Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's a whole thing, you guys. It's a whole thing.

It's 3AM, I'm on the ass-end of four 15-hour days in a row, and I can't say in all honesty I ever imagined I would be where I am today.

Marinated olives in some yummy shit
Last night was the opening night of the little awesome wine bar that my boss conceived of mere months ago with the help of our wine shop manager. My official title there is chef, which I still can't say without blushing. Feels weird, man. I mean fuck, this is the hardest I've ever worked at something and still feel like I have such a long way to go before I'll have accomplished anything meaningful. This is not to say I think I'm doing a bad job; quite the contrary, I've put my heart and soul and literal blood, sweat and tears into creating this menu. I can genuinely say I've never worked harder at anything in my life, and I think it's pretty good for a first go.

It's just that when I think of the term "Chef", I think of my culinary 101 instructor Bikram, a joyful Nepalese beast whose curry I have yet to meet an equal, and whose sharp tongue and kind heart from his many years of being an executive chef at an international resort hotel helped prepare me for the real fire and heat of a professional kitchen. I think of my first mentor Jack, who was gracious enough to take my green ass under his wing. He commanded kitchens, held down a line better than anyone, cooked every station better than everyone and made the most gorgeous, inspiring food that only a person with 20 years of professional cooking experience could make. He blew minds here in Portland, and led the golden age of a restaurant whose employees I'm all still friends with, impossibly, and one of whom I'm marrying in a few weeks*.

Preserved lemons. Jack's recipe.
I think of Sarah, the chef at the restaurant I recently left to open the wine bar, who is one of the most driven chefs I've met and whose only passion is food. She deserves all the accolades she's received and more but doesn't have the reach of a "Portland celebrity chef" because she's not much of a Food-Network-ready glad-hander and instead prefers to spend her time on the line, in her restaurant, actually cooking and creating some of the best food I've ever had. I think of a million and one other talented and driven chefs who I've had the opportunity to meet, talk to, work under, or simply admire from afar, and they've all touched the lives of food nerds like myself in a way that means something, to me at least. I look at their plating photos and their impeccably clean kitchens and think, shit, that is fucking brilliant. And shit, I'm a fucking mess. I am not their equal. I am not their peer.

I want to get there, but it still feels like a long way off. Am I not giving myself enough credit? Am I too hard on myself? I don't know, maybe. In the meantime I'm spending a lot of my days playing phone tag with various vendors and purveyors, some of whom won't give me the time of day because I'm a no-name nobody. Hey weird purveyors, I'm literally trying to give you money for your product and you're making it really hard for me. It shouldn't be this difficult to give you cash for this thing you're selling.
classic love/hate relationship

Also, I really like the menu I've put together, but it's a menu that has a fair amount of restraint because the timing of the wine bar's opening ended up strangely coinciding with another giant, life-changing event: *In two weeks, I'll be marrying my best friend and the best partner a person could ask for in a reasonably intimate ceremony in one of my favorite parks in Portland. Basically I'm spending the next week and a half working out kinks in this menu, putting systems into place to make sure that everything operates smoothly while I'm gone, prepping the shit out of backups for my homies to use in my absence, just making sure none of the wheels will fall off. And then Jeff and my entire families converge in Portland for a week of celebrations followed by a week of honeymooning (which, let me just take a minute to point out that our boss was so incredibly generous to give us a full week for a honeymoon, which is pretty much unheard of in this industry).

Let me also just say that if anyone ever asks you to open a wine bar and plan a wedding to occur within two weeks of each other, just say no. I truly love everything I'm doing right now, but I do not recommend this schedule to anyone. While the timing isn't ideal, it was a team effort on all parties to not let either big amazing thing stop the other big amazing thing. I come back to the restraint on my menu because I want to do a lot more with the menu but I also wanted to make sure it's foolproof while I'm gone, which is already a challenge with any menu but an especially interesting challenge with an opening menu. I'm hoping to stretch my wings a little (a lot) when I return.

Really, I just want to cook from a genuine place for a public audience. And I have this truly unbelievable opportunity to do just that. Like how many motherfucking cooks can actually say that??? Not many, my friends, not many at all. I constantly find myself flabbergasted at my fortune. I just want to do this right, and I want to do this well.