Sunday, October 17, 2010

Job Search 3.0

So here it was; 500 resumes reviewed, 147 panel interviews - down to 17 viable candidates, now just four left. The Company decided that the best way to determine who would fill the position was to have a 'Top Chef' style cook off, oh my.
Southern Style Meatloaf and a Chef's choice entree. 1 Presentation plate and tasting plates for 10.
A month passes and I get the call, it would seem that I'm one of the last three standing, one candidate dropped out when they found out that they would need to cook it off. For a week I can think of little else, so many questions; what's at the site, who will I be cooking against, what dish would best exemplify my cooking style and reflect my food focus in the actual job? I can feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, bearing me down as the date comes inexorably closer. I wear a rubber band on my wrist in order to express some Neural Linguistic Programming - when I find myself getting overwhelmed by the prospect of doing poorly and letting down all who love, and depend on me, I snap the band so I can come back to a place of calm and presence - I can only hope that I can do the same thing on the day of the event simply by just looking at my wrist; jogging my sub conscious into a placid place.
Soon all doubts would be answered.
Very soon there would be nothing left to do but to do it.

Driving to the city of the cook off I spend the hours staring through the traffic and road hazards like I'm trying to peer through to the present to the 'almost here'. The car ride feels like I'm hurtling towards my future, be it good or ill. I really have to now idea what's going to happen and trust in the tightly held belief that 'it' always works out for the best no matter what that may look like.
Have I invested myself so dearly, emotionally, that if this doesn't go well I'll be able to square my shoulders and hold my head up high regardless of the outcome or will the let down cripple me for weeks to come; limping along without a cause or purpose?

I sing through my conflicting emotions with the music on the flash drive stuck into the dash like a two by four thrown through a barn door by a twister.
The car rolls on.
I had googled, facebooked, linkedin and searched the blogosphere for information about the other 2 and the Company principles. Proper preparation yes but still and all the proof would be in the pudding. In one way it didn't matter what I found, in the end my only real competition would be me. Would I be able to get out of my own way, allow 'it' to flow, accept the moment for what it was without forcing it? After all my writing, and talking about Kanji in the Kitchen would I finally be able to express it without it sounding false, trite or insipid? Would I be found to be a poser, inauthentic - the 'fraud' of the ego that we all secretly fear or would I be able to harness my passion, ramp down my 'bull in the china shop' spirit and articulate my deepest gratitude and humility that I was even here at all - surely there were so many out there, just as deserving of this opportunity? The questions were deafening.
And yet here I was, moving forward.

At the hotel I spent a very restless night sleep, going over my plan - movements, timing, script, options, backup plans and fall back positions like an Olympic athlete - my body swaying in the brisk early morning breezes of the hotel room balcony as I close my eyes imagining the furious last moments right before service. Before I know it, or I believe myself ready, the clock says it's time to go; time to stand tall and frosty my brothers and sisters and bring it - after all this time there is only this day, this moment of presence that is real, gritty and tastes a bit steely in the mouth.
I straighten my jacket, check my tools for the 10th time, get into my clogs and head down stairs towards what feels like my time.

The three of us meet. We're shown the kitchen where we'll be making our magic. We go to the store where we're to buy all the product necessary to prepare our dishes later at 1:30 pm. We find out that it's not 10 people eating but 12; did we buy enough food? Had we considered the cooking shrinkage or picked up enough seasoning?
I go back to the hotel to get a nap but sleep eludes me, my mind filled again with the dream of the dance until I resign myself to the inevitable. I get up and suit up again. Had I eaten? Did I even need to? The adrenalin flushing my face would be fuel enough for me, I decide and head down again to the car. The one other candidate in the hotel and I make mindless chit chat during the drive, each firmly entrenched in our own internal dialogue. We agree that no matter what we'll be professional and help each; finding pots and pans, locating an onion or plating the dishes as we only have 10 minutes between courses.

And here it is, no time left to consider the others in our lives or the possibility of defeat. Everything falls away and there is a moment of clarity unlike anything else - a place where all possibilties exist at the same time and the hands run true and the knives all cut straight. I'm getting ahead of myself I realize; with all my product arranged around my cutting board I take a deep breath, close my eyes and give a moment of silent thanks - a prayer of gratitude for even being here at all. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

'You Okay?' my compatriot asks noticing that I'm not moving. 'Yeah, brother - thanks' I say as I pick my knife up and start moving with a purpose, grounded finally. Yea, man I think to myself, oh hell yeah.

The first hour flies by as we'll all heads down, elbows akimbo, stripping produce, blooming herbs and shallots, reducing gastrics and molding meatloaf's. We all steal glances at one another through the tools hanging on the overhead rack, calling out time and checking each other for progress. I realize that it's a perfect day, a perfect moment frozen in culinary heaven; each of us has a distinctive style, unlike the other and our meatloaf plates are a direct reflection - French country, ACF American and southern as southern can be. Our entree plates have three different proteins, three different focuses, three different approaches.
It's apparent that the Company picked well, they would have their work cut out for them - ain't no scrubs in this group.

All competitiveness, judgment or self serving criticism has disappeared. We watch each other for best practices and realize that there is something to learn from the other's approach.

2:30 comes and goes like it was never there.
We find out that there will be 13, not 12. Alrighty then - no worries now; just keep going.

Suddenly we're all three outside the back door grabbing a breath of fresh air. Three different styles, three different dishes and we're all at the same point; ready to rock with a moment to spare.

We find out that there is a scheduling change and we'll present both our presentation plates at the same time; oops, now I gotta scramble - I thought that we had an hour between the two presentations. I grab pans of food, staged and nested in bowls ready to fire. I cook enough for the 1 plate. We all work silently on the presentation plates until we're called out in front of the group, quickly wiping rims at the last and checking the height of the fried onions on the meatloaf.

