Down & Out in DC and New York
This blog burgeoned 7 years ago in an effort to better myself as a professional (paid) cook and amateur shutterbug. It forced me to document fabrications, to be accountable, creative, and as with all theory & practice, trials & flubs, all the muck ups and successes that helped define the thresholds of culinary science –the limits and proportions of heat, time, water, faith, salt, fat, protein, starch, hope, expectations and confidence. I made some good things. With passion and soul. At times consistently delicious and a satisfying measure of technique and skill. And some were awful shit salads, more so after comparison to the work of others, notably those with a finer control of the shutter and access to some of the best product.
I was grateful to have been the 1st and so far only American to have been selected as a finalist for the World Pâté Croûte Championship in Tain l’Hermitage, France. It was the proudest I’d ever been of my work, being chosen. Validation of sorts, even if it cost me a fortune to get there and I had the misfortune of making 3 pâtés at once in my home oven. I didn’t do that well, but learned a tremendous amount and since am very confident of my fabrications thereof, though its been a while since I’ve made them on a regular basis. I put all the effort I could muster in presenting a worthwhile offering for the Cochon 555, but didn’t get any credit and lost to a someone who bested me by making dopey T-shirts and deli hats.
I don’t think there are too many people making whimsical pâté en croûte, crepinettes, pressed ham in aspic, stuffed shad, a proper aïoli (garlic and olive oil, little else. Its not a mayonnaise) in the DC area, if any, and it is either a testament to it being hopelessly outdated, not enough cooks who are interested in making it or consumers don’t care for it. Too few know what a real bisque is, or the trifecta of cassoulet, true brandade, and a few other tales of culinary history and folklore. Never sold too many boudin either, or jambonneau. I spent a great deal of time and energy making telegraphs in an age of cell phones. I was often told that hard work would pay off. I had some decent reviews as a bona fide chef, but the one in the paper was a favor from a used up crony critic to the owner who he is chummy with and barely ate anything of note. And praise from friends is exactly what you’d expect, from friends. The bosses weren’t making the money they had hoped for and I was presented with the non-negotiable option of changing course, cutting staff and limiting the menu, or else. Rather than compromise on my standards and repertoire I chose “else” and jumped ship, swimming, or at least treading water, in the direction of integrity. I went to Mexico with a dear friend and got the chance to go home for Jewish/Swedish-Christmas.
So all the hard work never paid off. I’ve begun to come to terms with it. Maybe it wasn’t my time and I made bad decisions. I begin 2015 somewhat unemployed, relegated to a temporary prep-cook job for a NYC empire making 15 gallon batches of chili and soulless soup for a brand name that fraudulently sells commodity feedlot beef as “grass fed“. I’ll go back to DC in a fortnight with some hay in the loft but no job prospects. If I am reduced to line cooking at age 40 I’ll have to start all over again since that kind of dip on a résumé for a chef job is more likely to inspire caution rather than excitement. What I’d really want is to run a food shop though, and sell my wares with pride and integrity, but that requires partners and people with capital, neither of which I have.
Maybe I should have sold out earlier and taken a higher paying higher profile job with a PR company to boot which would keep me at the forefront on all the gossipy Eater.com dribble and StarChefs starfuckers. Or perhaps I’m just bitter, because my fish pie didn’t make the rising star cut and something out of a can with raw onion and peanuts did. I should follow trends more closely and highlight such unsavory food qualifiers on menus that conjure food that is inedible as “burnt”, “fermented”, “sour”, “foraged from a vacant lot”, etc… I’m not motivated to make things at home like I used to be. The kitchen is smaller and more cluttered and I’ve made just about all that I wanted, and whatever was worth the effort. I might just apply to art school after all.
It is easy to be cynical, albeit emotionally draining. DC has a 20% poverty rate and is littered with trash; America’s public transportation system, crumbling infrastructure and energy grid is 30 years behind Western Europe (at least); about 1% of the US population is in prison (we have 25% of the world’s prison population); we have more fat people; more guns; too much pollution; religious zealots in elected office; college education is by and large unaffordable; the food system is all fucked up; campaign finance reforms only benefit the wealthy; the Supreme Court has bigots on the bench (which is a good representation of overall American bigotry); commercial real estate landlords are greedy parasites who deserve syphilis; there is only 1 independent quality bakery in the nation’s capital (in a city of 600,000); the poor are vilified by a majority of elected officials; the right to vote is infringed upon with absolute impunity; wealth disparity is the highest it’s ever been and we elect people who plan on keeping it that way; we don’t know what quality is outside of electronics that are obsolete in 6 months; we are cheap, impatient, shallow and overall prefer the reassurances of an awful chain food store/restaurant rather than the Mom & Pop local whatever that the same want, in theory, but won’t pay for in practice. And our interwebs is slower and more expensive than in western Europe.
Thank you to the few, lonely, random visitors and perverts who came up with blog with the intentions of learning a thing or 2 about making fancy meatloaf and getting me to click on SPAM. I’ve been on vacation for the better part of the last 2 months and will reflect on the better parts of that time. In the upcoming year I resolve to be more judgmental and ornery. I’m going to do more bicycling, read some historical stuff and catch up on crappy TV.