Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Have Knife Will Travel

It's hard to keep up sometimes. Too many plates spinning at once, and if you're not careful, you'll lose focus and start breaking them, the audience will gasp, possibly boo. Then what? It's mid-April already. How did this happen? How wide and deep is this abyss that consumes time? Does anyone care anymore, or are we all on auto-pilot, pulling days of the kitty calendar and throwing them in the bin? I think I care, but I learned a long time ago that time is ever the victor and we just have to deal with it rolling away like it does. It's like a bad trip. You just have to go with it; to fight it is to end up under the covers, alone, while your friends sync up Atom Heart Mother with the Goonies and laugh and scream as One Eyed Willie eats "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast". Who wants to miss out on that?

Blogging when you work in the industry at this level of immersion is hard. It's an afterthought, at best it's a quarterly post, which is barely comparable to the three or four posts a week I had before I was in a serious relationship, before I was married, before I opened a restaurant and became chained to the line like one of Madame LaLaurie's cooks before the fire. It's like that. The rules changed once I was on the other side of the window. You can't blog the same way. You can't say the same things. You can't. There is a thin line already between pride and pretense on a blog, and the line is thinner once you are a cook. It's one thing to post a pic of your plate when your a prideful home cook, but that same pic as a professional is just douchey. "Hey, look what I did." It gets old. But, you do want to put yourself out there. You want that recognition, because you're human, and you have an ego, and you know someone's getting off on that.

This year has been all about learning. As a student on the path, you can't stop. To stagnate is to die, to be a relic. It's nice to be reminded that you are but another brick in the culinary wall, and that that in its own way is inspiring. I've done a good amount of staging this year. Not because I'm job-hunting, but because it's good to get outside of your comfort zone and go cut veg for someone else and start back at the bottom. I've also spent some time in a few food trucks, which is interesting, different.

The Butcher is now getting recognition. I'm glad he's been a character on this blog for as long as he has. He is finally getting some credit for his skills and not being ignored, or having ideas brushed over by those with less experience. His partnership with Ben at Salt & Time seems so perfectly timed (I introduced them, which is great), and well suited. Things are going well for them, but that's not my story. I've gone out to the shop in Neiderwald, a temple of cured meats in our area, and made sausage, prepped, watched, learned. I've long been a student of his, so it's great to take it further, to keep learning from a master. I was really stoked to help them pull off a successful stint in the SquareSpace food truck during SXSW, where I worked the flat-top making almost a thousand pig face sandwiches. It was a great experience.

I did a night at Hudson's. It was bittersweet, but a great experience. Kelly was a gracious mentor for the night, yet it was eye-opening to see what was going on behind the curtain. They have a great crew, and are still doing great things. I liked working the pantry. Again, it's nice to be on the bottom. Old friends and new out there. I enjoyed the real life dramatic irony of being just another loser stage to the line cooks. The twenty-one year olds with their egos, and their questions about "why are you interested in cooking?" It was great to see their faces when the FOH showed up, most of which I grew up with, and everyone came by and gave me a hug and we talked shit. One of the kids came up to me later and asked how I knew everyone. I know everyone. It's that simple. We had one of the kids come stage at Black Star, and he would have gotten the gig, too, but he's moving in less than a year and we need more commitment.

SXSW came. Came hard. All over this town's face. I took that opportunity to help out East Side Kings for a week. I made new friends, and again, saw the real Wizard behind the curtain. It's fun. It's hard work in a tight space, like sex in the back of a Volkswagon. Those kids, and they are kids, are the real pirates. Sure, their captain gets all the credit, but their out there 14 hours a day manning the sails and making sure the hordes of hipsters don't overrun their bows. I liked working the fryer, and doing prep; lending my hands to an institution that gets a lot of recognition for Paul's successes in other arenas, and in turn, long ass lines. I got to work the window for about seven hours one night, just doing customer service, and that too was great. A real trip back to my roots.

Of course, the chip shoppe, Black Star, is home. It's busy. We've doubled our old food sales records. Fridays and Saturdays feel like the battle of Helm's Deep, and we are the Rohirrim, looking out on a see of faces crashing like waves against our walls. It's badass. We kill it. Lately the focus has been on the future, and new programs, Spring menu, and communication. It's hard to be a team in an industry that is used to having a head man in charge. But that is the point. That's the challenge. The beauty of the fucking thing, ever changing around you, constantly needing attention to sustain. I love it. I love my crew. We're not the pirates of ESK, even if we've stolen a few, but we're similar. We're not adrift either, we have a mission, a vision, a membership to feed and titles to win. Like I said, this, this forum, has to change to stay consistent with that world. I can't just spout off nonsense. There is decorum that must be observed. No more "whites for Tyson." I'm digging around in my bag to find my shades, because the future is bright.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Communication-Part Two

If you have ever worked the line in a kitchen, you know that one thing is more feared than any other—you know it, your co-workers know it, and it really scares the front of house people: SILENCE.

