Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Sweet Lowdown

I'm not sure that Chris Carraba got a whole lot of things right. He pioneered the emo movement in rock music, which ensured that the Warped Tour and Alternative Press would be able to ensure financial solvency for many years to come. It's not to say that emo is without merit, without it we wouldn't have the bands that most people I know spent their late teens and early twenties rocking out to in an seemingly endless effort to explain all the feelings we had. Teenagers are pretty fucked up to begin with, but knowing that there were seemingly "cooler" people that had the same feelings as us definitely made it easier. Which brings my to my point, "Dashboard Confessional" is a great name for a band. In all reality it's a great name idea in general, and one that I can personally relate to very well. Driving home at the end of the night I don't take the long way. I take laps. There's a lot of pressure that goes into working in a restaurant, and while more often than not, most of us handle the release of that pressure with some sort of chemical enhancement, my preferred method has always been to roll the windows down and crank the stereo. There have been a lot of moments in my life where I didn't have anywhere to turn to. As a pre-teen (God I hate that expression), I was picked on, beat up, ridiculed and all of the other things that kids do to torture each other. Headphones became a way to drown out the jeers and take myself to another place. I was raised on Kenny Loggins blaring through the house on a Sunday morning while dressing for church. We listened to the Who and the Beatles on road trips and I always have had an appreciation for what that music meant, but as an eleven year old my mother bought me a TAPE of Green Day's album "Insomniac." They used the word fuck in their lyrics and had more than their fair share of punk rock cliche metaphors, but what struck me was the sound of the distorted guitar that would gouge into my ears through my walk-man headphones. If you've never listened to the album, but enjoy "American Idiot" take a listen, they were laying the groundwork. Songs can tell a story and Green Day was always very adept at that. Punk rock is very one note, and the message is usually clear if you're willing to scratch the surface. And yes it's punk rock, anyone that wants to disagree with me can kiss my ass, I've been around enough to know it when I see it. The problem I so often see with three chord snarl and wail is that the sound isn't complex and music is about an experience. I've got Zach Brown Band's intro to the song "Free" playing right now, and the lonely yet hopeful sound of the violin is complex. It haunts the heart, like the long distant cannon fire of a battle that was fought but never won. That's the power of the complex sound of music, it can define our lives and harken us back to a place that we haven't been for years but make us feel like we were just there. There have been many times in my life that the only way I feel like I can communicate is through the words and sound of someone else. To further muddle my point I'll refer to "the Legend of Bagger Vance." The caddy refers his forlorn golfer to watch the swing of perhaps the greatest golfer to ever live Bobby Jones. His swing is described as grace in motion and each practice swing is searching for that one perfect alignment, to allow the very complicated physics involved to meet in one moment to release into the perfect swing. I never really understood that until I watched Rich Robinson play by himself during a farewell tour for the Black Crowes. He had a basic open tuning riff that he was slowly playing over and over and as he went deeper into it the pace increased as did the syncopation and eventually the little five note riff turned into a snarling monstrosity that assaulted the senses in the way that only a Gibson Les Paul through an over distorted Marshall amp can. His eyes closed tighter as he got to his sweet spot, and just as you could feel the room getting to explode with the build up he released his hands off the fret board and slid smoothly into one of the sweetest intros to a song I've ever heard, "Thorn in My Pride." Baseball coaches talk about pitchers who struggle with their command and speed, waiting to be able to connect A to B. Quarterbacks who can't see two steps ahead. I remember watching "For Love of the Game" (yes it's a Kevin Costner movie, and yes it's cheesy if you have smartass comment, I understand) and hearing "and one day it all just arrives." Which leads me to my long forgotten and over complicated point. To be good in this business, you're stuff has to arrive. Two to three steps ahead is a must. Each move in the kitchen must be calculated, because wasted motion hinders those around you, the ebb and flow of four men working in a hot confined space is a complicated and at times beautiful mess. Controlled chaos and ballet holding hands. The focal point the chef. Being able to direct cooks to funnel their mess into a clean concise plate is like searching for that one note to bring you back round the bend, to find that sweet spot and settle into a groove. When it works, the high I have is enough to take me almost straight home, at least it's only one cigarette in the truck. When it slaps you in the face, it's more like three or four, but the good new is we can always wake up and try again tomorrow. I'll tie music in again one more time. Allison Krauss and Union Station have been burning up the live music scene for as long as I've cared for that kind of music. The dobro player is playing the same riff over and over until he finds what he's looking for. That one moment where the sound aligns and he can launch off to the next level. That's what I'm looking for, that next level, or as Social Distortion says "the sweet lowdown..."

