Thursday, March 17, 2011

You get what you get

 Especially if you do what you've always done.
It's been about 4 months since I last posted and the absence has been a planned one, albeit a bit longer than I anticipated.
 For those of you who've followed me for a while you'll remember that my personal and professional story had been written in the daily headlines as the recession affected millions of people, myself included.
  For those of you who haven't followed me, my recent history was as challenging as it was unremarkable from those you may know more personally and whose details you may be more intimately familiar with.
  I passed a billboard the other day which read, "Recession 101, it's a test, not the final". The first time I saw it, the message stung like hell because at the time it felt like a death sentence; certainly not the motivating message it was meant to be or that which I would come to view it as. Two years ago I had lost a very good position with a start up company - the job had everything I could have wished for but when the housing market collapsed, and the subsequent credit crunch ensued it became clear to my employers - and to myself that, a company has little use for a Corporate Chef with only one unit and with all other deals either on hold or dead in the water I could easily read the writing on the wall.
  Looking back on it now I'm amazed that I kept it all going for the next 2 years as I saw my income wither and dry up but plug forward I did.
 In a moment of clarity, buoyed by a vision of what my life could become and dismissing my then current reality I spent 3 days deep in thought and an hour at breakneck speed writing out a 'script', a movie if you will about what my life should be if anything was possible.
 Sounds like a frivolous project I know, given the bleak outlook of those days but I crafted what I called, 'My Perfect Day', whose narrative took into account every single detail - from what I would have for breakfast to what clothes I wore to the car I drove - well, you get the 'picture'. I rationalized since this was my delusion then I could make it up about anything I wanted but more importantly - what felt good to me.
 All of it was written in the present tense as if it had already come to pass; it was a cathartic experience but little did I know what kind of an impact that document would have on my future.
 The first line was, "I'm the Culinary Director or Corporate Chef for a progressive food service company, in partnership with committed, creative and passionate people, connected to the community and engaged in business with integrity and authenticity"
 As it turns out, that may have been the moment that my recovery was at hand because 4 months later I was hard at work for a national supermarket chain as the corporate chef. Although this particular company had seen it's share of hard times, a bankruptcy in 2005 which reduced the number of stores from 1,100 to 485 AND has been around long enough to be considered 1.) An industry leader, 2.) Perhaps out of touch with the 'new' merchandising (which I've come to know as the 'old' style of doing business - getting to know your customers, being locally relevant, socially responsible and  good stewards of trust; cycles within cycles - the point being that globalization often takes us far afield of our primary mission and if you can survive long enough, will be brought right back to that which is and has always been the right way to do business -by creating meaningful relationships.) and 3.) From what some stock market analysis claimed - may be on the ropes and ripe for a take over.
  Given the history of the brand and the realization that fainter hearts would have run for the hills in a feeble attempt to protect market share this company has gone out and put together a team of highly competent, imaginative professionals for whom risk was not a dirty word; bucking their history and convention to strike out in a bold new direction. For the first couple of months I wondered how I fit into this dynamic mix of operators and dreamers - I had never worked in retail before and found everything from the language to recipe costing completely different from the Hospitality industry that I had known and grown comfortable, perhaps even a  bit complacent with as well.
  Personally and professionally this seemed as good a time as any to stretch myself in a new direction and get out there on the skinny branches of the safety tree.
  Oddly enough the company had never had a Corporate Chef before so this was bit new to all of us!
  Then, in a meeting, I heard something quite remarkable - the visionary who headed up our department told everyone present that our competition was not the other grocery stores, big box marketers, club or discount stores - I mean they were but a can of peas is a can of peas is a can of peas; our true nemesis was every restaurant on the street and the real challenge laid out before us was that we need to get in the head of the restaurateurs, know what they know, model our business after theirs and everything, I mean everything  we offered had to be restaurant quality or above.
  Now that's something I could get behind, more importantly that's something I knew intimately and, consequently, something that I could offer my present employers - the gorilla mindset that is every good restaurant operator's credo - suddenly my mission, and my value, came into focus. Now, I thought to myself, I get it.
  So for the past 4 months I have been traveling extensively, meeting with vendors - creating flavor profiles that we can call our own, cooking more chickens than you can possible imagine - going so far outside the box that I can no longer see the lines and having a blast, humbly and gratefully, with every breath I have.
 Casting aside all that I knew to be safe and comfortable I now spend every morning mediating, focusing on what feels good - and right; setting myself up for success from the inside out.
 So instead of blogging at the end of the day, I'm going to commit to writing in the morning, just after my mediation when my mind, and heart, are wide open - resisting the urge to self editing and allowing whatever moves me that particular day to come forth. and relating to you, my dear readers, what this side of the food business looks, feels and tastes like - after all, in the future we'll be looking to promising young culinarians like yourself to take us to the next level.
 The path I lay may be a bit uneven, things are moving so fast that there's little time to make it pretty - I would rather work hard at raising the bar and shoot for the stars, you'll make your mark when you get here.
 Hopefully it'll be of some value to you, I know it will for me and I'm willing to do, say and be something different today, with the clarity that - coming from that place, we're sure to get something different that what we're always gotten and maybe, just maybe we can call it progress.
  At the very least we'll be able to call it fun.
  Make it a powerful day my brothers and sisters.

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