'You know if this was an ACF competition, non functional garnish would cost you points' one competitor comments at the plates on the table. I wonder that the ACF would say about one candidate bringing in prepared corn bread and collared greens or the other bringing in a container of tools nor available to the others. I brush off the comment, no time nor energy to give that criticism - almost there, just keep going.
I look around, startled by the observation that time is going to be tighter than I thought and shift gears, cooking and staging items necessary to plate. Wow I think to myself, this is bangin', enjoying the moment as we walk our plates out to the staff assembled around the table.
We take turns talking about our plates and are then excused back to the kitchen to finish it off.
I'm number 2 and started getting the plates ready; 8 minutes someone shouts.
In 6 I'm finishing the garnish and following the plate parade to the table. I stand mute, ready to answer any questions but it's apparent that my meatloaf has done the talking for me; all heads are down and forks scrape plates - a most perfect silence.
I am excused to stage the next meal.
Back in the kitchen I start wondering what's become of candidate number 3. He seems to have been out there for a while, probably talking himself up - arguing for his greatness. I have little time left but, for a second, I ask myself why no one asked me any questions about my meatloaf or culinary pedigree.

7 minutes! I have my marching orders and I execute; beautifully I might add.
No matter what, I think to myself, I represented myself well today - that, beyond anything, would be my solace and my bragging rights no matter what happened.
I walk out with my head up and my heart on my sleeve, apparent for all to see.
Then the questions come; about the meatloaf, why I got in the business in the first place, what I thought the position would entail, how I saw myself in it. I speak humbly, thankful for all my history, experience and skill set. I speak like the job was mine, saying things like 'ours' and 'we'. Assuming the position was not lost on them as I look into their eyes and see slight smiles and nods of heads.

My feet never touch the ground walking back to the kitchen.
Clean up, restock, gather dirty pots and pans - the days not over yet and there's till work to be done.
We congratulate each other on the back dock, stealing a cigarette. This could go any way, I say, confident in the truth of it. We all did well and we respected each other through the process - a winning day in my book. As we walk back into the kitchen to get our final instructions I start to feel the inevitable adrenalin crash in my legs, suddenly heavy.

We're again introduced to the panel. Profuse thanks are offered and I get the feeling that this went very well for the Company. Pictures are taken, hands are grasped - eye contact made trying to get a read of how it went or who might have the edge.

In the end, we're told that a decision would be made after the weekend.
Manoman, it's going to be a long three days

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Recession Lessons

'It'll be nice to take you out for sushi', I confessed to my girlfriend.
'Or bring home flowers every week...' She gives me a wry smile.

Over the last two years, after losing a job I really enjoyed but which was victim of the housing and the consequent credit crisis, my life has become an exercise in contraction as I became - just like many others, underemployed.

I am very grateful that I had clients who were appreciative of my work and kept my head above water with new projects and who paid fairly consistently.
Others have had it much worse with little or no work to keep them mentally and emotionally active and one step in front of the wolves at the door, so I'm keenly aware just how lucky I am.

But as with anyone in business in a challenging economic period, some of my clients discovered ways closer to home to spend their ever precious revenue and it became clear to me that I might need to re-enter the ranks of my culinary brothers and sisters manning the kitchens of operations all too aware that they need to work harder than ever to secure their profit line; and with little else to whittle away I saw job postings with smaller and smaller annual salaries and hourly rates.

I revamped my resume, worked at broadening my networks, worked my vendors, associates and friends for job leads. Even a recent Irish wake for a dear friend of mine became a networking event as the crowd filled with people In The Biz who I hadn't seen in years. Business cards were exchanged, meetings arranged, phone calls promised. Everyone seemed to be in the same position as I, needing work and looking for an advocate, any advocate; someone to help get past the gate keepers of the jobs we most wanted.

At home, it became essentials only, carefully planned trips to the grocer and leftovers for lunch; nothing was left to chance and when we needed it the most, money came in the nick of time to take care of what was most important next; rent, electric, car insurance, groceries.

Chess, backgammon, dominoes or card playing became a nightly ritual; ways in which to stay connected in the midst of the stress of making the next payment, the worry of how many hours of work there had been that week - the realization that such worry was taking me further and further away from those that I love; that if I wasn't careful I could, very easily, insulate myself against the world, cocooned by my stress and disconnected from those that keep me sane, and against all odds - laughing; lightened and strengthened for tomorrow's possibilities.

It's been an emotional roller coaster of questioning, gauging the marketplace, promising leads that ultimately lead nowhere; times of self reflection, getting clear about what I really wanted and thinking about what I really need; it felt to me that life and it's circumstance had provided me with an opportunity to clear the decks and get really connected about what I wanted my life to be about and tangentially what would make up my life.

So I got some real work in; some of it wasn't pretty but it was all necessary.

Now, it would seem, I'm in the running for a job that would really inspire me, will really groove me, push me and cause me to really grow - as a professional and a person. And with it comes the reality that all things really do work out for the best, even if we don't know what that looks like because had I taken a job below my skill level or experience set just to have a job then I certainly wouldn't be in the position I am today - with what looks like the possibility of having my dream job.

