Methods to Our Madness (Black is BOSS)

Good things comes to those who wait.

I have identified two things which dominate in our kitchen: Shun knives and black.

The magnetic strip holds only Shun knives. It was amusing to me to wash all of them at the end of service last night and line them up nicely on the prep table. It’s even funnier that Chef and Matt are often looking for their knives because they have the same one, and they’re always mixing them up and taking each other’s. Well, no, actually, Matt takes Chef’s, but not the other way around. Nobody takes mine or Jason’s because we’re special that way.

And then there’s the black.

There’s something about black. It was a huge deal when I finally got black karate uniforms. My white uniforms hung in the back of my closet for those times when, God forbid, I’d neglected to launder my black uniforms. The pants were a bigger deal than the tops; if I had to wear a white top, I’d at least try to wear black pants.

I vaguely remember sorting my clothes by color once in junior high and having more black clothes than anything else. Until very recently, my eyes when shopping were drawn first to black; that only changed when Daddy verbalized his preference for me in sanguine. (Not that he actually said sanguine; he said “red,” but trust me, he did not mean red leaning towards orange or red leaning towards pink. Legit red. Like sanguine.)

Unlike when Jason gave me a red (sanguine!!!) neckerchief, I successfully contained my excitement when Chef handed me my black jacket on Wednesday. I said my thanks and quietly put it aside.

So much for poise. Matt was sent to get small ice cream scoops shortly afterwards. When he came back, he set the package in the window. Shortly after, I was at pastry sorting/counting/cleaning plates for the wine dinner, Matt and Jason were on the line, and Chef came over and stood next to me as he opened the package. He and Matt had some exchange about the scoops being nice and reasonably priced. “Awww, they’re so cute!” I couldn’t help commenting. Chef gave me a look and tossed the scoops’ plastic wrapping at me with some incredulous reprimand that I didn’t quite catch. I was doubled over laughing, and when I came up for air, Chef threw the scoops’ boxes at my head and made me laugh harder. Jason had this wide-eyed what-just-happened-here look – he’d missed the whole conversation, and so Chef explained as he tossed more paper wrapping at my face – and Matt had apparently never heard me laugh quite that hard before, so while Jason’s used-to-Ais-losing-it reaction to the explanation was just, “Oh, geeze,” and, “NO LAUGHING IN THE KITCHEN, AIS,” and Chef wasn’t helping by aiming more trash at me, Matt… Matt’s reaction was indescribable. I can’t… I just can’t explain. Fail. It was great.

It came up again during service last night. Matt’s friend from Nada, Toby (Tobias), arrived in the middle of service and graciously helped us out on the line for a couple of hours. Nice guy, and he gets major points for pronouncing nunchucks properly. Anyway, the point is, Toby used the word ‘cute,’ and nobody objected to it, so I called everybody out and asked why Toby didn’t get things thrown at him for it. “I didn’t throw things at you…” “Yes, you did!!!!!” “It was probably paper or something…” RME. Chef was kind enough to say later while at Yesterdays that even if he does throw paper at me, what he calls my ‘positive attitude’ is a good thing and that I should keep it up.

Brad from Queensgate stopped in on either Tuesday or Thursday. The people you think you’ll never see again! He said something about Receiving being a completely new sea of faces and that was what he didn’t like about it. (“Awww,” moment.)

I thought Jason would be going home early on Thursday, but it turned out that he was working saute and I was to prep until I was needed. I was called up for two waves, the latter was the closing wave, and upon finishing, Matt promptly yelled, “Who wants to stay and cook late nite stuff?? Onetwothree- NOT IT!” “Fine,” was Jason’s reply, “So clean up and get the f*ck out of here.”  I was tired and I knew everyone else was tired, and on the one hand, it was slightly tactless of Matt, and on the other hand, Jason wouldn’t be with us for the weekend. I decided they were just being boys and kept my mouth shut. I didn’t object to Matt leaving early and I didn’t object to having to clean up with Jason like old times. Hey, at least we didn’t have proteins to cryo-vac.

I didn’t mean to be cross, but I suppose I was ever so slightly towards Matt when he was following my scrub-down with a towel and telling me how I’d missed a great wine dinner and he was sure I would have had fun. I’m sure I would have, too, but it wasn’t the time to be telling me I’d missed out on a good night, especially a wine dinner, of all things to be missing, when we were all tired and just wanted to go home, and he’d volunteered himself to the first one to be cut. I think I sounded civil enough when I told him to get going, and assured him that Jason and I had things covered.

And it did feel a little like old times, Jason and I being the last ones out of the kitchen and heading up at the same time to clock out.

Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday were fun, but the real fun began on Friday…

Jason had mentioned a while ago that Chef would be teaching a class at MCI. He had no specifics to share.

I forgot about it.

