Monday, November 19, 2012

The Truth About Passion & Finding Yourself

Passion =  Want + Desire x Dedication  = $ucce$$
                        The Need to Feed

Not exactly E=MC2...  Still, I like how it looks, sounds and reads.  Find your need.  It is the reason your passion makes you want something so bad you'll dedicate everything towards making IT happen.  And, if you can't find it or do it than look somewhere else...  The only prerequisite to passion is an epiphany.

This is my mathematical understanding of $ucce$$.  However, the end result of $ucce$$ implies some talent.  Passion by itself will not make you $ucce$$ful.  Wanting just makes you pathetic.  Desire is empty all by itself.  Dedication is the most active of the equation parts.  There is a lot of random want in the world and there is a lot of misused desire in the world.  It helps if you are actually good at what you do.  How do you get good?  How do you get better?  By repetition and concentration.  There are thousands and thousands of cooks ready to take your job if you fail.  Actually, not take.  That's too light in the adjective department.  Devour you.  Pillage your career.  Cast you aside and trample your fantasy...  That should push you...  It sounds trite, but there will always be someone better than you, and perhaps they are close at hand.  Push thyself.  Find thyself.

The key is sometime, anytime, put in the effort towards finding yourself.  It's not easy and everyone's  journey is different but they are all difficult.  A singular journey that only those committed to a greater good feel compelled to go through.  Monks, castaways, Crusaders, writers, chefs - all have at least one thing in common.  A reason to find themselves.  A greater purpose and a greater good.  It matters not that one may be more eloquent or more brave or more secluded than the others - what matters is that which lies beating within the breast of someone who is truly alive.  Alive with determination and passionate existence.

The preamble to all this is epiphany.  You can't get to any level of professionalism and technique without tasting it somewhere or realizing it somehow or just being in IT'S presence.  A epiphany is not a planned event.  You'll know when it hits you.  The skies may not part, the angels may have fallen silent and the trumpets could blare sharp - the sound effects don't matter.  What do you feel in your heart...?

I remember my epiphanies....  I'm still having them because I'm putting myself at risk all the time.  Learning and stretching the boundaries of my abilities, sometimes failing but always adjusting as I go so as to make my failures seem like progress.  'Sometimes you have to fake it in order to make it'.  A man named Les Moore told me that years ago.  Faking it means having a little experience in something and getting more out of a little than most people could ever manage from a lot.  I'm to the point that I can make things happen.  A lot of repetition.  Much experience.  Some ingenuity.  Total belief and concentration. Not letting others derail your locomotive.  Doing thing the right way because it's the right way...

Looking back on my career I wouldn't have done it any differently.  I'm where I need to be.  I have my need - the need to feed - my passion, wants and desires.  My dedication is a result of those actions.  Success, by all human nature, is measured in how you affect people and create your legacy.  Will what you believe in carry on even if you can't carry on, anymore?

Go forth, find yourself - and conquer the world.  Peace.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Soft Food, A Big Chicken and Traditions

The onslaught begins.  I picked my mother up at Denver International Airport this afternoon.  She loves coming to Colorado and has made as many trips to the Rockies as prairie schooners sailed into the region in the 19th century.  Ok, maybe not but it made for good visualization and I needed an historical segue...

There will be a number of visitors to my table this Thursday as well as thousands of other friends and family members, intruders and infiltrators of nearly every nationality flooding into the state and to the other 49, all in the name of the sacred North American Turkey and the holiday we know as Thanksgiving Day.  They come in the name of soft food.  Soft food like mashed potatoes, pureed squash, gravies, pumpkin pie and the staple of the 50's table - canned cranberry sauce.  They may also come in the name of turkey, a curious bird that is two birds in one - dark and white meat - and in reality is just a really big chicken.  They most assuredly come in the name of family traditions and to recreate the myths of our early colonial national history.  Yikes.

Regional variations aside,  all Thanksgiving participants are food crazed.  From 'traditional' menus to Gumbo variants in New Orleans to Turkey & Grits in the Atlantic Lowlands to Turkey Posole with Hatch Chilies in New Mexico.  What matters if the meal is centered around turkey or not?  The 53 English natives in the New World and the 90 Native Massasoits certainly had no turkey at their table in 1621.  There was, however, a local, healthy, and organic menu of clams, venison, ducks, geese, swan, lobsters, mussels supplanted with a cornucopia of vegetables, beach plums, nuts and berries (but no cranberries, at that time).  They gathered to say thanks.  Thanks to their God for surviving another year in the sandy, wind-swept inner bay known to them as Plimoth Colony.  The natives were there because the Pilgrims of England knew they couldn't have survived in New England without their local knowledge and humanity.  They said 'thanks, ye'.  It's a shame and a sham that the bonds of friendship were cruelly and eternally severed just years later when every treaty entered into ended badly for the home team.  But, I digress.