So what have I learned?
That a strong sense of self and faith in the process is more important than any 401K
That health, family and friends are really the only currency that matters
And that all else, may it be sushi or flowers, is negotiable and is only just icing on the cake.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sous Vide White Paper

Here follows an extensive treatise, or primer on Sous Vide Cooking; I'm a novice and have just come to this cooking philosophy even though it's been around for years. I once heard a story of a restaurant in France that has 2 cooks for 300 seats and their whole menu is Sous Vide. I was always curious about a product that can be cook at 56 degrees Celsius for 30 hours and come out Medium rare through out the entire loin. Properly chilled the product undergoes pasteurization; and because of which the product remains pristine for up to 3 weeks. There is a passive pasteurization process championed by Pan Saver where they use a high heat bag, metal clamps and utilizes the craftiness of the cook to properly top and seal a bag with little to no oxygen when sealing. Chilled properly, down from 220 degrees to 160 degrees F within 2 hours and the rest of the way down from 160 to 40 degrees F within the remaining 4 hours.
The result is a demi glace, fume or chicken stock that can used up until 3 weeks after production. Try that with a lexan of pomodoro sauce in chilled down overnight in a cooler; anyway I digress....

Since the paper is 38 pages long - I'd like to suggest that anyone interested in the document by Douglas Baldwin and is very detailed and scientific where it needs to be, including time and temperature logs, graphs and charts - it's well worth the time to email me at and I'll get it right out to you.

A taste is found here; 
              Introduction by Douglas Baldwin
sealed plastic pouches at low temperatures for long
times. Sous vide differs from conventional cooking
methods in two fundamental ways: (i) the raw food
is vacuum sealed in plastic pouches and (ii) the food
is cooked using precisely controlled heating.
Vacuum packaging prevents evaporative losses of
flavor volatiles and moisture during cooking and inhibits
off-flavors from oxidation (Church and Parsons,
2000). This results in especially flavorful and
nutritious food (Church, 1998; Creed, 1998; GarcĂ­a-
Linares et al., 2004; Ghazala et al., 1996; Lassen
et al., 2002; Schellekens, 1996; Stea et al., 2006).
Vacuum sealing also reduces aerobic bacterial growth
and allows for the efficient transfer of thermal energy
from the water (or steam) to the food.
Precise temperature control is important when
cooking fish, meat and poultry. Consider the
problem of cooking a thick-cut steak medium-rare.
Cooking the steak on a grill at over 1 000°F (500°C)
until the center comes up to 120°F (50°C) will result
in everything but the very center being overcooked.
A common solution is to sear one side of the
steak in a pan, flip the steak over, and place the pan
in a 275°F (135°C) oven until the center comes up
to 131°F (55°C). For sous vide, the steak is vacuum
sealed in a plastic pouch, cooked in a 131°F (55°C)
water bath for a couple hours, and then seared in a
smoking hot pan or with a blowtorch; the result is a
medium-rare steak with a great crust that is the same
doneness at the edge as it is at the center. Moreover,
the flavorful flat iron steak can be cooked (very safely)
in a 131°F (55°C) water bath for 24 hours and will be
both medium-rare and as tender as filet mignon>>

By way of explaining the detail in the paper I've included the email string between Greg and I where he tries to hip me to finer details and how he makes it work at his restaurant, The Charles Court at The Broadmoor. In particular you'll see these suddenly chic techniques on his Dinner Menu September 2010

Our conversation, like much of life is done moving forward but can only be clearly understood in reverse so if you don't mind...he sez....

    Ok, we do add some corn syrup to boost the simple sugars and also baking soda 
for ph so that the amino acids in the protein morph to sugar faster for the 
"crisp" texture you speak of.  As far as testing, I just let go and let God on 
that one.  If you set the temps right on the circulator and then properly shock 
at the end, you should be in good shape.  Celsius is we can set the temps to a 
tenth of a degree as opposed to our clunky forms of U.S. measurements only by the 
1/4 of a degree.  You don't see any measurements in lbs in any science book right?  
Short ribs we cook for 3 days in the circulator with a dry rub cure for 24 hrs, 
rinse, bag with herbs, garlic, shallots, butter and then the cooking for 3 days 
at 65c.  For the reheat, we don't put back in the water but reheat in pan for 
maillard and add either demi or remi and you have short ribs on the plate in 
like 5-7 min. P h is specific to proteins.  You need to research on the USDA web 
site to get the low down, but leaner animals like venison, buffalo have less and 
you need to add sodium-bicarbonate as well as  fructose to get the result you 
want.  With the braised items you need to leave in the bag with all the natural 
juice until you are ready to serve, just like leaving it in the braising liquid 
for the traditional way.  Important: sous vide intensifies everything so you 
use like half or less salt, seasoning, garlic than normal.
Hope this helps....


From: Adam M Lamb
Subject: Re: Hey Now
  In regards to the Maillard reaction do you find yourself adding any extra 
sugars to facilitate a nice crisp exterior? How would one test for any remaining 
pathogens or spore outbreaks to ensure proper pasteurization? Do you find that 
you're referring to your temps in Celsius because of the settings on the 
circulator or just because most of the literature is in metric? Keeping the 
sauce separate makes perfect sense so how do you handle something that would 
have been traditionally braised such as short ribs? Oil, seasonings, bag, poach, 
chill then build the sauce separately - upon order reheat in hot water, sear, 
sauce and a quick simmer to replicate the traditional process? At what point do 
you concern yourself with the ph of the product; is it specific to a particular 
protein? Questions Questions, love love
    ~ be a river ~

