Sunday, July 12, 2009


I'm not saying this to shake you up
I'm just saying this to wake you up
Its all good when we making love
All I ask is dont take our love
for granted, its granted
My love for you is real
Baby if you don't love me somebody else will
So baby girl don't you ever get too comfortable

So sayeth the all-too-wise Lil' Wayne in his track, "Comfortable".

(Yes, I just quoted Lil' Wayne. Stay with me here.)

Anyone who knows me reasonably well knows I have a place in my heart (and on my iPod) for so-bad-it's-good pop rap, and Lil' Wayne made it into the rotation about a month ago. I'll be sitting on the bus listening to this track, and every time I hear those lyrics I can't help but think that it's the restaurant kitchen singing me these words.

Crazy? Maybe a little. A kitchen will nurture you, but you're in danger the moment you become too comfortable. If you don't want it, "baby, if you don't love me somebody else will": there are hundreds of cooks ready and willing with deep resumes and sharp knives waiting to take your coveted spot. This is something I've constantly reminded myself of when I get down, when things get tough, when the everyday grind starts to feel monotonous.

A few weeks ago, I passed the one year mark of being at my current restaurant. I've loved and been loved, I've hurt and been hurt, and something keeps driving me. It's been an amazing journey, and one only needs to look about a year back on this silly blog to see how far I've come. I can't help but be a little proud of what I've achieved; moving from pantry to grill station within months of being in my first professional kitchen, being part of the team that garnered Restaurant of the Year from an influential Portland food writer, even the everyday stuff--putting up a perfect medium-rare and sending it off with the feeling in your gut that it's gonna make someone really fucking happy.

I'm still incredibly green, however, and I'll be the first to tell you that there is an untold amount of talented cooks out there who could do my job better, cleaner, faster. I'm working on becoming one of those better, cleaner, faster cooks. I'm eager to keep learning, progressing, moving forward, and though I've been through a lot in the past year, I know I've still barely scratched the surface.

Why all the waxing poetic? Well, I've been incredibly blessed by opportunity in the last few years, and a new one came to me recently to take a position that's opening up in another great Portland restaurant. It's a kitchen that I admire and frequent and whose food feels familiar yet exciting. Best of all, I'll be shaking up the comfort zone and trying something new. I'll be working at my current place for the next month and making my transition to the new spot in August.

Even more exciting news: I plan on taking a little sabbatical between jobs, wherein I plan on traveling to San Francisco and Los Angeles for a couple of weeks to eat a lot, visit friends, and stage in various restaurants. It occurred to me not too long ago that I've only ever staged in two restaurants, both of which I staged for employment rather than just for my own curiosity. I'm looking forward to seeing how other kitchens run, what the rest of the culinary world has to offer outside of Portland, and what the big deal is with the San Francisco culinary scene. Hopefully visit my internet buddy at Nopa. I've never actually visited San Francisco properly as an adult, and it seems highly overdue.

I'd love to hear some suggestions for dining and/or staging in SF and LA! Send 'em on, kids.

This summer is turning out to be an equally awesome, scary and exciting time in my life. I hope it stays this way.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Trip Down Memory Back Alley

Before The Hungry Cupboard, there was my Myspace blog. I haven't peeked at that blog in quite some time, so I decided to take a trip down memory lane today. I found one blog entry in particular quite interesting, if not highly embarrassing and extremely naive. Oh the things I thought I knew... engage tongue-clucking. A small part of Now Me wants to punch Then Me. Truly shameful, kids.

I'm reproducing it here in all its poor grammar and bad writing glory for your reading pleasure. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, for reference. Personally, I think it gets good around the Kitchen Confidential part. Funny how things turn out. Coincidentally, I'm currently revisiting Tony Bourdain's inaugural autobiography and it's a whole different ride this time around.

Please to enjoy... *cringe*. And I hope you all had a lovely Independence Day. I know I did; best July 4th yet.

October 12, 2005

So last night I was munching away on a plate of crackers and rosemary chevre, typing one-handed and trying to keep cracker crumbs from lodging in the keyboard. At some point in my computer fun, I ran across an ad for the new Kitchen Academy, which is in the same complex/building/block-thingy as the Arclight on Sunset. I've been watching the construction with some curiosity, hoping it isn't some gimmicky thing. It may be legitimate though... they're a branch of the CSCA in Pasadena, which is a Le Cordon Bleu-associated school. Blah, blah, blah.