In '21, the first three-day tradition in Plimoth was a godly need.  In 1623 the visitors celebrated a substantial harvest with another feastation.  The 18th century brought our traditions into sharper focus with 'the big meal'.  Lincoln told us to celebrate in 1863 with a national Thanksgiving Day which he only saw to eat but once in his remaining years of life and FDRoosevelt made it officially official in 1941...Pearl Harbor being just two weeks away at that time.  You never know when you need to say thanks...  So, 391 years after the first sit down our traditions are family, chardonnay and gluttony.  So, is that why we celebrate Thanksgiving...?

"The First Thanksgiving" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
No, we say thanks for life, love and liberty.  Knowing that not all of us have any of that.  It's not about fairness and equality at this juncture.  It's a holiday to celebrate the memory of what happened in a cold and wet beach forest between two diverse groups thrust together by happenstance and poor ocean navigation.  The exchange of beliefs and cultures between Pilgrims and Native Americans is historical beyond understanding in the 21st century.  Thanksgiving doesn't need the trickery of presents or gifts.  The fourth Thursday in November isn't about green beer and shots of whiskey, although it may be present next to the turkey...  Our history in Plymouth isn't subject to candy, cards, dinner dates, fancy ball gowns or Apple Pie and Chevrolet.  It's about giving thanks.  Period.

Your plate that begs to be heavily laden with 'the dinner' is emblematic of the glue that holds us together as a society, a culture (for good or bad), as survivors of every type of calamity and struggle, and of family.  Family from all parts of the globe.  Be we Polish, Swedish, Lithuanian or Bolivian.  I've heard that Thanksgiving is the favorite holiday of many... for all good reasons.  I consider my contribution as a chef to be the glue to give family and friends their belief systems validity and credibility.  I cook so that others may give thanks.  It's time to get cooking...  Peace.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Good-bye, my old friend... Weighing in on Twinkies and stuff...

To Twinkie, or not...that isn't an option anymore.

I will not miss the sweet-cream-stuffed-yellow-cake-logs of long ago.  I'm pretty sure my adolescent love of, and ability to devour said Twinkies as well as Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, McDonald's Apple Pie, Sasparilla, Good 'n Plenty, Bubble Gum (with the baseball cards attached) and a number of lesser known treasures from the 60's and 70's has put me into this diabetic lifestyle that I endure everyday.  Although not insulin dependent I do work on lessening my white sugar intake, high-fructose corn syrup, white flour, pasta, bread & complex carbohydrates and rice dishes.  I glean the nutritive splash of fresh apples, greek yoghurt, berries, peanuts and nut varieties, veggies galore and my staple proteins of chicken and fish.  Admittedly, I have snuck the impromptu candy bar, cookie and shot of orange juice - and always suffer for it.

My sweet tooth was well established by the time I entered grade school.  If it was available, I made sure I got my just desserts (pun intended).  My Mom was a prolific baker, so it seemed.  There is no blame being put here for I was never put into candy and cake 'gravage', a la duck and geese being engourged for foie gras, but thank you anyways, Mom, for wonderful memories and midnight mouthfuls of Danish Puff, Coffee Braid, Chocolate Devil Dogs (so much better than store bought), Pineapple-Upside-Down Cake, Brownies, Hermits, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Tea Cakes, and more.  Closing my eyes and mouth I can taste them all now, in between my hacking on the keyboard and the saliva welling up in my jowls!

The culmination of a meal in America ends with a sweet, the anthesis of fruit and cheese across the pond.  Sometimes the meal itself pre-empts the dessert by already being sweet... That may be finally changing, however.  Maybe at least one reason that Hostess is in it's second bankruptcy in this calendar year is our changing dietary awareness.  I'm not here to bash the Twinkie business but we Americans have problems with our diet.  Salty or sweet, our chosen tastes are both deadly in large and sustained amounts and so far from what food can be that we may already have gone over the caloric cliff and are left dangling above a nutritional abyss.  

Portion sizes being what they are and general lack of nutritional knowledge from our cities to the countryside is proof positive that there is much work to de done in the American school system and in the American psyche.  We are so big and prosperous that we are an anomaly...we probably get less nutrition from our food than most smaller and less-technical societies and cultures.  That's not scientifically based but I don't think I'm too far off.