    Subject: RE: Hey Now
    Well,  we don't sous vide with sauces at all.  We add aromatics and oil or butter 
to the protein and usually pasteurize it to a nice medium rare or 55c.  The most 
important thing is to shock it after the circulator bath so there is no chance 
of bacterial growth.  At service all we have to do is the maillard reaction to 
caramelize the meat, bring it to temp and were done.  The egg deal is pretty 
much if you want safer eggs, then pasteurize them.  Same as the old coddled egg 
for Caesar of yore.  However, we cook them at 64.5c for two hours for the most 
perfect poached egg that you have ever seen.  They come out egg shaped!!  On one 
of our dishes we take the perfectly poached egg, bread it and fry it and serve 
it with shrimp and grits.  So the deal is you have this egg that looks like hard 
boiled and crunchy, but you cut into it, the yolk runs out and the whites are 
soft.  Kinda mind blowing when you first see it.  The sauces we do separately 
with the bones and what not and we do bag them, but just for storage.  We have 
them in 1qt bags and just throw them in the steam well just before service to 
bring them to temp, and then mount au beurre to finish.  The other really cool 
deal about all this is that first the vac machine pumps air into the bag, 
opening up the cells of the meat, then when it vacuums, it puts all the flavor 
of the herbs and oil directly into the meat so it basically marinates in like 30 
seconds instead of 12-24 hours.  Also, the compression process is great for 
tomatoes, apples, pears and etc as it intensifies their flavor 10 fold just like 
reducing a sauce.  The time tables are not accurate for us at 6500 feet, but 
most likely would be for you.  The thing to remember is that once the item gets 
to the temp you set, it cant go over so there is little to no chance of over 
cooking anything.
     I haven't found the right time to see if we can have you out yet.  I will be 
doing a benefit dinner tomorrow night with chef Sigi and that should be the time 
then. I will let you know.
much love 

     From: Adam M Lamb 
     Subject: Re: Hey Now
     wow, what a great piece - I'll have to reread it in order to get the math 
right but have you found that generally the time/temp tables to be accurate? In 
almost all recipes he doesn't address the addition of sauces much even though he 
does point out the the addition of a sauce impact the pasteurization time 
significantly; any reliable rules o' the road that you've developed/discovered 
in your mad scientist experiments?
      still trying to wrap my head around the pasteurization of the eggs; are they 
to be used like regular eggs in like a mousse recipe?
      many questions, hell I just gotta come and see it done - did you ever ask 
about a site visit for me and the liability ramifications? Will I be able to hold 
a knife?    
       you're a gift to me, my brother - in gratitude, I remain always, yours
       Sent: Mon, Sep 20, 2010 2:03 pm
       Subject: RE: Hey Now
        here is something to start with; refer to the white paper, available from
        From: Adam M Lamb 
        Subject: Re: Hey Now
        Hey that was arousing in a strange yet wonderful way - thanks my 
brother; we'll need to get into a complete dissertation on sous vide; I have a 
feeling that it'll come to the forefront of my efforts soon enough.....
       Sent: Mon, Sep 20, 2010 1:44 pm
       Subject: RE: Hey Now
       not yet but hope they do so I can sell your ass to them.
       Miss you too my brother
       Subject: Re: Hey Now
       Nothing as of yet but I can already see myself there, coming up with 
ideas, procedures and products to make a difference!
       All good things, positive mind set regardless of what my reality 
might look like now; sowing the seeds of success with my thoughts, intentions 
and deeds
       Loving you! I take it that no one has called you for a reference or 
rave reviews?
       Love to the family!
                 And so it goes between my friend and me....


Sometimes it all about WHEN something grabs you that makes the differece

I came across an odd email that I was moved to click through; I'm sure that I had seen similar posts before but this time something grabbed my eye. I wish I could say it was some flash formatting or similar tactic that marketers use to differentiate them selves from the pack - but it wasn't; more differently this particular author and coach wasn't selling anything - at least that I could see, just giving away free copies of his new book, period. No hook, no bait and switch - just simply a desire by the author to get the information in as many hands that will be willing to use the outline he's created for a better life.
I pride myself on being sophisticated enough to see what's under the hype and for the life of me, I couldn't find anything untoward, just an impassioned man who wants to make a difference; and a simple message that spoke to me in a way I hadn't heard before even though the words seemed familiar until I realized that it's not just about the message - it's also about my willingness to be open and allowing for the message to be heard; timing baby, is everything.

Don't take my word for it, download this excellent book, 'Monetizing Your Passion' by Rich German. 238 pages of solid actionable content - no more pandering the ego's of the author, Rich breaks through to a level that grabbed me and before I knew it, I had started with some of his action steps in order to bring my game to the next level - and I know that he can provide you the tools and self motivation that will get you taking massive action based out of what you determine what's most important to you.

Wishes will never change anything; energy, discipline and enthusiasm will!
Please, do your self a favor and down load his free book 'Monetizing Your Passion'; you won't be sorry and I can be in complete integrity bringing you something that will definitely 'support you in your success'!

click here:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sous Vide

Just got blown up by my best friend and a true culinary visionary, Greg Barnhill, Executive Chef at The Charles Court at The Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs. Over the last three days we've been going back and forth about Sous Vide cooking and he schooled me but good.
It started easily enough, 'What are the three most used pieces of equipment in your kitchen?' It's a simple question that draws a lot of heat because in three small words it illustrates, and illuminates a lot. In less than a paragraph, if one reads between the lines well enough, one can get an incredibly detailed look at what's going on in a kitchen 1500 miles away.
'The Dehydrator, The Circulator & my CryoVav.
Once a procedure that was frowned upon as 'shock cooking' and lacking in the finer points of finishing Sous Vide has become one of the preferred cooking methods and if this can apply to one of the most adventurous kitchens in this country then it'll apply to just about anyone, anywhere.

I'll be posting a link to a basic dissertation about this process, or more appropriately processes that'll give you the leg up on the competition and a complete thread of our conversation - properly redacted to protect the guilty.
Back in the day we would send experiments/specials/eat that type of dishes to each other in cabs, pizza delivery trucks or anything that would get it there in one piece.
It was our way of keeping our 'saws sharpened' in a good natured, competitive way but the reality is if there's not someone in your life who challenges you, your perceptions, your skill set AND does it in a loving but in-your-face-way that precludes any denial of the opportunity to learn and grow, well hell - you gotta go get you one.

