Still Kicking

Re-ignited,

 

Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.  For some reason, today of all days I have really felt like writing for the first time in an awfully long time.

 

While this post might not have as much to do with pertinent information, news, or opinion as most, it is my re-re-reaffirmation of  a desire to be sharing my views with those here on the Web.  The last few months have been absolutely horrid.  Following is a chunk of a piece I wrote for my personal blog, between it, and the few posts I have managed to get up, you should get the picture.  As they say: FML….

 

It figures, 

That’s about all I can say at the moment.  On the eve of finally getting back to work, or as far as I know it should be the eve of taking off back up north to get to work I finally feel like I have procrastinated enough and am ready willing and able to write again.  It might have something to do with the fact that all the other things I should be doing just don’t tickle my fancy today. 

While I still feel that cooking, reading, and writing about it are my main, and almost only passions, these last few months have been harder and for the most part, worse that any I can recall in the last few years.  My appetite for blogging had been quite low in the past couple of months/years already anyways due to commitments that commanded all of my free time, energy, and brain power.  Our (read the SOs) predilection for helping others has cost us dearly recently.  While all the financial and material losses can be overcome with time and hard work, the greatest loss of all must be the sense of peace and safety that recent happenings have stolen from us and our household.  These may never return to us, no matter how hard we search for it or want it.  I certainly hope that I am wrong in thinking this, and that time, among other things may bring back those feelings, that sense of peace and security that are sorely lacking from our home. 

Already now, just this act of writing these words feels quite cathartic, I can only hope that this feeling continues. 

That is all for today, I think. I hope to return in the near future with other news of what may become of this URL and blog, but for today, suffice it to say this is a start, a resurrection of one more thing that had been lost in the recent past.

I sincerely hope that you, dear reader continue to check back periodically and by all means let me know that you were here. 

Thank you

 

So to put those aggregated posts into kitchen speak; No I’m not in the weeds on a personal level, I’m reaching up to grab the roots of the weeds.

 

Other than repeating stuff I have shared recently and not so recently in regards to my true and heartfelt desire to continue this site, and sharing what I can with those who visit here I would just like say Thanks for Reading, those of you who still make it here on occasion.

 

 

 

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Unemployed

Over the last couple of years I thought that seniority had successfully solidified this last position I held.  I was wrong…

 

Website resume

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The Pursuit

For over two years, in my “spare” time, I have been working towards attaining my Certified Chef de Cuisine (CCC) accreditation, for those of you that follow on Twitter you already know, I didn’t make it.  That doesn’t mean it’s over, just another year to wait before I can try again.  Now, a week and a half after my unsuccessful attempt at the final exam in the kitchen I can really begin to analyze what went wrong.  Of course I am not the most impartial judge of that but that still doesn’t mean I’m not going to.  I also have an extensive debriefing coming up in September to put me on the right track to attaining this certification next time around.

When I first began this journey a few years ago, I think it was more than anything to keep myself from falling into a rut of complacency.  As you all well know, my current venue of employ does not allow for much in the way of haute cuisine, just the feeding of the masses, and lots of them.  That kind of cooking does not allow for much in the way of finesse and that’s mostly what I was lacking in my attempt at the CCC certification.  The oft lamented fact of what I cook for a living as compared to what I would love to cook reared it’s (ugly) head once again, and this time it cost me in the form of not enough practice time to achieve the level of presentation required for this level of certification.  But enough with the excuses and explanations, cut and dried I didn’t make it, and neither did the vast majority of the candidates this year.  In my group only three out of twelve made it to the final two days of examination, and only one achieved his certification.

On the positive side of things, what I did take away from all of this is a sense of accomplishment, believe it or not, I managed to learn quite a few new things, even after all of my years in the kitchens, and I learned a fair bit about myself.  I also managed to find out what I don’t know.  Now armed with all of this knowledge, and the advice of some instructors/mentors, who will also be the examiners next time, and a full winter of practice, I see no reason for not achieving this, next year.

 

Yes I may have failed, but I learned so much that for now let us just say, I didn’t fail, I just have not passed, yet.

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Regrets

Explanations, excuses, good intentions, and more.  But, in the end what can I say, it’s been far too long in between anything put up on this blog.  Sorry folks.

I began this thing with only a vague idea of what I really wanted to do with it, and for quite some time it was a great place for me to vent, rant and share with any and all that chose to drop by and see what this site was all about.  I’m fairly certain that by now anyone that had shown any interest in what I had to say way back when has moved on to more fruitful pastures. Once again though, I hope that with this little bit of blogging I can dust the cobwebs off of the WordPress keyboard and my literary brain and begin to share a bit more of what has been going on in the interim, and what the grand plans for the future may be.