So, here's the rub.  Chefs...cooks...foodies...let's start at home.  Prepare and dine on smaller meals more often.  Eat fresh and eat local if what they are doing on the farms is good.  Eat organic if what is delivered and purchased is sound and healthy.  Cook at home when you can and eat with your loved ones.  Ok, maybe still in front of the TV but at least eat together.  Don't eat from boxes, eat closer to the earth and don't ingest anything you can't pronounce in English.  And, most importantly, teach your kids to cook in that way, too.

Cook it forward.  Peace.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Letter

Wednesday, 13 November 2012.  This is an open letter dedicated to the culinary students of Johnson & Wales University, my former students still connected to me, my ‘Need to Feed’ blog readers, and anyone in the electronic world that is still listening…

Just words.

Uttered in class, under the assumption that students are alert and attentive to the message, they are just words.  When taken to heart those words can be put into action and are the next steps towards a learned behavior.  I question why the actions are neglected and do not appear after the affirmation in class?  Everyone nods their head and says ‘Yes, Chef’ when questioned about passion, dedication, effort, understanding.  As much as it drives me crazy, I respect the student who says they do not understand something which causes me to slow down and be more precise and patient.

I awoke at 2:39 a.m. to think on this….  It bothers me to no end.  Now, all generations bemoan the youth that comes after them.  Those reading this will do the same.  Here and now I believe our society and our culinary culture is at a critical point. The culture in a culinary school is one of absolute immersion not casual interest.  Your epiphany brought you to the University’s doors and we opened them, welcoming you in.  We, chefs and instructors and professors, are charged to teach you.  Your stake in the agreement is to learn.  That takes dedication.  It take a selfishness to put off everything else and commit yourself to the dream that you had a year ago, or two years ago or another lifetime ago when you had a different career. Of course this is hard!  There’s no easy way to be really good at what you do.  There will be struggles, consternation, failures and despondency.  There can be, and this is up to you, joy, fulfillment, wonder, awe, celebration, magic, satisfaction and a plethora of other emotions that are the result of hard work. 

Your passion got you here.  When school or life gets difficult because you aren’t sleeping, there is a major test to study for, the friends down the hall want to party, you had a bad day – whatever it is -  you’ll be judged by how you react.  Your attitude is everything.  The Japanese have a saying that goes something like this; ‘If you fall off a horse six times make sure to get back on it a seventh time’.  You, the young or older student reading this, aren’t alone.  I went through it and still have to remind myself of the concept…  Anything worth having is going to be full of hardships.  Dedicating yourself to the end goal is what will get you through.   It’s easy to fall in love with what we do it’s much harder to stay in love with it.

Some of you have quit.  Some of you have changed.  Some attitudes have morphed into an evil self-righteousness that is hard to bear from my viewpoint.  You haven’t earned anything yet except the opportunity to learn more.  Your ’rights’ are two - to pass or fail.  That is up to you.  Learned behaviors need to be accepted.  No cell phones in our culinary building.  Just do it.  No attitudes necessary, just acceptance. One must ‘conform’ before they may ‘reform’.  Students need to get that right. – just conform to the rules and accept the fact that you are not ready yet to reform anything.  Learn the basics. Develop the techniques.  The methods are tried and true.  Put your head down – and just do it. 

Everything I have to offer I offer up willingly to you…  I tell you things because I know that they will be good for you to do!  I’ve seen the best there is to offer in our industry – damn it, I’m letting you into the fraternity of chefs and some of you roll your eyes at it….

So, why are you here.  Here, being at an institution dedicated to your future.  Even if this letter is not meant for you, you can still get better at what you do and more attentive to detail.  The staff, faculty and university at large wants you, and needs you, to be successful.  I CHALLENGE YOU ALL to finish what you recently started with aplomb and ultimate effort. You are judged not by what you start but what you finish…  Remembering that you are what you do, look in the mirror and ask your self what you need to do. 

There are wonderful success stories within our halls and culinary labs.  Students are finding their way amidst the cacophony of chopping knives and pots banging and orders resounding.  Jobs are being offered and accepted all around you.  My dream is that our faculty and student body work together to create a singularly perfect concept - knowledge.  Knowledge is power.  Knowledge is the confluence of teaching and learning.  Knowledge is a two-way street.  Knowledge is the first step towards independence.  Knowledge is what you came here for.  Knowing that, find it.  It’s all around you.  You need to get your head right, first. 

I just now walked into the cold biting November morning.  The eastern sky is aflame with the sun’s rays, the leftover stars and moon from nighttime, the cry of geese on the wing overhead.  The magic of the new day is upon us all.  I know now that what I just wrote is right.  Peace.

Much of what precipitated this letter comes from other instructor’s observations, conversations with select students, and my experiences both past and present in culinary education.  You can read much more of my thoughts and ideas in ‘The Need to Feed’ at  Peace, again…