Or several; everyone needs a coach AND a Master Mind Group made up of friends, co workers or professionals who you look up to and who put you back on your heels with their experience, insight and skill.

I read a great quote today. "Your growth is directly linked to how willing you are to have uncomfortable conversations" and a Master Mind Group is a great way to have uncomfortable conversations in a way that's constructive and actionable because everyone understands that their participation is for everyone's higher good and holding back or fluffing only keeps everyone, and in this case me, small.

My friend Darren Jacklin has perfected the Master Mind concept to his credit, and his bank book, guided by a moral sense that keeps him pointed Due North towards his goal of helping a million, that's 1,000,000, people have the life that they dream of - all by the time he's 45. You can find him at

It can be a life long commitment to excellence by the participants; it's essential for growth that means something and leads somewhere as long as the basic covenant of mutual honesty, integrity and understanding is honored

I'd rather come to this life as a novice, with the slack jawed awe that comes naturally to a rube in the big city than the smug complacency that comes from an expert who thinks that he's been there done that, yawn.

There's still so much to learn joyfully, laughingly and Greg, Clive, Christopher, Darren and others all support me in ways they'll never know and I'll spend the rest of my life looking for the appropriate words to express my gratitude for the gift they are to me.

If you turn up your nose and turn your back on something this powerful, don't be surprised if your competition beats you to it - the smart ones are always looking for a good tool to beat the pants off you - go now, seek, read, understand and apply

One of the Best

Authors; one to ponder possibilities with:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kanji in the Kitchen

6 ~ Kanji Right Livelihood
“The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life” ~ Ayn Rand

I started mowing lawns when I was 12. My dad, a college professor had impressed on us all the virtue of hard work namely by letting up know early on that his meager salary would barely keep the roof over our heads and if we wanted anything else it would be up to us to provide it for ourselves.
Regardless of how hard he seemed to be pressed to keep bread on the table and the electricity flowing come Christmas or Easter morning there was always a bounty to be found around the hearth of our simple home.
I call it simple but it was really much more than that with the dynamic of four siblings, a highly spirited Cuban mother and a father whose favorite time of his life seemed to be when we were toddlers and would look up at him with unfailing and unquestioning love in our eyes.
No matter how loud it got in the house during the day with the natural sonic disturbance that‟s the daily life of any household, come nighttime, while all the children were packed away upstairs vainly fending off sleep like they were going to miss something, anything, my dad would make the rounds shutting off the lights, banking back the furnace, closing blinds and making sure that his prized Doberman, Pepita, had all she needed to guard us all vigilantly against the darkening streets.
He‟d then, in complete darkness, sit down at his Yamaha grand piano and play. Softly at first he‟d start with old ballads, sweet with longing then, changing the tempo he‟d pound out a honky-tonk and then finally build up to some Aaron Copeland arrangements full of counter melodies and pumping back beat.
I fell asleep almost every night I lived in that house with the sound of my father‟s tinkling ivories dancing up the stairs to sing me off to slumber. It‟s one of the kindest, most serene memories of my dad and our family at 321 Woodmar Ave. Its recollection would succor me through some dark doubting moments, long after he was gone and the piano and gone silent.
I finally got the nerve to ask him why he played at night and not, maybe just maybe, play during the day when I might sing along with him; I so desperately wanted to be with my dad when he played – to be part of that man, shit man that was cool.
He took a while to answer me, perhaps gauging my ability to understand more than his words but more importantly, his intent.
“I do it for me. It‟s the one thing I keep for myself”, he said with a sadness I hadn‟t heard from him before.
“At one point in my life all I wanted to do was play piano in a smoky bar with a tip jar on the top and some sultry dame leaning against my instrument”
Of which instrument he meant I was still a bit wet behind the ears to have even asked.
“But that‟s not the way it worked out and so I keep this for myself to remind me of who I was once and what I aspired to.”
No matter how he complained about the bureaucracy of the intellegencia, parliamentary procedure, tenure, the ignorance of some of his students or the intricacies of working in a university my dad really, really loved teaching. The accolades of his students and for the most part his contemporaries bore this out as he was given the Chair of the Modern Languages department at Purdue University and other awards.
One of his manuscripts is still being used in advanced Spanish classes I understand.
It was perhaps fitting that on a Monday morning during class that he collapsed and was rushed to a hospital emergency room. I was in England at the time serving in the USAF. The old man dodged a bullet that time but it would come back to claim it‟s prize several years later after he had finally come to terms with his remaining years by planning a cross country camping trip with Pepita‟s replacement, the precocious Fina de Casta Van Worlock; or as we called her, „The Little Bitch‟.
He never got to make that trip.
He cast a mighty shadow when he lived and sometimes, when I am quiet enough, I can hear piano music coming from somewhere just out of sight, right around the corner.
So, if all he wanted was to be a honky-tonk piano player, how the hell did he end up teaching Spanish to my high school Spanish teacher?
Why, love, of course.
His ego may have wanted to be a musician for the same reasons that mine did but it was Love that won out in the end.
After he got out of the Coast Guard he went to work at a meteorological company based in Boston, his hometown. Batista, down in Cuba – whether a US stooge or just someone who was getting tired of his country getting its ass kicked every hurricane season, contracted with several US firms, one having just employed a fresh faced kid ready for anything, or so he thought.
The scientific thinking at the time was that if one could lace clouds with silver iodine crystals it would create a natural disturbance within the upper trade winds that would normally steer hurricanes from the warmth of the African coast eastward.
Instead of steering currents aimed at defenseless and desperately unprepared populaces from Bimini to the Gulf of Mexico the silver iodine would create wind sheer, slicing at the heart of the beast and leave it whimpering with a few gale winds and some much needed rain for crop rotation.
Sadly, as it‟s been demonstrated time after time, man‟s attempts to control the normal, nay necessary cycles of the Mother are only so much spittin‟ in the wind.
During the year and half that the experiments were being conducted my father was stationed in Cuba without nary a guidebook nor a how do you do. The chief mathematician of the project, Manolo Lopez, took pity on this gringo that couldn‟t eat because he spent most of his time in the out house. Manolo would invite my dad to his house for the weekend. Manolo was a naturalist, adventurer; quick to laugh and patient
to an outsider. He was also married to the eldest daughter of a family of seven, five of which were women of captivating beauty and a lust for life as it was lived for the fortunate few of the early 50‟s in Cuba.
My dad would hold court in the front room, playing the piano and generally making the women laugh, sing and swoon at the thought of this sophisticated, handsome, single American.
Once, early on in his assignment, my father had called his mother back in Boston and pleaded to come home because he felt out of place and was rebuffed; the old girl had a right to live her life too now that the tyrant of the house had thankfully dropped dead, When he finally did come back state side it was with a heart full of the Cuban people, culture, of a sense of belonging to that witchy island and the Spanish language.
Instead of following through on his meteorological career, one for which he was trained and now experienced in the world and playing piano in his off time he went back to school. This time he would study Spanish, get married and get his Masters in Modern Languages. He had his first child and when his doctorate was almost complete, had his second child, my brother Jason.
Upon Jason‟s birth he sold the watch his father had given to him to keep it all going, all the while dreaming of sharing his passion for the Spanish people, their history and their language.
Why? What could possibly drive him to a life in academia, moving his family, now complete with two new daughters, four times in ten years; each time learning a little more, sharing a little more and gaining ground until we found ourselves in Hammond Indiana and he, apparently, having finally arrived.
He followed his passion and shared it. Kind of what I do, certainly what his grandson Anthony James Lamb does, he teaches middle school; something that he didn‟t decide until his third year of college when it became his passion. My son is doing very well and is highly considered by his kids and fellow faculty members; sounds like someone I once knew. I‟ve given him the plaque that sat on my father‟s desk that says, Dr. Anthony J Lamb, because I know that he‟ll achieve that and more, as long as it remains his passion.
I‟ve cut lawns, delivered papers in sleet and rain, sold Thom McCann shoes, jeans, bussed tables, worked at a summer resort in Michigan every year I was in high school, worked in a steel mill and served in the Air Force.
No matter what I tried I ended up back in the restaurant business. Not because it was easy because anyone in the business will tell you it‟s akin to blood money, but because it has been my passion and I‟ve wanted to share it; with the guests and, especially, the guy or girl on each side of me because together, today, we can make a difference in someone‟s life.
Just because we‟re moved to share our passion.
I‟m a chef but I‟m also a teacher. I come from a strong line of teachers, each of us have chosen what we‟ll teach and to whom.
Who knows but I‟ll tell you this, and this is how I know that this is my right livelihood, I‟d be doing it, even if it never paid.
I think that‟s what my dad tried to teach me.
Just a short postscript: it took me years to figure it out but no matter how busted out my old man would make it sound he‟d wait till the night before Christmas then head out to the all night sales and go into hock for the entire next year building a pile under the tree just to see the look on our faces come the morning; I guess to him that one moment was worth whatever he had to do to make it happen.
Pretty cool, if you ask me.