A couple of years ago I decided that I would get back into culinary academia, and pursue my CCC, (that would be my Certified Chef de Cuisine accreditation).  The position I have been in now for just about five years is certainly one that has enlightened me, and has brought financial stability to a life that had hit the skids pretty hard, but it surely is not a position that will ever expand my culinary knowledge or skills in any way, shape, or form.  Not that being a cook or chef has ever held much hope for early retirement or the beachfront house on the Mexican Riviera but at least I have been able to rebuild at a pace I had never imagined ten years ago.

Anyways, the school type stuff, while I was fairly certain that the courses I would have to take to qualify for the CCC accreditation wouldn’t be beyond my capacity it did end up being a year and a half or more that was at times, quite a bit of mental work.  Little does one realize how sedentary the gray matter can become when one has been out of the formal education system for a few decades.  Being someone that professes to being a lifelong learner is one thing, when you are learning things that really interest you, at a pace that is one of your own choosing learning does not even seem like it’s any effort at all, but when the subject matter is chosen by someone else, is in a format that may not be all that clear or comfortable, and in a time frame that may or may not be convenient to the life of an adult that already has a workload from hell, well that’s quite another story.  To keep this from getting any longer, let’s just say that it’s finally over.  Four, only four, courses are now out of the way, (one of which I actually had to take a second time due to that workload growing to beyond ridiculous last Christmas).  Now all that remains is a couple more exams, in May and June, and hopefully come the end of June I shall be a “Certified Chef de Cuisine”, for whatever that is worth.  It may or may not be worth a thing in what remains of my career in the kitchen, but at the very least I can say that I have achieved it, and it all began with purely personal goals anyways.

So while the hiatus may have now been broken, the main excuse that I have for being absent for so long is still with me for a little while.  Hopefully though, I shall never again let the dust settle quite so deeply here, and hopefully you, dear reader will come back and find something entertaining or educational in the near future.

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The Psychology of Cooking, Professionally

 

I have often wondered what it is that drives some of us to continue on in this business year after year, decade after decade. It is easy to understand why some might entertain the thought of entering the profession, especially these days with all of the media coverage of celebrity chefs, and celebrities pretending to be chefs. It has become fashionable and glamorized to the point of excess. What is sometimes puzzling is what it is that keeps us at it. Thankfully for those of us that have been bitten by whatever bug it is that causes us to work in such an inhospitable environment with all the accompanying hardships the one good thing the Food Network and uncounted cooking shows have brought us is a little respect, something that in my opinion was at the least lacking and at most non-existent in the first decade or two of my career. While working conditions,wages, focus on safety and labor standards seem to have improved overall I would still hesitate to recommend this profession to any young persons looking for a career choice. That is not to say that there will not always be some that are drawn to the work, that have a passion for service or for cooking and they are the ones that will be carrying on the industry long after we have been put out to pasture. Perhaps it is the adrenaline rush of a crazy service running perfectly, or the accolades received from a new special being served for the first time.

As I have often mentioned in this blog, my current position and venue here have little to do with fine dining or current trends in the business but is in fact still cooking and some days I have to say that I love it, even here, (only some though), I certainly do try to keep up on the happenings around town, and around the continent and it does seem to be a great time to be a chef. The list and quality of ingredients from around the world and around the corner is growing with every season, and the strides forward that are being made in traditional and non traditional equipment and techniques is enough to keep virtually every cook on the planet happily entertained for years to come, if only they are given the opportunity to use them. Wages and salaries for the most part have certainly increased somewhat, if not by the leaps and bounds that the industry seems to want to lead you to believe, but the latest survey that I took part in shows that it is at least a good living wage in many urban centers but of course the survey covered mostly our neighbor to the south. For years it seemed that the only way to relieve the boredom of the rut of a job was to move on to the newest and biggest and best restaurant down the road to push the envelope of knowledge a bit further, with the advent of the Web and proliferation of chef blogs and websites the information available to further yourself in this industry has grown exponentially. Since this information is available to all parties interested it seems that the dining public is also much more aware of the trends occurring everywhere and a growing number of them are interested in sampling whatever it is that you wish to create.

So what is it that has kept you cooking, if you are one, and what is it about this business that has you intrigued enough to wish to do it for a living if you are not, yet?

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Chicken is a Vegetable

Watch your Demographics,

 

Where I come from, Chicken is a vegetable.” Is a phrase that one of my guests here uttered to me the other night as he came back for a third slice of Prime Rib, totaling close to two pounds of meat he had ended up having for supper, nothing else, no jus, no horseradish, nothing. Tonight he was a little less focused on his protein, he had some dressing and gravy to go with his Turkey, and of course only one steak, to start. (Didn’t notice what he had for his second helping tonight, but he always comes back for at least one more helping of anything). Suffice it to say that some of these workers here come in with very healthy appetites. It certainly doesn’t hurt matters as far as they are concerned, that they don’t have to pay a dime for anything that they eat. It is very interesting to try to remember all of the guests and what their preferences are, while one may look at the plate of food presented them and say something like, “I guess that’ll do as an appetizer”, the next guest in line would not eat that much in two days.

