardest part of the job.

There are many I miss and have very fond memories of. I screamed at all of them one time or another. :wink:

This was really nice to read. FOH for a decade through my 20s, and made me think of all the remarkable people I worked with and passed the dreaded "preps done and first reservation is six" time with.

Some are gone now. I miss them.

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Thanks for the kind words, Anne.

Yep, that waiting was always the hardest part of the job.

There are many I miss and have very fond memories of. I screamed at all of them one time or another.  :wink:

This was really nice to read. FOH for a decade through my 20s, and made me think of all the remarkable people I worked with and passed the dreaded "preps done and first reservation is six" time with.

Some are gone now. I miss them.

My best friend forever died very slowly and painfully from AIDS. He didn't deserve it.

I would have never kept my sanity without him in that particular place and time. He had a real talent for finding the crux of the issue, and making it funny.

I also chewed him out about some of his habits. He took it well though, and gave as good as he got.

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As to the question. I'm not sure there is an answer that will satisfy all. Lots of excellent amateur cooks like to appropriate the title "chef." And I certainly am not going to take them to task for that. Bravo(a).

I have been asked so damn often, though that I am struggling to explain to the layman what a professional chef is. I'm not sure I've succeeded.

[. . .]

The closest approximations to an orgasm I’ve ever experienced occurred at the end of evenings in a busy kitchen when we had just put out a couple of hundred – or more - meals, fresh food, well-prepared, timely, hot food hot, cold food cold and we KNEW we had done it absolutely spot on - as well as any team on earth could have done it. Sweaty, covered with food stains, dirty, completely spent and grinning ear to ear at each other. Damn, that felt good! I’d buy us all a drink and we would toast, clean the kitchen and then come back tomorrow and try to top today.

[. . .]

As we wend our way, I make frequent mention of music and films. And politics and history as I lived it. This is not serendipitous. To me they are the diegesis to my narrative, an essential element to an understanding of what was going on. Try to hear the music and visualize the films as you read. This was the landscape for my life. The politics will be harder to understand as many of the issues are not yet resolved.

It's obvious that you have given intense thought to the question of "what is a chef". I agree with each and every one of your points. There is not a stitch dropped in the fabric of your thought, and all edges are smooth, strong, and complete, to my mind.

I understand the metaphor of orgasm in your paragraph above. I don't know a chef who does not feel this way, and even many line cooks (the ones who last). For me, I felt this way more intensely about dancing (real dancing, not dancing behind the line or in the dance of chef :biggrin: ) than I did in the kitchen. Perhaps I should have been a ballerina? :rolleyes: Ah, well. There's still time.

( :laugh: )

As to music, films, politics, history, in your narrative of chef and food - I say "yes" to all of it in "foodwriting". Yes to all of it and more, for food is one singular thing that is tied in to so many other things. It does not stand alone, nor does a chef stand alone with his or her food in some place where only aroma, texture, taste and science exist. . .without much affecting all of it. All of it.

In professional cooking at places where it is required, we often use the standardized recipe. It is a formal tool that excludes any sort of alternate ways of doing. It provides a certain stability, consistency, and structure both of a naturally-based ingredient sort and one of a more hierarchal sort. Writing of food (or, as extension of thought, chefs) might sometimes be subject to this sort of standardized recipe being placed upon it.

Personally, as someone who used to be called "chef", I guess I don't have a whole lot of tolerance for standardized recipes that are considered unbendable, unimprovable,

never to be shaken off their bases by something new, something maybe tastier, something with a spark of difference. I like the freedom of writing a new recipe, as long as the technique is there to support it.

The world is not only my oyster, but many people's oysters. It has been interesting to learn about yours. :wink:

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Sometimes in the course of editing a submission for publication, we have to leave something significant lying on the light table. What follows didn't fit in with the rogues gallery ChefCarey artfully sketched for our entertainment. Still, it's too good to leave behind. So here's a bonus.

<div align="center">+ + + + +</div>

One of my carved redwood signs out front was "Creole Cuisine and Potables." More than once folks came in and asked why the "Creole Potatoes" that were mentioned out front weren't on the menu. Unfortunately, this kind of thing was not unusual.

One dish I labored over for a couple of years before I was happy enough with it to write it down: gumbo. Specifically, seafood gumbo. More specifically, Gombo aux Crabes et Chevrettes. (I stole the Creole French spelling from The Picayune Creole Cookbook, published in 1901.)

Now, this was not a dish your average Californian was weaned on, so the ingredients were not hawked on every street corner. I could count on The Housewives Market on a regular basis for blue crabs and shrimp. Getting fresh okra was not the easiest thing; sometimes I found it at the Oakland Produce Market, but I once had to pay a fortune for a crate from Guatemala. Finally, I got to the point where I was convinced I made the best gumbo on the planet. (Of course, every Cajun, Creole, housewife, cook , chef and, sanitation engineer and plumber in the state of Louisiana will tell you the same thing – that they make the best gumbo.) At any rate I was quite proud of it.