No Experience Necessary

In order to create sustainable success many other professions require years of schooling, grueling certifications, demeaning apprenticeships, state licensing or other strict requirements usually accompanied by crushing school loans and years of practice unrecognized by anyone save direct supervisors.
It also takes months, years even of carefully planned steps culminating in a critical path which, if one is persistent and has a healthy share of luck, will result in something tangible that may stand for many years for all to behold and wonder on. Engineers and architects work in advanced mathematics, logic and physics only to pass along their brain child to another pair of, hopefully, competent hands, hearts and minds in order to manifest the project into reality.
I’ve heard it said that, given all the complexities, personalities, time and money constraints it’s a wonder that ANY movie gets made let alone be viewed by the public. Anyone working in the Arts or Humanities, or for virtually any professional occupation, has to navigate the slippery slopes of subjective morality, shifting fashions and the nightmare of grant writing in order to see any of their work come to the light of public view.
I know a few of you in the Hospitality Business will be jumping to their feet to protest my simplification but give me a moment to make my case.
Some of my best friends have sacrificed much to attain a certain amount of acclaim or in my case notoriety. I’ve got 23 years in and still learning. Greg Barnhill, one of the best chefs in the west worked through not one, but three year long apprenticeships, each with a different European trained, Michelin rated chefs. I have the honor of being part of the advisory board of The International School of Culinary Arts and know first hand the dedication of the teaching staff and the work that the students put in – all in the name of a title that many, much less deserving, use with impunity.
The true leaders of our industry have given up their children’s birthday parties, anniversary dates and holidays in service to our treasured guests; in the quest of that perfectly plated meal.
All in dedication to an experience so fleeting that most diners are vaguely aware of the hours of daydreaming, planning and experimentation that backs up every plate that hits that window.
‘The Making of Ironman – The Movie’? How about ‘The Making of Beef Milanese Neopolitano’? Now that’s something worthy of 20 minutes of film draped with a voice over from Morgan Freeman!
So I may have misspoke before when I implied that this business is something that can be done by anyone with little or no training – yet there are those out there who believe that. And bless them; I really mean that – it’s for these intrepid souls that I sing this particular song.
It’s for these stalwart, courageous business people that I say, ‘RIGHT ON!’
Here’s to: the contractor who inherits a restaurant because the owner couldn’t pay for the renovations, the public servant who nurtured the dream of his own little diner to retire to; here’s to the business man who, because of prior success in other industries, believes that he knows what his guests really want.
Here’s to the father that wants to build something with his 2 hands because he wants to leave a legacy for his children; here’s the mother, left with an empty nest and her grandmother’s peanut brittle recipe. Here’s to the college student who works summer’s on an oil derrick off the Texas coast and winter’s in Alaska fishing salmon because he has a vision of a restaurant where his crew LOVES to come to work.
Here’s to all the lover’s of life, and food, foolish enough to give this business a try – it’s to you I say, “Come on in, there’s always room for a good idea”. My brothers and sisters are here; ready, to turn your dream into a reality –just because we SAY SO!
Dedicated to the memory of Sean Foley; a gift to all she touched with her food & her spirit!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Profit Paradigm

