Sunday, January 03, 2010

A New Year

Oh, my poor neglected blog. Thanks to a nudge from my coworkers, here I am at last. For whatever reason in the last few months I've suffered from a self-imposed, increased pressure to write quality material that people can relate to. Mix that with general blog laziness, being sick four times in five weeks, and a lovely Christmas trip to North Carolina where I did nothing but watch movies and eat pound cake and Chick Fil A, and ye here blog goes without company for too long.

Unfortunately, I really miss writing, so let that be my first resolution of 2010: Think less, write more.

So what have I learned in this past year? I'm well into my second year of cooking professionally, and things are only looking up. I've been going into work on my own time on one of my days off to trail the day kitchen manager, and it's been so eye-opening to see things from beginning to end. PM cooks are pretty spoiled at my restaurant, as a majority of the big prep gets taken care of for us during the day--butchering, portioning, braises, cures, terrines, sausages and other charcuterie, burger prep, breads, pastas, some sauces... nearly all of it is done in-house, and most of it is taken care of by the swift hands of the day crew, sous chefs and exec chef. There's definitely a good amount of prep for the evening cooks to take care of, but I think most of us would agree that we have it pretty cush.

It makes for a smooth system, but how do you learn and grow in this environment? One of the biggest lessons I learned the hard way this year was to never get comfortable. Comfortable leads to plateauing, which leads to complacency and oftentimes a shitty attitude. And, trust me, NO ONE wants to work with a cook with a shitty attitude. My point is, I'm learning to make a conscious effort to stretch my limits and my comfort zone.

Confession: Charcuterie intimidates the shit out of me. I don't even know why. Maybe it's the history of it, or how finicky it seems, or the fact that I've just been spoiled by working at two places that did almost all of their sausages, cures and terrines in house, and the people doing the charcuterie were crazy good. But I only see one solution: Learn to make it. Conquer the fear. Push my limits, scare myself a little, make some mistakes and move on. That's the only way we can get better, right?

Things aren't always what we hope for, but instead of complaining and doing nothing, I'm learning to make the best of it. I remember one of my classmates in culinary school who had this extraordinary ability to complain about everything. The kid clearly had raw talent, but he took complaining to some next level shit. Everything was always too much or not enough. Too easy, too hard, too much work, not enough to do; no matter what the situation, this guy managed to see the negative in everything. Worst of all, it was permeating--the attitude just ate at your nerves until you could cut the tension with a knife. This leads me to possibly the biggest lesson I learned this year: We can complain all we want to, but in the end we're responsible for ourselves. Getting bored on my station? Try different tasks, ask for more, trail another station. Giant prep list? Work faster and request help. Does shit suck? Then change it. It seems so unfairly simple to say, but there it is.

I'm no saint. I don't claim to be perfect, by any means, and I have my bad days. I've definitely fit the complainer description well in the past. But I'm mostly in what I'd call a happy place right now. Things are fluid and fun, my coworkers are pretty awesome, and though I get stuck in station tunnel-vision from time to time, the extra days and new projects help keep me flexible and challenged.

Other cool things that happened in 2009:
- My mom turned 60 (happy birthday Mom!)
- The third anniversary of my surgery, and I'm fit as a fiddle (despite the winter colds!)
- Bought a condo!
- Went to San Francisco and LA by myself, had an amazing time and ate some of the best food of my life
- Made some of the best food I've done yet
- Met some amazing cooking (and non-cooking) related people in Portland and elsewhere
- Obtained a 17-year-old cat named Whimpy, who was a friend's childhood house cat. Spry old guy, and a biggun too, but what a ridiculously sweet thing. I was already basically a cat lady before I got the cat, and now it's official.

This year, I'm hoping to narrow my career focus a bit. I'll let you know how that goes. I'm also hoping to travel: San Francisco is calling my name again, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Taiwan and/or Europe. And I'll write more, yes!

Things are good, friends, things are good.


Matt said...

Awesome post. I have worked with way too many complainers and no matter how shitty things get I make a conscious effort to restrain myself. I have recently obtained David Chang's Momofuku cookbook and (on the subject of charcuterie) there is a recipe for headcheese. When I was a kid I had it and almost puked. Ever since that incident I have always had negative feelings toward the product. I'm hoping my tastes have somewhat matured and I'm sure the realization its only sweet sweet delicious incredible pork will help me give it another go.

Keep up the great posts!

Ingrid said...

Thanks Matt! I got myself the Momofuku cookbook for Christmas and I love it. It's slightly intimidating but totally awesome. Here's to new challenges!

Anonymous said...
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jasonwatkinspdx said...

Keep writing. Your posts are damn interesting, no matter the time you put into them or the quality of the result. It doesn't have to be perfect every time.

Anonymous said...

Rather cool site you've got here. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.

Ingrid said...

Jason and Anon: Thanks for the encouragement and kind words!