Our jobs require constant, up-each-other's-ass communication, but when there is an argument or a fight (just like in relationships), there is usually a long, awkward, service-fucking silence. Last night was one of those nights, yet it didn't fuck up service too much.

Granted, it was my fault, which is why I'm writing this—as a means of both processing and, I guess, public confession. Miscommunication blows. That's the moral of the story. When you're slammed and focused, all it takes a little miscommunication to crash the whole fucking house of cards you've built in your head. Tonight, please, be gentle on us all. Self, let go, be excellent to each other.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just the Tip?

What ever happened to baby king cake?

The Austin Chronicle's Best of 2011 came out yesterday, and we are honored to have received an award from the critic's pick: Best tipping policy.

You read that right. Best. Tipping. Policy. We don't take tips. Years ago, Steven Yarak and I were sitting at Spiderhouse debating this concept (as we did so many other topics), and how restaurant owners had used this institution to bypass having to actually pay their servers (read: the people who make them their money), and let that obligation fall on their patrons by means of supplementing their $2.13 an hour wage in the form of gratuities. We thought it was shitty. I still think it's shitty. I worked for tips for years, as did many of you, and you know that there are those who tip no less than twenty percent at all times (industry folk) and those who tip between ten and fifteen percent. It's the worst type of prostitution. In fact, hookers get a flat rate regardless of performance, so when bartenders and servers go the extra mile and take a load in the face, they have to smile and act like their eyes aren't on fire, and their hair isn't fucked.

Anyway. Our system isn't perfect, but since we are a member-owned business and they already pay us our salaries, why charge them a double tax? Granted, we have plenty of non-member customers that benefit from this system, however, I would argue that you can't change the system by falling in lockstep with the dominate paradigm. Hooray for pseudo-socialist poserdom!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Proof of Concept

It was in the middle of the night in September of 2008 when I first learned of the existence of bacon toffee. I was in the depths of a Master Cleanse. Not eating had me thinking of nothing but food. That was when I stumbled upon Derrick Schneider's An Obsession with Food, and with it, bacon toffee.

I had somehow linked to An Obsession with Food from another blog that I had completely scoured, Butter Pig. I had been staying up until five in the morning for several nights, incessantly reading food blogs and thinking of all these things I would make when I started eating food again. When the ten day fast had ended, I set out to knock things off my list.

The idea of a bacon candy intrigued me. I had had bacon and chocolate, and it was as good as it sounds, but bacon and toffee!? I made a few batches, some sucked: not reaching the right temp, not cracking, pulling fillings out, leaving napalmesque wounds on extremities, etc.—all the good stuff that can happen when making candy. Then I found my stride. It was about that time that I decided that I wanted to make cookies with chocolate chips and bacon toffee.

Nearly three years later, this idea has finally come to fruition. Since I now work in a kitchen, this idea has become more and more nagging in my mind. The idea was poo-pooed by a co-worker a few times, but now he's gone. We have a burgeoning ice cream program, too. The Universe spoke to me, and it said: "Flapjacks, you must make bacon toffee chocolate chip coffee ice cream sandwiches, it is your destiny."

I listened.

This first batch was a small batch, but they will return soon. The cookies are pretty damned amazing (think heath bar chunk cookies, but with bacon goddamnit), and mixing them with thick, custard based coffee ice cream creates the richest shit you can put in your mouth besides Warren Buffet's penis. I win! Wait, or do we all win?

Maybe we should dip them in chocolate next?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Too Many Maters

It's not even June yet, and here at the Shortcake-Flapjacks estate we've been eating homegrown tomatoes for a month. It seems, as with our wars, there is no end in sight. Those crazy winds from earlier in the week broke the better part of my black cherry and yellow pear plants, and today it seems that spider mites are taking care of the rest of those two former belles-of-the-garden-ball.

Annoying? Yes. Yet, if the Mr. Stripey, sungolds, purple cherokee, romas and early girls can hold out a little longer, we could be harvesting deep in to the fall. Here are some photos:

Sungolds are the bomb.

One day's worth. This was all turned into pico.

Cucumber, cherry tomato salad.