Statistics from the US Labor Board reveal that 65 % of the working population in this country are employed by small or medium sized businesses, making these businesses the economic engine of our economy and, as these businesses go, so does the rest of the country.
All the numbers in the world won’t change a thing and I’ve never seen a graph or pie chart that will sway anyone’s good opinion or force someone into a considered action.
No statistic will ever be as compelling as working with Wilson will ever be.
Wilson and his wife, both immigrants from a certain third world county less than 90 miles from the east coast of Florida came with high hopes for a better life for their family and a work ethic that wouldn’t be diminished by opportunity, or lack thereof, language barrier, nationalism nor prejudice. The ever present specter of extreme poverty and corruption that they had left behind in their native country was potent enough for both of them to work almost all the working hours in the day in the hopes of distancing themselves from the miasma that was their previous life.
We’d like to think that this is a country that celebrates hard work and dedication but the recent economic crisis has left folks just like Wilson and his wife exposed and vulnerable; the loss of any of their four jobs would leave them hanging at the precipice of financial ruin.
I’ve stood hip to hip with both Wilson and his wife, both perfect examples of why a ban on familial hires are often misplaced and silly, pulling pasta, making bread, separating deliveries and dicing and slicing; all done with their familiar smile of a job well done and a job being ‘of – use’.
A thorough clean up and they’re off, to another restaurant, separately this time, to complete another full shift before either of them can get home, be with the kids, check homework and then, finally, to spend a few quiet moments together in the silence of their shared struggle, only to get up the next morning and do it all over again; often staggering their days, and shifts off untl a whole week goes by without the synchronicity of a single complete day off spent together.
All for, and because of, their family.
But it’s getting increasingly harder for Wilson and other’s like him to keep this type of selfless sacrifice going for much longer.
Everything is going up in this business, everything that is, except for wages. As commodity prices go up, the profit margins are shrinking and more and more companies are cutting benefits, if they ever offered them in the first place and wages are, in some instances being cut – orphans of a disappearing middle class.
Once all these pressures are factored in owners and/or shareholders increasingly forget Wilson’s face and the kind lines cut around his eyes from
years of smiling in face of adversity and refer to him as only, ‘Cook 2’; much easier to axe a position than it is to cut a life.
Profit has no conscious and profit must be maintained.
I understand that the economy must be moved forward and innovation and ingenuity are cornerstones to it’s growth and maturation but the question, at least for me, has always been: How much is enough?
Understanding that you can’t put a food or labor cost in the bank, and the margins the thing – then how much margin does an owner or stock holder need?
Given that everything is equal and costs will rise; uncontrollable costs like commodity pricing, rent, insurance etc. then there’s only one place to look to squeeze out a bit more profit – your work force; and these are the same people who look to you to keep their best interest in heart, to help them help you in keeping our business vital and alluring, and their lives worth living.
And you’re willing to barter that away because you made a poor deal on your lease and you need to wring out another 10% in profits? So that you can make another payment on a boat that you take out twice a year?
Wilson, and his family, deserve so much better

Monday, July 19, 2010

Okay, Okay

I admit that I fell down the rabbit hole there for a while. My last post was in January and, like most of you I imagine, I've had my share of things to deal with - all the while withering a bit more in the process.
I fell into the trap of believing my ego's lies about a lot of what my life is about, what it's supposed to be about meaning and where do I go from here.
I lost my monthly article due to a change in editorial perspective - they wanted to hear from more than just one culinarian about what they were experiencing; completely valid but I chose to interpret it another way.
It seems that the shift that's starting to occur can only be preceded by a winnowing, or stripping back of past illusions, perceptions, self beliefs and self constructs.
The current market conditions and world economy have combined for the perfect storm for transformation - we can no longer rely on the processes, strategies or strength of the past; they won't work anymore - trust me I've tried.
Brute force and throwing one's self about in careless abandon only get's it blown back in your face.
My forehead is bloodied from butting up against the wall
After all that which got us here might not necessarily be the best way to proceed any further.
But, damn - it's hard giving up the skin that I've worn for most of my life!
And naked, what do I step in to now?
I questioned everything
I questioned what kind of a professional I had been; the crew that I was hard on or worse yet neglected in my quest for professional notoriety and while it's true that I did almost make Eddy Lee cry for a simple yet avoidable mistake, there is a battalion of chefs and sous chefs who started out with me and as one so eloquently put it:
'I get it now, thanks Chef'
Humble, mumble, choke just a bit when you see the sincerity in their eyes.
I did make a difference
I did make the world a little better for those willing to listen or watch
I am of worth
I am worthy
Yet in order to move forward there are amends to be made; I've been given a bill that requires payment and nothing short of my integrity will do so I'm about the business of balancing the scales of my life.
"And your permission is all I need to heal..." - Sixx AM
A Caamora to sear the soul and burn out the regret, sadness, self recrimination, guilt and shame.
As Scanlon said, "Pull up your skirt m*****f****, how much longer will you be the Master of your Misery?"
Clearly, no longer.
There is still a difference to be made
There is still work to be done