I went in to prep in between classes on Friday from 1330ish to 1600, left for Food Anthropology, and then made it back to work for service at around 1800. Sometime in the middle of prep, Chef mentioned that he had an MCI class the next day that he had yet to write a menu for. He said I was going to help him write it. I assumed he was mostly kidding. Bad assumption to make.

While I was at school, I went to check out what the school site said about Chef’s class. The title of the class was Secrets of Mantra Hill, and said that Chef would be teaching the students unique/special cooking techniques and stuff about spices to make it possible to recreate the “magic of Mantra” at home. I thought that was amusing. I mentally filed it away for later.

Sometime close to service, Chef asked if I could help type up the recipes. I thought he meant the recipes we use for work, but what he really meant was, could I help type up the recipes for the recipe packets for the class. What it came down to was that he and Matt felt completely lost when it came to computers and pretty formatting stuffs. It came out that I’d been interested in web design at some point in life. They looked at each other. “Okay! You’re doing the recipes! Great!”

Service was smooth and not too crazy; we only did 40-something covers and actually had time to clean/break down three cases of chicken while waiting to officially close the kitchen. I thought we might get out early, but then there was this class business to take care of. Service was punctuated with random, “How about putting this on the class menu?” ideas from Chef and Matt. “Chef, do you know what it says on the site about your class?” I asked nonchalantly. “No! What does it say??” I paraphrased. Chef gave me a look, then gave Richard a look, and said, “****. Ok. So that is what I’m doing.” And he still didn’t have a menu.

When the last table left, Zach left as well. Matt and I headed over to the bar to join Chef. Matt was working on the prep list, Chef was working on writing recipes – he’d written down about half of them by the time I took my seat – and trying to get a pack list together for Matt to knock out for us while we worked on technical stuff. Through tactful-but-bordering-on-hysterical questions from moi, I determined several very important things. It turned out that due to communication issues… Well. Chef was tired, and I knew that MCI people would be stressing over whether or not he’d actually be showing up at all, that they so far did not know what at all to expect even if he did, especially since they didn’t have any of the recipes beforehand and had never received a requisition.

Matt left sometime past 0100 after he’d finished the prep list; we had to let him go, because he was basically just sitting there waiting for us to come up with what we needed for class. By this time, I had brought my laptop in, Chef sat writing recipes, I typed them up and formatted them, got a pack list and an equipment list together, sent emails to MCI peeps, and generally tried to think of everything that would make the whole thing go as smoothly as possible for us, the events team, and Receiving. We tried to print the recipes, but ran out of paper, and it was close to 0200. We decided to print out the rest in the morning.

The roads home were terrible. I made it home by 0230 and tried to sleep, but adrenaline and street lights are not kind to exhausted people who legitimately need said sleep. My alarm clock was set for 0500, because I knew that if I set it for 0545 which was my actual get-up time, I’d turn it off and go to sleep for another hour. I finally made myself get up at 0550 to take a shower, go through the recipes again and finish our pack list.

It was still raining and even though I left at 0645, I didn’t get to work until 0735. I had realized while driving that I’d made our pack list for 8 sets of recipes for the students and completely forgotten about the 9th set for Chef to demo with. I spent my last 10 minutes re-doing the pack list amounts.

I walked in to work at 0745; the door was open, a few lights were open, the bar still bore the evidence of our late night – scattered papers, stemware, pens, and a phone – and I assumed that Chef had unlocked the door for me and was somewhere parking, since he didn’t answer my tentative half-yells of greeting.

It turned out that he had given the key to Matt, who had not locked the front door before leaving us, and of course, Jason had the other key… I started getting my pack list together, but Chef didn’t actually arrive until 0810. I was getting concerned that he wasn’t downstairs checking on me, so I went upstairs and texted him to ask where he was. He came out of the office almost at once, but had literally just arrived.

We finished up the pack list and realized that we did not have enough pomegranate juice, so we quickly googled a Kroger, and agreed to meet at MCI. I was to go ahead with all the food, and Chef would go shopping.

I arrived at MCI at 0907 and was in the classroom by 0910. Christine was there, and Miranda and Monty were two of our student helpers. The other two, I had not met previously, but I was very pleased to at least know half of the team right off the bat. Christine had gotten my email, and I spent a quick three minutes touching base with the team. We got the food unloaded and began the portioning. They already had stations set up equipment-wise, so that was a huge load off of all our backs. They did a phenomenal job taking everything I threw at them in stride and getting everything knocked out while I sorted out a few needs with Receiving and got recipe packets together. Nicholas was extremely helpful and supportive; my Receiving family saves the day again. Heaven bless them.