But enough about my guests and the amount that they eat, the point of this article is not how much they eat, but what they find appealing. A couple of months ago I moved from one kitchen to another here on site, and the way they house the workers means that the demographics change even over the three kilometers separating me from the other kitchen. I have about a third of the population here as compared to the old camp and for example, when we have lamb on the menu, in any form, I go through as much here as the larger kitchen, with triple the guests. The list can obviously go on and on in this regard. So over the distance of just a couple of kilometers we can have such a disparity of popular menu choices, you can well imagine what kind of changes take place from province to province, (or state to state). When I was cooking on the West Coast I had a few dishes that I would serve in most every venue that I could and for the most part they sold quite well in all of them. As my ex and I moved to the prairies and I needed a special here and there I would, of course go to my old stand bys, tried tested and true. No such luck, while seafood on the coast in any form proves to be quite popular with the locals as well as the tourists I had no luck in selling it in the middle of the country. Orange Roughy just does not travel inland very well in my experience, battered and deep fried anything, and you may make a few sales. Likewise a lamb dish that received rave revues on the coast and actually got a mention in a national publication did not sell enough to justify ever trying again once I managed to sell off the original case of product. Now all of this is not to say that you can’t sell lamb in the prairies, or seafood anywhere but the coast(s), but in my experience, the coast has, or at least had, a much more metropolitan, or diversified, palate. As far as geography goes, west of the Great Lakes and east of the Rockies beef is King, and pork is a distant second. Of course chicken is chicken and a turkey here and there is at least acceptable but you had best have that nice large variety of beef on hand if you want them back in the doors on a regular basis. As you move into the higher end of the dining venues the tastes of the guest will become a little more adventurous, and refined, as you get into the more mainstream dining rooms and restaurants the tastes of the guest turns to the more mundane fair. Once you get to the chain restaurants, QSRs and the like, it’s no wonder that they all serve virtually the same menu, that is what the clientèle that frequent these places want.

To look at it from another perspective, that being the monetary one, the guest that is able to go out for a very nice meal (read expensive) on a regular basis is probably also the one that is willing and eager for a new and different taste sensation, the dining public that is frequenting the chains and fast food venues is more than likely the guest that is spending the same fraction of discretionary income on the meal outside of the home, but is not willing to part with that money on something unknown. That tried and true comes to bear again and those people are looking for a meal out just to not be cooking at home more often than not, as compared to the high end diner that is looking for something new, that more often than not they could not re-create at home even if they chose to.

It all boils down to knowing your guests, and where you are. There is nothing more difficult than moving to a new area and having to ascertain what the clientèle is hungry for. The three most important things in the business being location, location, and location work in more than one way.

 

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Sourcing in Canada 2.0

As much as I have always wanted to keep my purchases within Canada, and my wish is to pass along any information I can gather in regards to this, I just have to pass along this information even though it is to do with an American company (read duty and exchange, international purchase). For months I had been looking for a few rather difficult impossible to find ingredients here in town. It seems that unless you are in a large urban center (probably only Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto qualify) a lot of my shopping list is found online only. Even then I continued to attempt to find them within Canada on the web without success. Of course the Web is a wonderful place, and the epitome of global, but dealing with foodstuffs on an international basis is a dicey proposition at best, add shipping and exchange rates, duty and time frames into the mix it is a daunting task at best. Well, I took the plunge recently, and received my rewards at the post office, with the duty dutifully paid, I manage to finally acquire my first taste of a few rather esoteric (and consequently expensive) ingredients, esoteric for this neck of the woods anyways. For those of you out there that follow some of the more renowned chefs and restaurants, and have the urge to recreate the dishes that they have published or televised, the ingredient list can be daunting, and substitutions are not an option when attempting new flavor combinations. You just can not replace yuzu juice, for example, with another citrus when you have never tasted yuzu to begin with, and after you have tasted it, you realize that you can’t substitute anything since nothing else out there would do the dish justice. Fennel pollen is another one that had me quite intrigued, fennel, sure, anise and a couple of other flavors I could imagine, but what Fennel Pollen was really all about I had no idea, and just had to get me some. Glad I did.