Gluten-free pasta primavera with poached eggs.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This Must Be the Place

Either the cat or the heat had put me in a bad mood. It was way too early to be that aggravated, but I was and it was annoying. Blackberry Shortcake's car had crapped out and it was only day two of the summer class she was teaching in San Marcos. I had a meeting, cancelled it and volunteered to drive her down there. I needed to get out of Austin. I needed to be healed.

When I was just a boy, we briefly lived in San Marcos, in an old, creepy, high ceilinged house on Belvin St. Our short time there was very memorable: I burned myself badly on a cast iron skillet reaching for johnnycake, fell from the top bunk to the floor, got a pebble stuck way up in my nose from making a snow angel (think winter of '84, the year it snowed in Texas), and almost choked to death on a bite of Rainbow Brite cereal. I also strongly believe I saw a ghost, or something, and still think the house was haunted.

It was in this house that my mother believed she had killed my grandma on Thanksgiving—she'd had put an ounce of pot in the stuffing and grandma was out cold for an uneasy amount of time. Story goes, that mom was continually sneaking into her room and checking to make sure she was still breathing by placing a mirror under her nose, waiting for the steam to come. Sounds like she was paranoid. Must have been good shit.

My favorite swimming hole in the entire world also happens to be San Marcos. We call it the Icehouse. It is a magical place, a convergence of two waterfalls of crystal clear water flowing straight out of Aquarena Springs. This is where I would go to be healed. Times had gotten rough for my future bride and I. Not between us, just that our recent job changes had us shaken a bit, and this car breaking down bullshit had spurred talk of money.

I had realized during this money-talk that my new found bill laden life linked directly to my purchasing a car last year. A double-edged sword of convenience and sloth. Now, with the gas prices shitting on us, and my heavy footed driving shooting my insurance rates skyward, I was annoyed with my situation. Not worried, just annoyed. I plot, plan and scheme, but I don't fret or worry. Things have a way of working themselves out and I believe that sometimes it is just better to wait and see what happens rather than making up what will.

I was excited to go to San Marcos, even if only for a few hours. After the sting of fueling up, we were on the road and ready to rock. After dropping off the Shortcake, I made my way into town. I drove to the swimming hole and saw that no one was there and decided to go down to Belvin St. and find the creepy house we'd lived in back during that winter that it had snowed in Texas. I drove up and down the street, but could not find the house.

Amityville borer.

I was looking for a house with a porch and a little balcony on top that you could only access from the roof. It wasn't there. More accurately, the porch and balcony weren't there—they'd been removed. The house sat there boarded up and looking forgotten. I walked around and looked in the windows to make sure it was the same house. I saw the high ceilings I remembered as a kid, and found my old room. It was creepy, too. In a bathroom, a lone, beautiful claw-foot tub sat waiting for a naked cowboy that would never come.

I split.

That place always freaked me out.

I thought that I would find a cheap beer and finish this Bukowski story I had started that morning. I struck out at the first two places I tried. It was one in the afternoon and it seemed most bars opened at either three or seven. I found a book/comic/collectibles store and was lured inside by some Star Wars toys. They had a lot of them. Even the super rare Amanaman. I looked around for a bit after announcing that I brought in a book. They had an awesome selection of books and games and comics and toys. Seeing the Star Wars toys reminded me that mine were all stolen a decade ago. That always pisses me off.

I asked about the bar and they said it was happy hour right behind there at the Tap Room. It was dark in there and smelled like old beer and cigarette smoke, something you can only find at a few places in Austin these days. Atop the tap wall was a scene made of out old toys, ships, trophies and other nostalgic ephemera. Years of smoke and grease and dust had formed beards and stalagtites on the items. It seemed a fitting place to finish the short story. The beer cost less than a gallon of gas and I enjoyed that.

As I read, I looked around at the crap. I found the Beatles. Three of them, but not Ringo. John was missing an arm. I asked about Ringo, and the bartender said he was behind a trophy, which he was. I commented on the ship and how it's dust compared to the ship from the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (est. 1189) in Nottingham. We both decided that it would need more time to even be comparable. I finished the story and the beer and emerged back into the sunlight.

Above the Icehouse is a restaurant that has changed many times over the years. It was "Pepper's on the Falls" when I was a kid. Then a Joe's Crab Shack, and now it's a Salt Grass Steak house. I parked in the far corner of the lot. I could not get towed. That would seriously fuck me. You used to be able to park in a lot behind the tennis center, but that now required a Texas State parking permit. I've never been towed there, but it would really be inconvenient.