Chef had six recipes, the menu was dinner for four, and none of the recipes had any instructions on them; rather, Chef had wanted space left for notes. I stayed until noon, and mostly ran back and forth between the classroom and Receiving. It was nice running into people I knew – chefs, overlook peeps, police, and Tom (who I can never think of or run into anymore without remembering that our grad program proclaimed him to be Reverend Tom Hale) – and a little weird to not be in my MCI uniform while walking around MCI.

By noon, however, I do confess that I was beginning to feel the effects of sleep deprivation, and mentally kicking myself for volunteering at all, but then… I remembered that Chef Vogel had a class on Saturdays, so I headed to 004 to see if he was in. I found Chef Fieler subbing for Vogel.

Long story short, Chef Fieler has cancer, and something about one lung no longer working.

I haven’t seen Chef since February, when he came in for dinner at Daveed’s. He’s fighting. At this point, he said, “It’s fight or die.” I haven’t blogged much about Chef Fieler, but I’ve always been incredibly fond of him. He’s another one of my grandfather-figure Chefs.

I stopped kicking myself. Of course God had His reasons for bringing me to MCI out of the blue.

Please pray for Chef Fieler. I don’t know if I’ll see him again, I hope that I do at least once more, but either way, I pray that his struggle will not be too painful, and that if it must be the end, that it will be a peaceful one.

With that new God-sent perspective, I headed to work and arrived at about 1220. Chef did not get out early as he had predicted [and I hadn’t had the heart to say firmly that it wouldn’t happen], and arrived around 1400 or slightly past. “Tired, Chef?” “No, I’m mentally dead.” When his students had walked in, he’d said, “GOOD MORNING, CLASS,” in a very loud voice, which I am used to, and which made all the students jump; he only told me later that he’d said it to wake himself up more than anyone else.

Chef needed to sleep at least a little, and both Matt and I knew it. We couldn’t afford to have him half dead for service. I could afford to be half dead, but Chef couldn’t. I insisted as forcefully as I could that he go take a nap. He obliged and attempted to make himself comfortable on the couch in the dining room…

But then four ladies walked in and woke him.

Matt and I didn’t know what was going on until well after the fact; what we did know was that Chef did not get his power nap, and it was necessary for us to drop everything we were attempting to prep upstairs and attempt to fill time with a slightly longer sidebar and portioning naan downstairs.

It turned out that a woman was in from CA who had just published her 19th cookbook, and Chef’s friend had wanted Chef to meet said woman and have him show her the tandoor and stuff. Chef ended up making naan for them, and it was the clearing of the naan prep table and the presence of four ladies drinking wine and trying to take pictures of the kitchen and the tandoor while staying clear of the flames that might light their hairspray that forced me and Matt off the line.

I sincerely hope that they enjoyed the experience and that the introduction was beneficial for Chef.

Still, we were cramming. Prepping food is considerably more difficult to cram than homework.

We managed. Somehow. I don’t know how, but we did, praise God. By 5, I was ready to crash and cry. I hope it wasn’t too obvious. Maybe it was, considering how many people offered me Red Bulls. I’m proud to say I’m still clean in that respect, but I did succumb to needing caffeinated soda. Mostly only because Josh offered.

Within an hour and a half, I was wide awake and crazy again.

We did just under 100 covers, but, God be praised, Chef and Matt and Nathan and I all agreed that it hadn’t felt any more difficult than the night before. I think Josh was the only one going crazy. Seriously, though, he needs to chill outttt. So there were a few bordering-on-harsh words between us prior to service, and I’m willing to bet anything on the soda offer being only because he didn’t want me to bother him in the middle of service with a drink request.

I clocked out at 23:59. My belly was crazy full – Chef fed me gobi and tomatoes with chaat and salad, and I had been snacking on kalimirch and mushrooms and laal maas scraps – and so I consented to a Yuengling when Ray walked in and I realized he’d be hanging out with us for a bit. Nathan stayed, too, and he and Ray and Chef and Matt and I sat at the bar for a bit. Matt wanted us to come hang out with him and Toby downtown. I was definitely not going, but I agreed to step into Yesterdays for a bit.

Nathan and I went out to drop our backpacks off in our respective cars, and on my way back up the hill, a voice called out from the alley, “Ais! What?? Walking the streets of Mt. Adams alone??”

Jared’s facial hair is back =) I’m so glad. I had to tell him so. He laughed and said he felt the same. We chit-chatted for a bit and his enthusiasm concerning Metropole was thrilling and contagious. I’m so happy and excited for Jared, and I hope I get a chance to visit him. It was a relief to be able to tell Jared in person that I miss working for him, not in a bad way about the current kitchen, but purely because he was great sous chef to be working for. I sincerely wish him all the best and can’t wait to hear about the amazing things he’s sure to be doing.