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh What Fun

Operational Illiteracy
New Menu Rollout, what fun!
Weeks of planning, engineering really, all comes down to this – the moment of truth.
All the homework has been done; products sourced, yield tests, operational analysis; new menu items run as specials to gauge guest satisfaction and receptivity – now for the real work to be executed.
Menu Worksheets, check
Station Maps, check
Revised Recipes, done
Updated prep sheets, cut sheets and order guides: complete.
All new bulk prep has been done, and backed up to estimated par levels; one never knows until it‟s time to rock after all, and now - it is.
“What type of pasta comes with the Scampi?‟ I ask the pasta cook as I demo the dish in front of him, confident that he‟s had time to review the new menu specifications I‟ve prepared in advance.
“I don‟t know chef‟, he offers weakly.
„What do you mean, it‟s on the menu.” now I‟m getting frustrated, the adrenaline jacks into my bloodstream in preparation for what is to come.
All systems are go ready for launch Captain.
“No, it‟s not Chef”, I can feel the burning in my ears as my blood pressure rises to meet this new demand.
“It‟s right there” I stab at the menu with a greasy finger to the words „Angel Hair‟. After 5 double shifts getting everything ready for this I was a little short on patience.
As ready as I felt this was something I was not prepared for – ignorance.
“Please read the menu to me, aloud please” my voice rising.
I was considering making an example of him; an example of what to expect from Chef if one comes to work unprepared.
“C‟mon man read it!‟ I almost shout.
“You‟re making me very nervous Chef.” I bet I am, I would be too if I were in his shoes.
“We‟re running out of time, read it!”
He starts to, hesitantly, following my finger across the line of words.
It‟s then when it strikes me like a slap in the face from a jilted lover.
He‟s not reading the description as I‟ve written it, he‟s reading it as I‟ve explained it to him.
My word and stars, the man cannot read.
By any outward appearance he‟s a fully functioning member of society at large and a crewmember of some standing in the little world of our kitchen but in reality he‟s functionally illiterate.
I had completely taken it for granted that he could read the information that I had so diligently prepared but it was all of little or no use at all if he couldn‟t process it.
I took a good long look at my crew and started to ask myself some hard questions, most disturbing of which was, „How many more are like him?‟. He had been here for some time prior to my arrival, „Had this ever come up before?” and if so, „Why hasn‟t someone done anything about this?‟
We‟re all familiar with the language gap of emerging populations and have even come up with a bastard language, „Kitchenese‟; adaptable to any language it‟s mostly spoken Spanish & Creole crew so that their supervisors can understand that they were shorted on their paycheck or that they need new uniforms.
ESOL or English for Speakers of Other Languages has done a great job at preparing immigrants to enter the general work force but kitchens are dangerous, fast paced environments that require a stronger hold on the English language than most possess but there‟s been a disturbing trend in our industry in recent years.
A few years ago when skilled labor was hard to come by some Chefs and managers took crew with little or no language skills to do menial tasks by showing them the specific job and without the knowledge of why or where their part fell into the larger picture they drilled these „cooks‟; repetition crystallizes the skill in memory and then the task requires neither supervision nor any critical thinking.
This might have solved the manager‟s immediate crisis, someone to fry tortilla chips everyday, but it came woefully short of caring anything about the person in any way that would ensure the empowerment that comes from the skill of reading and writing language well.
It‟s the height of hypocrisy to protest about why this person preps the same thing, in the same quantity everyday whether we run out or end up with 2 cases of molded julienne peppers.
Hey, now worries, they‟ll just punch in today and do another 3 cases, whether we need it or not; smiling all the while because they think they‟re doing a good job and really, it‟s not their fault.
It‟s ours – we didn‟t care enough about them, as a person nor as a professional to want to set up an ESOL class in our facility for the neighborhood workers who could use language training or prepare them for the inevitable changes that must occur if we‟re to remain viable in any market.
Or make it mandatory to attend such a class, or to do anything of consequence so that the crew could learn, grow and remain an asset to the organization.
Just didn‟t care enough about them to care.
It‟s called „The Peter Principle‟ and there‟s only one way it ends and it‟s not with a promotion.
All we did was set them up for failure; we failed them and in doing so ensured our own downfall so don‟t be so surprised when we meet in the unemployment line because we couldn‟t be bothered with someone else‟s welfare.
my note:
Oh, Brother, Brother - don't you get that it's the bigger man that admits his limitations - regardless of the how and why - and asks for help so that he can get beyond them instead of engaging in the backstab of gossip in order to deflect attention from something that could have been corrected so easily. No matter what happens to whom or who gets thrown under the bus you're still left with your educational deficit and the fact remains: While a job is a job is a job you STILL cannot read and while the opportunity existed
you weren't courageous enough to do something about it at the time. I pray for your sake, and those of your family, that someone comes along that cares enough about you, and willing enough to hold you in your highest, to do something about it and this time, THIS time I hope you meet him/her halfway. Stand tall and frosty my friends Be a River

My Word & Stars

Friends & Family
I'm sorry that it's been a while since my last post - I got a little busy at work, LOL!
So here's to a prosperous, productive, joyful and abundant 2010; it's empowering to know that we all have what it takes to make this year what we seek - staring with today!
Rock On!