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Dreams can be a fickle thing.
As anyone who's ever had them, know they are often just that. The courage it takes to pick up from the safety of a cookie cutter life to chase them down and try to capture lightning in a bottle, to chase the sun across the horizon in an everlasting battle to fight the very rotation of the earth in order to make the change required to reach that apex of realizing a dream in is in a word difficult.
Fitzgerald argued that it's not the end result but the journey and the smile and more often than not tears that make the end result more gratifying, even going so far as to suggest that the end result is irrelevant as it relates to the journey. AC/DC put it more bluntly. "It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll."
The power of dreams are what can pull us out of bed everyday but it is also the same double edged sword that will leave us confined to that very same bed for days weighed down by the crushing reality of the difficulty involved in rewriting life's story written into the stars. The first step may be the scariest but it is rarely the hardest. Tolkein speaks of Sam's unbreakable will and strength of spirit, that is the inspiration and that is what fate demands of us. The rub is that the journey is often lonely. Finding another like minded individual to share in the adversity is near impossible. So given the circumstance why would anyone in their right mind ever undertake such a long and lonesome path.
Love. It's what defines us as humans, the need to howl at the moon or stare down the sun, or in my case don a white jacket with my name stitched in Tuscan blue and stand in the kitchen. My kitchen.
The Culinary Institute of America asks it's potential applicants to compose an essay describing the circumstances and people that lead them to pursue their culinary dreams. I covered a fair amount of it in my last post. The main idea being that when the rest of my life had turned to shit I found solice in the quiet of hum of the kitchen as it rests dormant in the afternoon, waiting for the next turn. Because there is always a next turn. There's a cheesy metaphor for life in there but I don't have the inclination to try to explain that to someone who doesn't easily understand it's application. The longer I sit in restaurants the more I can see the imprint of life left in each experience and a skewed, frequently alcohol tinged view of what the real world is like. Reporting live from day 1,521 of the grind. Maybe Fitzgerald was right.
"just a leap of faith across a busy boulevard of broken dreams..." Carbon Leaf

Sunday, May 29, 2011


It's been a while since I last posted and I've been mulling this idea over for quite some time. So as is always the case let's see what a few late vodka tonics, coupled with a frustratingly long holiday weekend can conjure up about a topic that I've always deemed too poetic to tackle.
I've stated in this blog before that one of the things I appreciate about my job is the opportunity to work with my hands on a daily basis.