Ray and Nathan and Chef came out to join us, and Chef told Jared that he should come experience Mantra sometime. He also added that, “We got Ais; what could go wrong?” “Chef,” I groaned, “Please don’t say that to Jared. Please.” We were all laughing, but… well. It was ever so slightly embarrassing. I mean, it’s Jared. So maybe there are some insecurities I’ll never get over, not in the sense that I carry them over into new times and new situations, but rather that they are undeniably attached to the past, and when the past is referenced… they resurface in that moment that has suddenly touched the past.

Nathan and I watched Chef and Matt play billiards over at Yesterdays, and then we went out back for some fresh air.

I really couldn’t help dancing. And Chef’s not half bad at dancing himself. And Nathan likes swing dancing!! This excites me greatly.

You could say that Nathan’s my newest ‘find’ friends-wise. He’s at UC! Yay =D He’s doing an internship at P&G, and the only class he’s taking this semester is The History of the Beatles. (So many of my friends have taken that class, it’s crazy.)

Chef was concerned that I only had a t-shirt on and it was freezing. I actually had two t-shirts on, but even so, I needed to ask Ray to assure Chef that this was a perfectly normal thing for me to do. He was still concerned. Lol.

Matt wants to know if I’ll sing a karaoke duet with him if he promises to practice for the next six months.

Suffice to say, reply pending.

I ended up getting home at 0230 again.

All in all, it was a crazy fun week.

I still believe that I have the best job in the world. I know I am fortunate in that way. I may be exhausted, but that the love I have for what I have chosen to do with my life is God-given and blessed continues to be affirmed.

I’m glad Jason was away this weekend. It wasn’t terrible, and I hope he’s having fun wherever he is, away from everything that could have potentially majorly stressed him out. I hope he comes back in a good mood.

In the meantime, I feel considerably closer to a number of persons just because of how demanding this weekend was. I’m glad, because as we all know, major stress has the potential to make things worse between people… hence my last New Year’s Eve being as bitter as it was. Chef and I had ‘the conversation’ that I remember having with DC; that one about whether or not I’m going to give my life to this industry. Not that Chef phrased it that way – it was entirely different this time around. I know that I said things way back when that were met with incredulity and disbelief, and on some level disapproval. And even in Michigan, Scott was bewildered by my take on life. Many people are still waiting for me to burn out and lose this blessed assurance that I am where I belong, but also that I will be led to where I need to be, and that that may be a very far cry from my current way of life.

Chef is the sort of person I can be perfectly honest with at all times. Praise God.

Scott talked about how it wasn’t until later years, and specifically especially with Pond Hill, that he began to put real emphasis on working for people that you enjoy and want to be working for, like Jimmy and Marci. I have wondered sometimes if, with my level of relative inexperience, it would be presumptuous of me to hold that same view that others might respect as coming from someone like Scott, as if it were something to be earned. But then I realize, no, it’s not. We have no right to be miserable.

On our fridge at home hangs a card. It reads,

food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep
money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change
If you woke up this morning with more health than illness
If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation

Please. To 92% of the world, I’m amazing just because I exist  as I do. How can we who have so much put forth less effort to be happy than those who have so much less and have the strength and accept the grace to the perfectly content? We have not only a right, but an obligation to do with our lives something that we truly love, that will, at the end of every day, regardless of what challenges present themselves, fulfill us and satisfy us and allow us to be at peace with ourselves, and ultimately, make us happy. And we can and will have to be pragmatic, but when tough decisions and hard times are looked at in light of the big picture… Everything changes with that perspective. Everything.

And maybe it is because I am simple. Maybe my biggest blessing is in knowing I am so and being glad in it. Edmund says something in Mansfield Park (the movie)… He says, “The woman I thought I loved doesn’t exist. She was a figment of my imagination. So much the better, you may say; I have less to lose. But I’d’ve lost you a thousand times rather than see you for what you really are.” Most of that quote is completely irrelevant, but maybe others look at me and think something along those lines, So much the better, you may say; I have less to lose. So much the better for me to be simple and not aspire to be anything more than a line cook. And yet I believe I want just as much as anyone in wanting to work for people I trust and whose vision I am happy to further namelessly; I want just as much in wanting to be at peace with myself at the end of every night – but that, at the very least, I know I have a right to be, because I was created just so.

Chef shared a poem with us last night, just before we headed next door to Yesterday’s. He shared it as one of his key motivators, a reason and a drive for his passion. This is Rabindranath Tagore’s Endless Time.

Time is endless in thy hands, my lord.
There is none to count thy minutes.

Days and nights pass and ages bloom and fade like flowers.
Thou knowest how to wait.

Thy centuries follow each other perfecting a small wild flower.

We have no time to lose,
and having no time we must scramble for a chance.
We are too poor to be late.

And thus it is that time goes by
while I give it to every querulous man who claims it,
and thine altar is empty of all offerings to the last.

At the end of the day I hasten in fear lest thy gate be shut;
but I find that yet there is time.


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