Sunday, October 19, 2008

Don't try this at home

This is what a month or so of being on grill and saute side at work has done to my hands and arms:

As you can see, my left arm has obtained the majority of burns and cuts, mostly because nearly all of my pan and saute work is done left-handed. Even though I'm naturally right-handed, I move and toss pans with my left hand almost exclusively, which is something I learned from my chef and sous. Good cooks use their strong hands to adjust seasoning, add liquids and taste with tasting spoons, and their weaker hand for pan movement. I've quickly picked up this habit, but I am still figuring out the most efficient way to move about, including putting pans into scorching hot 500 degree ovens, which is when most of my burns occur. The most recent burn is the one on the inside of my left arm nearest to my elbow, which I got last night in a harried string of pickups that included 12 steaks for a large party. Nearly every burner on our 18-burner front line was in use, as well as some of the back burners and back ovens.

I tend to wield my burns around like war wounds, and part of me thinks they're pretty badass. But it ultimately comes down to the fact that when I burn myself, it's a result of not being careful or working sloppily, which is something I try to keep in mind. Still, it's hard to avoid it completely when you're moving fast and simultaneously feeling like you're not moving fast enough.

I'll admit I've had my moments of frustration when I feel I'm starting to doggy paddle just to keep up with the string of tickets, and that fight-or-flight feeling of being overwhelmed is becoming more and more familiar. There are two things you can do in that situation: Give up (which is not an option) or keep pushing. Thankfully I've had a lot of help from my chefs and coworkers when shit becomes ridiculously hectic on the line, but I know I am ultimately responsible for bettering myself, becoming faster, more aggressive, more efficient and just being able to juggle it all.

On a related note, I was recently pointed to a blog called Line Cook (thanks Jeff!), which is written by a current sous chef at Nopa in San Francisco. I've found his writing to be extremely insightful as to what it's really like to be a cook, to the point where I've wondered if he's sitting in my head. Good reading, if you're interested.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On online restaurant reviews

So I've spent the last hour or so looking for restaurant options to take my friends out to dinner tonight. Oftentimes these searches lead to common review sites like Citysearch, Yelp and Trip Advisor. I usually devour the reader reviews, but I've been running into some reviews that I have to admit irritate the crap out of me.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge proponent of open-to-the-public online reviews, and have been known to author a few myself. I love the immediacy of the Internet, and in Portland especially there is an active and encouraging dialogue between chefs/owners and diners on sites like and Food Dude's Portland Food and Drink.

In my humble opinion, however, unless you are Ruth Reichl, Jeffrey Steingarten, Frank Bruni or a food writer of that caliber with comparable knowledge, experience and finesse with words, the following phrases immediately disqualify your opinion:

- "I would first off like to say that I am a total foodie and have visited some of the finest restaurants in America. I used to live in San Francisco, where I found the greatest food on earth to be located."

- "I'm an experienced foodie. I've lived in Seattle and New York and currently reside in San Francisco so I know good restaurants."

- "...What my server didn't know is that I'm a server and probably tip a whole lot better, not to mention know a lot more about food than most people in the room."

- "So I'll start by saying that I have been to many (and I mean many) restaurants around town..."

- "We are regulars at [insert list of expensive restaurants here], and for special occasions we dine at [most expensive restaurant in town]."

The above quotes were pulled from actual reviews. Okay people, if you feel the need to define yourself as an expert diner in order to garner some sort of respect, you automatically lose. Some of what you're saying may be true, but let your food knowledge come across in the retelling of your dining experience without prefacing your opinion with a qualifier.

Other irritating phrases:

- "I would have given five stars if there had been more vegetarian options."

It would be one thing if this particular reviewer was writing about a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, but this was a review of a restaurant well-known for it's meaty deliciousness and common use of animal offal.

- "People in Portland may like this restaurant or revere it as top notch, because there is not much else available."

I don't even know where to begin with this. Wait, yes I do... read this and see what the New York Times has to say about "not much else available" in Portland.

Not all the bad is entirely bad, however. These comments gave me a chuckle:

"As I waited for my computer date..."

I appreciate the honesty here.

"The ambulance was good."

Hmm. I don't know about you, but I don't really like the ambulance during my dining experiences.

Anyway, enough with irritants. I think the sudden onslaught of cold, wet weather after a seemingly endless string of perfectly blue skies has turned my mood slightly. Summer is officially over, kids.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Last day of school

I completed my last day at Oregon Culinary Institute yesterday. Technically speaking I don't graduate until I've completed 360 hours at my externship site, which I'm doing at my current workplace over the next two months. However, the days of donning the school uniform and being under the daily guidance of my chef instructors are over.

I have to admit that when I woke up late this morning, I was feeling a little lost and confused. Has six months really flown by that fast? I thought I was looking forward to being done with this crazy schedule of full-time-school-full-time-work, but now that I am, something seems off. It seemed like all of the sudden it just stopped.

But the key thing here is it doesn't stop, actually; like one of the chef instructors said to us yesterday, our first step in our education is complete, and now the real education begins, especially for those stepping into the industry for the first time. I found this to ring very true when I started at my restaurant, and though I'm a bit sad to be leaving school, I'm excited to be able to focus my energy solely on improving my skills, techniques and speed at work.

Speaking of which I'm heading off, but (as always) I have a lot more on my mind. Now that I'll have a little more time on my hands, hopefully I'll actually get around to blogging in a timely manner.