So anyways, to get to the point of this post, Earthy Delights handled my relatively small purchase gladly and professionally, the order was shipped out promptly and shipping itself was not unreasonable, all things considered. Of course the one thing to keep in mine is that no matter what, you can still only order “non-perishable” items for international delivery, regardless of what company you find to deal with. In the end I would imagine the moral of this little story is, that while I would love to buy local, and of course seasonal as well, I am not going to limit myself to what I manage to find in Northern Alberta in my one week home out of every four. An adventurous palate with a global experience behind it is going to be somewhat bored with a local only ingredient list.

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Take a Moment, Relax

  

Fool's Sunset, April Fool's

Fool's Sunset, April Fool's

While around here I certainly can’t say to stop and smell the roses, or even suggest a couple of nice deep breaths most of the time, one can at least stop and appreciate the wonders of something as simple and regularly occurring as a sunset. Just so happened this evening that I had been busting my posterior for a few hours straight and just needed that cigarette before doing any packing up and changing to get out of the kitchen for the night. Had I done the packing up and changing first, as would be the usual, I would have missed a gorgeous sunset. Three minutes of relaxation and a colorful palette in the sky was enough to brighten the mood and reduce the stress caused by the usual onslaught of 1200 hungry workers coming through for their evening meal. For only a couple of days right about now, and then again in the autumn when the days are getting shorter will this sight greet me as I finish work. In a few days it’ll be daylight well past the time I finish for the day, and as we get closer to the solstice it will remain light annoyingly late into the night. Nice to have caught an evening without full cloud cover today.

Maybe I have a thing for sunsets, or maybe it is the sight of anything beautiful that makes you stop and appreciate it, that can take your mind off of the trials and tribulations of the daily routine, that is the way to rejuvenate at the end of the day

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The Care and Feeding of a Blog

Over the past year (and a bit) I have often lamented my inconsistency in posting, and apologized rather too frequently for my liking due to this. Although I cannot seem to figure out how to bring regular posting into my daily routine my food-centric nature has led me to these following thoughts:

 

I read, and have read many different blogs and they can certainly be personified in these ways:

There are a few blogs out there that suffer from obesity; they suffer the North American malady of being regularly stuffed full with far too much junk (food). There are the blogs that are simply overweight, they have been fed too much and do not have a good balance in their diet. There are the trim, healthy blogs that seem to have found a good balance in their diet and are nimble, fit, and energetic, and are bound to live long, happy and prosperous lives. There are the ones that seem to be a little underweight, verging on skinny, these are the ones that seem to be well fed some of the time, but are put on a starvation diet far too often, (this is where I feel this site is currently standing).

In the same way I have a new pair of running shoes gathering dust under my bed here because I can’t seem to manage to make it into the gym to follow up on my desire to rearrange a couple of pounds on my body I can’t seem to get into the routine of sitting down and writing for a few minutes, or longer, on any kind of a regular basis. I get up and make it to work on time day in and day out but that’s where the reliability seems to end.

Just so that anyone out there actually reading is aware that I’m not intending to let my blog die of malnutrition, here’s the bone being thrown to the starving blog. Hope to be putting it on a nice healthy diet soon. Whether or not I can remains to be seen, but I really hope to. ;)

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Short Staffed???

One of the things that seems to be chronically a problem most everywhere I have worked is the issue of staffing. Over the years there has been only a very small number of venues that have had the stability of staff and volume to rarely experience an issue with being short staffed, or overstaffed. From an employees standpoint, no one wants to get sent home early because of lack of work, or lose a shift because of lack of business, and from an employers viewpoint, the last thing you want is to be paying for staff that are being under utilized. Labor cost being one of the few areas that can be managed on an hour by hour basis. Conversely though, no one wants to be critically short staffed either, when quality or service are compromised due to a shortage of staff, absolutely no one wins. When it happens on a regular basis and the customer is suffering in one way or another, soon staffing will be the least of ones concerns.

In this current position, staffing is a very unique problem, as are most of the ones we deal with on a day to day basis. But I am really starting to wonder how long we can go on being “short staffed” on such a long term scale, before we don’t even think of it as being short anymore? When we actually have the “correct” number of bodies around, the job suddenly becomes quite easy, relatively speaking. But this situation is such a rare occurrence in the past couple of months that we are starting to consider it a treat to not be running full tilt just to make it though the day successfully.

Every time I have taken the time to consider this situation it reminds me of the time a number of years ago when I read about our government’s effort to reduce the number of people living at, or below, the poverty level. Their solution, rather than any grand scheme to employ people, or increase the wages, or reduce the cost of living was to simply lower the dollar figure used to calculate the amount needed to live comfortably. Using this school of thought I’m sure that my employer is simply experimenting with just how “short staffed” we can be and still manage. Until of course the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back occurs, and then you can rest assured that it will be a case of the staff not working hard enough because, by the employer’s calculations, we are fully staffed.

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