Hands help you write the story as well as remind you of the process that you've taken to get there. When I was twenty two years old I cut my finger with a Cutco knife while preparing my first crawfish etouffe. I was moving too quickly and using the wrong knife and there it went slice right into the ring finger on my right hand. It was the first real serious cut of my life and it probably needed stitches, but what did I do? I shoved it right into a piece of paper towel, covered it with a band-aid and continued working. There were several valuable lessons to be learned in that situation. First being that pain is irrelevant, when you have a job to do, as long as you can do it in a sanitary matter, the job gets done. I tell my cooks all the time that unless you are bleeding out on someones entree, just because you cut yourself doesn't mean you get to go home. The second lesson was that duct tape can truly fix anything that is worth fixing. Good cooks know that a band-aid won't fix a bad cut or a burn, it'll serve as a barrier. But have you ever gone back to cooking after a sever finger laceration? Probably not. Duct tape has the advantage of first being nearly waterproof and second nearly totally heat resistant. I know heat and a cut don't normally strike a bell, but try lopping off the top of your pinky finger and then taking that measly little band-aid over the top of a five hundred degree charbroiler. That fuckers gonna hurt.
Now I'm sure you may find this grizzly and even a little fascinating, but hardly poetic. Let me tell you a story. I dropped out of college when I was 20 years old. I was a self absorbed, frequently drunk brat with no work ethic. I was still under the illusion that everyone would buy my bullshit because I had pretty blue eyes, and was able to keep my manners together long enough to fake my way through a job interview. I ended up with a job working at a local office supply store. It started out simply enough but when it became apparent that the only real reason that I was hired was to carry large heavy boxes of furniture, copy paper and printers around the warehouse style store, I was less than thrilled. Unloading a large eighteen wheeler of pallets is a long and arduous process. The truck was parked at an angle and we would essentially put hand operated forklift under these pallets, and raise them up high enough for gravity to take over, and simply ride them down the back of the truck until slamming on the brakes before the whole eight foot colossus could ram our backs into the bailer. OSHA would not have approved.
Any ego I had about the fact that I was one day "going back to college," was quickly put to rest. After a messy break-up with a psychotic fiance I ended up in a kitchen. Where most cooks can't pick up anything resembling hot, I was able to grab fry baskets, hand stack cottage fries at an Irish pub and pull beer battered fish straight up from the fryer, all because of the hours of abuse that my hands had endured unloading the very HP printers that you curse on a daily basis for the price of ink. The other idea that I had begun to embrace through my time in the office supply store, located in a very swank shopping district, that continued on in the restaurant is that most people are assholes. I hate to make such a broad assumption, but they are, I mean I am too so don't think I'm looking down too high up from my horse. People that by profession serve or assist other people will never be anything more than just that, to MOST people. I have many fabulous examples to prove the contrary, but they are few and far between, and I have been at this a little while. So walking into a very busy kitchen of an oceanfront Irish pub, I was more equipped than I thought. Bourdain says that you can't fake your way in a kitchen. I did. Kind of. I had a jaded disposition, which fits in well, after all I had just had my heart broken and needed to spend an entire summer drunk on a beach in North Carolina to recover. I had a nagging alcohol habit, thanks to the summer in North Carolina as well as the psychotic fiance. I didn't really care what anyone though of me personally, I just needed money seeing as the previously mentioned alcohol habit had helped me blow two grand of the money I made in North Carolina. Most importantly I had my hands, I didn't need an extra towel to grab a hot saute pan, or sizzler platter. Maybe Bourdain couldn't fake it because he was still a little soft, but my hands were well on their way to being like "Tyrone's." If you don't know the reference, don't read this blog again until you read "Kitchen Confidential."
Is any of this poetic?
I like to think so.
While many of my friends were still falling in love for the first time, I was counting my pennies to be able to move out, pay off creditors. I had bosses I hated but learned how to work with. I had life experiences that I think beat sitting in a library studying for mid-terms, sitting at some dumbass fraternity party playing asshole. At twenty two I was getting off work at six and slinking into a bar stool with the same stiffs, twenty years older than me after a long work day and trading stories about kids, life and the Rolling Stones. I ended up in a kitchen where I learned how to use my instincts, heart and my head. Eric Church has a great few lines in a song called guys like me but the one that always strikes me is "You went to college, I pulled graveyards..." One night I sat in the back kitchen with a near third degree burn on the ring finger of my left hand wrapping duct tape. It was 1:45 in the morning and I was wrapping duct tape around my hands.
Hands tell as story.
My story.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Eat Differently Than You

I want to clarify the title. By stating that I eat differently I am NOT stating that I eat better, healthier, more or less than you. Just different. I'm a restaurant professional, and actually I'm going to contradict myself and state that yes, there are times I eat better than you. An evening with a Grouper that had been caught literally 20 minutes ago and some exquisite home-made hot sauce at a very popular tapas restaurant at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront rings a bell. You know who you were if you were there for it.
Before I continue on tonight's sermon of mixed emotion, pent up frustration and general fuckery I should add that the soundtrack is "Wheels" by Foo Fighters.
Back to the point.
I've always been good at making a generalized statement. The follow up not so much. I guess that's why if you look back at my limited and debauched portfolio as a writer there are a lot of one sentence paragraphs.
Like this one.
Let's start with when I eat. As a restaurant professional the average time of my meals is the following hours, 5 a.m. (that's dinner or breakfast), 8 a.m. (also dinner or breakfast), 3:45 p.m. (the only lunch I know) and any time between 11 p.m and 3 p.m. (dinner, late night snackies). The noted gap is between 3 and 5 a.m.
There haven't ever been any meals between this hours because of two things, I'm either engaged in something far more heinous, I'm in an alcohol induced coma or we're in the process of crafting the 5 a.m. dinner. This brings me to an art form that I myself have not taken part in in quite sometime. Anyone who reads this that knows me professionally will be able to quickly point out my perennial partner in crime at this venture, and many of you have been poured the finest pint of Guinness in Virginia Beach by him. You know who he is. He's also the most fantastic chef in Virginia Beach between the hours of 3 and 7 a.m. and the Mustard Pork chops with gherkins are always a fan favorite, as is the wide array of shots that will certainly put you over the edge. The dish I'm thinking of has a much fancier French name I'm just usually too inebriated to be able to offer up what the ACTUAL dish is. It's the kind of dinner that you conk out on a couch at 6:30 a.m. and wake up at 10 a.m. ready to head to Doc Taylor's for French Toast with red wine stains on your teeth and a painful memory of jamming out that crap cd you pulled out of the back of our "Caselogic" driving over to the house. It was probably Nickelback. It's ok.
We've all been there.
For those of you unfamiliar with Doc's, go. It'll change your life.
The when is the most important part, I had planned another very detailed and condescending description of the other ways that I eat differently but I'll leave them alone. I've used the term restaurant professional several times and as I learned in some early writing class in college it's always very important to clarify your terms. By restaurant professional I mean someone that lives the life, and unless you know that you do, I can't quantify what that means. I can tell you that it doesn't mean a bullshit busboy job that you got when you were 14 and didn't give a fuck about anyone but yourself. A true restaurant professional has been stuck a this for a while, mostly because we're good at it. We don't whine we still carry that blue collar, work with my hands mentality that at some point was lost on the youth of today. And the hours are the true sacrifice that we make so that you can have your down time, our down time happens when usually the only food options we have rest between IHOP and Taco Bell. I'll tell you honestly, the greatest meal I've ever had happened in then sweaty back kitchen of Murphy's in mid-August on a Friday night. It was a petite New York strip, Irish Rashers a few grilled tomatoes and some asparagus. I took the first bite and broke a tooth that had been bugging me for several weeks. I had worked 11 hours leading up to it with two harrowing rushes in that time span and the every challenging and mind bending preparation that is a restaurant kitchen. Broken tooth and all I finished.
It was lunch.
I went back to my friends house that night and the chops, with shallots and dijon vinaigrette with some thick sliced bacon and gherkins went down well with the glass of Bordeaux, as well as the shots of Jager I needed to get through the pain of a broken tooth.
So maybe it's not condescending, and I'm sure there's not really much of a point here, but yeah.
I eat differently.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A test drive...