There it was, the Icehouse, shining like a beacon. The waterfall chugging away with it's load of airy whitewater. You could see every stone on the bottom and each fish. It was like a painting. I laid my book and towel and crap on the ground and striped down. A few years back the retaining wall was washed away by an epic flood and it was replaced with some fairly safe, fairly modern version of its former self that stepped down to the water.

Holy water.

I stood on the bottom step and stared into the center of the center of the pool. It bubbled and festered where the fall and pool met, as if someone had thrown a hundred billion alka-seltzer tablets in there. The words THANK YOU JESUS went through my head. Probably what my dad said every time right before we dove in. It seemed appropriate as I was seeking salvation. I thought that it was amazing that I'd been swimming in that same spot since I was at least three. Maybe four.

I dove in and was enveloped in what felt like champagne. I swam across and sat on this large cement wall portion that juts out of the water near the fall. At this point I had had a rather heady day; my annoyance from the morning had dissipated, and I was feeling quite healed, yet the strange record of "who are you? what are you doing?" was playing in my head. I sat on the wall and contemplated. The sound of the fall roared like a freight train beside me.

A young couple swam up and chatted with me about whatnot. They were moving to Austin. They'd graduated a few years back and never made it out. I could see that about San Marcos. The river. It could pull you in, keep you there. They were nice and after a few minutes they swam away leaving me alone again with the thoughts of who I was and what I was doing.

The alka-seltzer pushed my feet around. After a while, I stood and dove right into the heart of the maelstrom. It felt so good, like a thousand feathers cascading up and down my body. I came up to the surface, washed my face and slicked back my hair, just before dunking myself again like I was John and Jesus at once. I came up for air and had the answers: I AM LOVE, I AM LIVING.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tasting Notes: On the Wagon

Ever since the first time I woke up in a pool of my own vomit, I've known drinking was for me. I was to join the ranks of hardened men and women who sat at the ends of bars as dead as their lives, chain smoking Marlboro Reds and swilling Gilbey's Gin. This was my future ilk. Each one of my neighbor's mother's Coors Light I stole and chugged put me that much closer towards my destiny. Every shot of 151, another step on the path.

I've had some good times drinking. I've even had some bad times. I've had a lot of bad times the day after drinking. Heavily. All this being said, this April I took a break from the sauce, not knowing if I would find something, miss it, care, or anything really. Sometimes you just know you should take a break.

Now, don't let this lead you to believe that I'm a drunk or anything, or that I had to intervene on my own party. No way. More that I work in a bar, and it's good to know where you and your vices stand. Is it an amiable relationship, or is it destructive; Paul and Linda or Ike and Tina? I thought going into the month that I would really miss my shift beer at work. There is something about that first sip of a beer after you've busted your ass on the line that is truly special, much like a large belch after a fine meal, only more refreshing and lacking humidity.

What I found surprising was—it didn't really matter. I did, once, strictly out of habit, order a drink during brunch. A greyhound. I took a sip, the vodka lighting up my mouth up like Clark Griswold's house, and I remembered that I wasn't to do that. I passed the tasty beverage over to Blackberry Shortcake, and resumed my drinking of virgin grapefruit juice. It didn't matter.

May is back, and with it the alcohol. I have put some time in reflecting on this month of sobriety, and found that if I ever was to walk away from delicious libations, I would probably be okay. However, I do not generally believe in placing such longterm limitations on oneself, and would probably always allow for the enjoyment of Scotch or good beer and wine on a special occasion, like a wedding, a feast in my honor, or a Saturday.

I saved some money by not drinking, yet had to give that to the city for speeding on Lamar like a dumbass. I didn't lose any weight, nor did I drink soda to compensate or start huffing computer cleaner. I drank a billion Topo Chicos. I continue to swill them with abandon. All in all though, I felt good. Clear head, deep, dark dreams, a little more energy, and I ate more. I think I was replacing a good amount of my calorie intake with beer rather than food prior to the month off.

I do recommend this practice to you all, even if it is just once in a while. Just to remember that you can. To see that you don't have to drink when you go out to have a good time. In fact, if you're not drinking, and everyone else is, trust me, you'll have a great time. People are dumb when they're drunk and dumb people do funny things they won't remember, but you will. These are good odds.

As I sit here, drinking this fine IPA, I feel good knowing that at anytime I could close up shop, and move on. Chances are, however, that that won't happen and the bottle and I will live happily ever after in a castle on a hill surrounded by a magical forest of liquid delights. Cheers!

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