I don’t drink very much anymore.
A year ago, I would come home from work with a six pack of Tecate or a bottle of red or pour myself a nip of Maker’s and sit and type for this blog and play around in my kitchen. It was productive and it was habit. Blend cooking and drinking with a bit of writing seemed sensible, even mature. I didn’t feel so bad about waking up Wednesday morning with a hangover and a messy kitchen if I had a blogpost to show for it the next day. And a post required a considerable amount of work. I liked being able to see the fruits of my labor take shape. So in many ways this blog, AMF, became an outlet, a way for me to try to fulfill a few regrets that had been eating away at me these past few years. But alas, there was no great creative awakening, no grand sense of satisfaction, no salvation from my bourbon soaked day-to-day. The venture went south. I was bored. I was very anxious. I was unhappy.
The dayjob was a good paycheck, nothing more, nothing less. Just paying my dues and riding a career of sorts, like most everyone else I knew. There were never any problems rounding up a few good friends for a happy hour or to check out a show at a good venue or drop by someone’s party on a Saturday night. I dated and had had a few girlfriends. When I planned a dinner, everyone showed up.. and thensome. In short, my life seemed pretty well in order. I wasn’t lonely or inactive or stuck somewhere I didn’t want to be. I was doing everything a happy yuppie should do. My parents were happy. I was happy that they were happy.
It was this whole cooking thing, you see? Having the interest, money and time, putting a dinner together for the gang became routine. But there was just no ceiling to it. As someone who has gone through a lot of different side-interests, cooking never grew old to me. It never burnt me out. There was always something else to learn. I simply couldn’t expose myself to enough of it. The most mundane and unappealing task in a kitchen held my attention. I fantasized of trying to work at the local marina as a fish monger; shucking fish guts, peeling scales, grabbing live crustaceans and sending them to their doom all so I could get the most basic foundation of knowledge.
I never got that far, but no other effort was good enough. Reading Child or Pepin cover to cover, putting together four course meals for friends with recipes that had been on Top Chef the night before, writing about my own trials and tribulations in the kitchen on the blog, none of this felt good enough. I was learning, but did I actually know anything? Did I understand anything? I was flying blind most of the time. I didn’t know how to settle for anything less than unfiltered immersion, to utterly surround myself with culinary knowledge. And it made me testy.
Sometimes when a friend would complement a dish I had made, I secretly wanted to tear into them: “You think that was good?! Fuck that, that was shit! I hated everything. Why the fuck are you bullshitting me with this garbage?! X was undercooked, Y tasted like shit, and Z.. how the fuck was Z your favorite part?!?! You know dick. Get the fuck out of my house!” Wisely, I always said “thank you” instead and for the record, I can never thank my friends enough for their willingness to be subject to my trials. They’ll eat for free at any shop I ever run.
So I started seeking out like-minded individuals, other food bloggers mostly, in an effort to find the momentum I was looking for, but with exception of a rare few, the pool of knowledge about our shared interests was often scattered and full of half-truths. No Holy Grail. No clan of blogger monks to bestow their sacred food wisdom on us. Good people absolutely, but mostly aspiring writers. There was a lack of intensity. None of us were experts after all, just hobbyists dreaming of getting paid and published.
And our label, Jesus, our god awful, abhorrent, slander of a description that screamed at me ’snobbish fucktard’ had nothing to do with the immersion I was seeking out. They called us “foodies,” a title that as I type this still makes my skin crawl. I know it’s just semantics, but it’s such an obnoxious and annoying word. ‘Oh hi, yes, I’m a foodie, would you like to try this balsamic vinegar, grapes crushed with real Italian feet, aged in a 400 year old oak barrel and stolen by the Nazi Army during German occupation and stored the barrel at exactly 67 degrees Fahrenheit for the last 32 years?’ Fuck that, I hope Jim Harrison punches the guy that calls him a foodie in the head. [Let me stress here that I am in no way calling self-proclaimed foodies snobbish fucktards, even if on occasion that name does fit, I just hate the generalization.]
So last summer I signed up for a cooking class that billed itself as ‘Beyond Basics’ in the what felt like a desperate and final attempt to uncover the knowledge I was hoping to find. Again, I was disappointed. It was a good, informative class I would recommend to friends, but it was still a hobby shop, a craft expo taught by instructors that would always be more familiar and more comfortable with food than we could ever be simply taking recreational classes. And that unspoken frustration lead to a conversation with my instructor, a woman I very much respected for her 15 year tenure in the industry, about what it would take to know, really know, what she knew.
I can’t remember most of what I asked, just that age (pushing it at 27) and inexperience were holding me back from what I wanted. Culinary school was discussed. Work ethic. What. It. Takes. Maybe she took pity seeing me visibly frazzled and discontent. Maybe she saw something she had seen in other cooks throughout her career. Maybe she just wanted to get rid of me and go back to prepping for her next class, but I will never forget her parting words to me: “I don’t usually recommend this in most of my classes.. [me holding my breath in anticipation] but I think you can probably do it, you seem like you could handle it.. if you’re willing to work for nothing..”
And like that the light bulb went on. That tiny, forgettable endorsement was all it took. The “it” she was referring to was the idea of me becoming a real cook, in a real restaurant, as a real career. And that’s when everything else started to fade into the background. Everything after that point was dedicated to getting into one of my favorite restaurants in the city. That was the goal. Preparations were made. Nothing else mattered.
So AMF… died. I literally killed it in the middle of a two-part post, without ceremony or nostalgia. I put her on an iceberg and pushed her out to sea. All the time and energy I had put into the blog and pretty much overnight the interest faded. I still wrote, still snapped pictures, still had stories to tell, but it all felt pointless until I had something to say. What recipe or technique could I write about if I hadn’t done it 100 times myself? Half the time I did something well I wasn’t even sure how it had happened. Until I had something I knew in my bones to be true about food and cooking and about the people that are apart of that magic, there just wasn’t anything I wanted to contribute.
So fast-forward one year today, you’ll still see me at the occasional bar or friend’s party, but I’ll probably be the one drinking water, maybe munching on a late night snack. You see, I’ve just gotten done with dinner service at my restaurant, having finished another 10-12 hour shift. I’m tired and a bit drained from the fury of prepping, cooking for 300 covers and breakdown my station. I’m fucking thirsty and getting ripped isn’t a good idea since tomorrow I have to wake up early and do it all over again. I rarely make it to the happy hours now. Haven’t seen a live show in months. And as I mentioned, if I can make it to the party at all, it’s at the tail end.
I am happy.
Happier than I know how to describe. My hands are littered with various size oil burns, I can feel the arthritis in my finger joints when I make a fist, my back aches badly after a long shift, but I will catch myself smiling involuntarily at the little things I see everyday on my station. And there are so many beautiful little details to savor in my new line of work. The food, the people, the fury of it all. My life is a good one.. as a real cook.. in my aforementioned favorite restaurant.. cooking as a career.
I’m still green. I still get panicked and angry during a tough service. I still have no idea how to do many, many things that my peers can do in their sleep. But I can hold my own. No one is worried I’ll go down in the middle of service, whether I’ll be adequately prepared for the madness that can and will occur every, single night. I’m subject to the pranks and name calling from my peers, not because I’m the dumb gringo, but because I can keep up, and because my fellow cooks know I can be trusted. The little respect I have has been earned over time. And most importantly, about my daily routine I have an intimate knowledge. The type of knowledge I’ve been looking for. I’m here, for better or for worse.
So maybe I have a nugget or two of wisdom to share after all, AMF isn’t dead yet.
(Photo by Alexey05)