My first shot at this was going to be full of piss and vinegar.
And for those of you that were expecting that I promise you there is much more of that to follow in the coming posts, but after the events of the week and tonight I cannot bring myself to be but so angry. As we are all guilty of from time to time, I forgot about the bigger picture when drafting the first editions of this blog. As with all things in life, it's important to take things in context, or with a "grain of salt." If you know me, context means "soundtrack." So tonight's soundtrack is "On the Wing" by Owl City, and if you don't like that or have anything negative to say fuck off (ok so maybe some piss and vinegar).
Someone who I respect told me that I should write a book and keep track of my experiences while working in the restaurant industry.
This is it.
I have no apologies.
Bar-stool philosophy is a strange and terrible beast.
Like I mentioned before I had a mildly entertaining rant about those in my profession that claim they are chefs without the know-how or training to make such outlandish claims. And although I've never been one to shy away from the cheap laugh, I have more to offer, I hope. For those of you unfamiliar with "bar-stool philosophy" take three shots of rail liquor, and down two draft beers in the course of an hour and then you'll be in a similar state of mind to understand the kind of logic that comes from such ventures. It also helps if you have worked in a stressful and physically demanding environment for anywhere from 10 to 14 hours continuously. You could also add in extreme hot and extreme cold temperatures, the occasional "hot boxed" cigarette, and if you are like some of the coworkers I've had in the past a "bump" off the back of a dirty toilet seat wouldn't hurt either. To further complicate situations you could be fucking a co-worker or have fired someone earlier that day. But it's pay day and you sat down in that mighty comfortable stool and the first sip of beer is as refreshing as it is cold and you for several seconds forget about the daily rubix cube of personalities. A song comes on the jukebox that we all know, probably mid nineties alternative, Blind Melon or maybe Smashing Pumpkins. It takes you back to a simpler time. For me it's always the first album I bought at Tower Records in Richmond, it was Green Day's Dookie and I couldn't have been more enamored. And when "Longview" comes on I'm sorry but  I'm gonna tell the story of when I heard that song for the first time and how it lead to the musical nirvana that I currently reside in. I'm sorry but I listen to really good fucking music, and I won't compromise on that point.
I digress.
This is when the concept of "bar-stool" philosophy comes into play. Inevitably someone will bitch about something. In our ultimate wisdom we well wax poetic about how you should do the necessary things to better yourself and not get trapped in the soul killing venture that you're currently wrapped up in. You'll continue for one maybe two drinks until you realize that you're giving advice that applies to you as aptly as it applies to the victim of your alcohol induced, self serving rant. The question then presents itself in your slightly inebriated, drug addled mind, am I arrogant enough to offer advice that I myself am too scared to take?
If you answered yes this blog might be for you...
I'll quote something from my self-serving, new age bullshit, New Year's resolution...

Maybe the human soul is kept alive by knowing that no matter how bad we fuck up, God willing we get another shot at it tomorrow. And if I get that shot I have a resolution.
Stop Being Scared.

I have many things to comment on, about things that are not that important. However, it is in the minutia that we find the true pattern of life's workings, and maybe, just maybe I won't be scared enough to have something to say...