I sent one of the G-rated frog bowls full of gumbo out to the dining room one night – it was a weeknight, kinda slow, so I manned the line by myself. A few minutes later Jimmy the waiter dashed in through the kitchen door yelling, "Chef, you're needed in the dining room! We have a problem." Hunh. I would have been completely addled -- my universe would have been turned upside down -- if a day went by without a major problem. I was always bracing for a blow. I turned my apron over and sighed. "Where?" "Upstairs," he said, "Solitary diner." Ah, yes, the gumbo.

I always sent the gumbo out with a small flat-rimmed Italian soup bowl of steamed rice on a liner plate and the blue and white bowls of gumbo on the side with a ladle along for the ride. When I arrived at the gentleman's table, I saw that the diner (and I use the term very loosely) had set the rice off to the side and had the big bowl on the liner plate. Not the usual procedure. I swear I heard Jimmy, who had followed me up, snickering behind me.

"Yes, sir, what's the problem?"

"This is too hard," he said with a thick tongue. He'd obviously warmed up for his Creole feast with several cocktails.

"You mean it's too difficult to eat?"

"No! It's too hard!" And he proceeded to demonstrate this fact by vigorously having at the bright red blue crab shell (with which I garnished the top each of the bowls of seafood gumbo I sent out) with his knife and fork. He attempted to cut it once and then banged on it with his knife. It was not a soft-shell crab. It was hard. Too hard to eat.

"Just one moment, sir." I retrieved a bread and butter plate and a couple of forks from a nearby waiter's station and returned to the table. I set the big bowl off to the side and replaced the rice on the liner plate. Using the two forks, I lifted the crab shell from atop the gumbo and placed it on the bread and butter plate, then ladled some gumbo over his rice.

"Enjoy," I said. "Try a spoon this time, sir." Jimmy was doubled over in the waiter's station.

<div align="center">* * *</div>

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Sometimes in the course of editing a submission for publication, we have to leave something significant lying on the light table. What follows didn't fit in with the rogues gallery ChefCarey artfully sketched for our entertainment. Still, it's too good to leave behind. So here's a bonus.

<div align="center">+ + + + +</div>

One of my carved redwood signs out front was "Creole Cuisine and Potables." More than once folks came in and asked why the "Creole Potatoes" that were mentioned out front weren't on the menu. Unfortunately, this kind of thing was not unusual.

One dish I labored over for a couple of years before I was happy enough with it to write it down: gumbo. Specifically, seafood gumbo. More specifically, Gombo aux Crabes et Chevrettes. (I stole the Creole French spelling from The Picayune Creole Cookbook, published in 1901.)

Now, this was not a dish your average Californian was weaned on, so the ingredients were not hawked on every street corner. I could count on The Housewives Market on a regular basis for blue crabs and shrimp. Getting fresh okra was not the easiest thing; sometimes I found it at the Oakland Produce Market, but I once had to pay a fortune for a crate from Guatemala. Finally, I got to the point where I was convinced I made the best gumbo on the planet. (Of course, every Cajun, Creole, housewife, cook , chef and, sanitation engineer and  plumber in the state of Louisiana will tell you the same thing – that they make the best gumbo.) At any rate I was quite proud of it.

I sent one of the G-rated frog bowls full of gumbo out to the dining room one night – it was a weeknight, kinda slow, so I manned the line by myself. A few minutes later Jimmy the waiter dashed in through the kitchen door yelling, "Chef, you're needed in the dining room! We have a problem." Hunh. I would have been completely addled -- my universe would have been turned upside down -- if a day went by without a major problem. I was always bracing for a blow. I turned my apron over and sighed. "Where?" "Upstairs," he said, "Solitary diner." Ah, yes, the gumbo.

I always sent the gumbo out with a small flat-rimmed Italian soup bowl of steamed rice on a liner plate and the blue and white bowls of gumbo on the side with a ladle along for the ride. When I arrived at the gentleman's table, I saw that the diner (and I use the term very loosely) had set the rice off to the side and had the big bowl on the liner plate. Not the usual procedure. I swear I heard Jimmy, who had followed me up, snickering behind me.

"Yes, sir, what's the problem?"

"This is too hard," he said with a thick tongue. He'd obviously warmed up for his Creole feast with several cocktails.

"You mean it's too difficult to eat?"

"No! It's too hard!" And he proceeded to demonstrate this fact by vigorously having at the bright red blue crab shell (with which I garnished the top each of the bowls of seafood gumbo I sent out) with his knife and fork. He attempted to cut it once and then banged on it with his knife. It was not a soft-shell crab. It was hard. Too hard to eat.

"Just one moment, sir." I retrieved a bread and butter plate and a couple of forks from a nearby waiter's station and returned to the table. I set the big bowl off to the side and replaced the rice on the liner plate. Using the two forks, I lifted the crab shell from atop the gumbo and placed it on the bread and butter plate, then ladled some gumbo over his rice.

"Enjoy," I said. "Try a spoon this time, sir." Jimmy was doubled over in the waiter's station.

<div align="center">* * *</div>

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Joesph, What an incredible pleasure it is to read this. 30 years ago it was I asking you these same questions and probably a few 100 more. I have over the years answered the same questions with my great mentors answers."We're a medieval cult we are". What great times those were! Merely exquisite. James

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