What I'm trying to say is that it started me thinking again (for like the 50 billionth time) about whether I really want to attend culinary school. This is a thought that has seriously lingered in my head for about a year and something now. I'd say that my interest in all things culinary goes way beyond eating for sustenance, but not quite a real foodie-foodie. I'm somewhere between "enjoys a great meal" and "blows a load over gorgeous tomatoes," both of which I've been known to do. I went as far as to injure myself for the sake of growing my first veggie garden at my old house in Portland (but ohhh was it worth it...).

Ryan put it this way: "I have friends who are music nerds, movie nerds, book nerds... but I've never known a food nerd until I met you." I've long felt that somehow I missed the boat on the artistic talent part of the Chen kids, particularly in music; Ted and Sylvia both are pursuing careers in music, and rightly so, as they are ridiculously skilled and smart and make a party shake-a-ass as far as I'm concerned. I, however, was still constantly worried about myself.

A few years ago, while in the midst of one of my many "what the fuck am i doing?" crises, I had a (very belated) epiphany over dinner with my family: I love food. Maybe I should pursue a career in it. I finally felt a focus, and it was so good to have my family's encouragement and trust in my skills. The more I talked about it, the more it made sense. I've been making dirt pies and holly berry "stews" since I was 9, and when I was 13 I somehow pulled off a chicken fricassee after discovering a melting/flaming Tupperware in the pre-heating oven. I managed to work around the fire extinguisher dust and had dinner ready by the time mom and dad came home. Heh.

The point is food is something I "get." The seriousness in culinary school resulted in two trips to NYC last winter to visit several schools there. It took me two planes, two trains, and three automobiles just to make it to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. (Which, by the way, blew my fucking mind.) The CIA was the first school I visited, and minutes after stepping onto campus I decided then and there that in one way or another food was going to be in my working future. Every building smelled like baking bread or sauteeing butter. Students stepped through the snow from one class to the next, clad in their chef's jackets, checkered pants and caps. For the first time in years, even before/during undergrad, I thought 'Shit, man, this is where it's fucking at.'

More school visits followed, each one a mix of delight and nervousness. I toured the buildings, peeked into classes, noshed on "class practice" goodies and even got a few good (free) meals here and there. Though I gotta say that the bahn mi that ben and I had in downtown San Francisco after our visit to CCA simply killed.

That was nearly a year ago. My fervor for culinary school has since mellowed, wavered, even been shunned a couple of times as I looked at the reality of the situation. A majority of culinary students come out of school, hired on to be prep or line cooks at decent to good restaurants. At first I thought that might be ok... then two things happened: 1. I made friends with line cooks (and even briefly dated one, if you could call it that) 2. I read Tony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.

You know that phrase, "if you can't stand the heat..." ? I didn't understand that until I really got to take a glimpse into that world, through other cooks and chefs. It's not even a job; it's a lifestyle, and most people don't do well in that lifestyle. Plus dating sucks if you're a cook. Regardless, if number 1 doesn't scare you out of the kitchen, then number 2 will kick your sorry ass out. I looked at myself: kind, caring, giving, tolerable, creative, patient, too forgiving sometimes... those things don't go well in the kitchen. It's like the army: Do what you're told or you're in for an ass-beating (or simply being fired). I knew I couldn't be just a cook. Part of me, my stubborn part, wants to simply say "Fuck you! I do what I want!" I feel if I really, really tried, I could do it. But honestly, it's just too much for me.

So what now? That's where the waffling and waving came in. Shit, if I wasn't going to be a chef, then why go to culinary school? What good will it do me? After being sad for another little while, I began to realize (admit?) that there were other avenues to take. Food writing? Food styling? Food consulting? Catering? Private cheffing? All much "nicer" ways to get myself working in the culinary world.

So that's where I am now, essentially. I read Saveur and Gourmet and Food & Wine and whatever else comes my way, and I lose myself in the articles. Market-fresh mangoes in India? clay-oven pizza in Tuscany? heirloom tomatoes in Oregon? Fuck yeah! I like food. I like writing. Food... writing? I like the sound of it. I just don't know if a year-long, $18,000 course is worth it. Gimme a minute, I'm still thinking... (mmm... crackers and chevre... be back in a minute...)