It was strange having the full crew in to prep on Tuesday. I’m so used to the work week starting out quietly. And for a minute there, it seemed like it might, with the gloomy weather, and me standing under the awning at 11, waiting for somebody to come unlock the door. I called Chef at 5 after. “Hello?” “Chef, am I not supposed to be here?” “Is anyone else there?” “Nope.” “Ok, I’ll be there in a minute.”

This week, I learned that Chef lives literally a minute away.


Jason was in shortly after myself – I don’t think I’d even started prepping yet – and Matt arrived not too long afterwards as well. Things were not quiet for very long at all.

I guess Matt and Jason had the radio blasting downstairs, because Chef came up and commented on how quiet and peaceful it was upstairs by contrast, and something about not being able to think with that kind of noise. Lol. It was true, as I tested for myself shortly afterwards by running down to the second walk-in. It was almost like the two worlds Daveed’s experience. Except not at all depressing. Highly amusing, in fact.

Jason and Chef started talking about revamping the dessert menu, and Jason suddenly gave me this look. I guessed what was coming, so I kept quiet and let him talk up Lola’s lecheflan. Jason was reaching for some piece of equipment above my head, and Chef asked why he was smiling. “No, Chef, really, it’s amazing.” I was grinning.

And then came the wine pairing.

TANGENT. Jason’s calling me Aiswine again.

Chef was at the bar working out the menu with the wine rep, and he was having us send out particular dishes to check things out. Eventually, we were included in the tasting/pairing. Things happened so quickly… It was decided that we’re going to do Lola’s lecheflan for dessert, with macerated berries with cardamom, and coconut ice cream. I asked Jason to mentally evaluate and confirm the pairing, since he’s the only one who has had Lola’s lecheflan.

On my way out that night, I promised to bring lecheflan in to be properly evaluated on Thursday.

We had been told to bring candy for class on Halloween, and of course everyone was expecting me to bring crazy weird stuff, so I brought ChocNut and pulboron. There was some left over and I quickly hid it with the intention of bringing it to work the next day, but then I decided to stop by Mantra after class even though we got out half an hour late.

Chef: Don’t ask me what time tomorrow, Ais, because I don’t know yet.
me: Okay. Happy Halloween, here’s some Filipino stuff.
Chef: What is it? Where’s the flan? Did you bring that, too?
Jason: Geeze! You’re such a… jerk… Hey, Ais, did you bring balut?
me: Whaaat?!
Chef: You’re pushing it, buddy.

I love how Jason and Chef just build their little jokes off of each other. And the biggest and most beautiful difference between Jason and Chef’s bickering and Jason and Rob’s bickering is that with the former, it is totally safe to laugh as much as I want to. I constantly have to step back mentally and try and comprehend the blessing that is my current employment. I would never have stopped in at Daveed’s for no reason and expected a cheerful just-glad-to-see-you reception.

I did bring in the lecheflan on Thursday. Epic win in every way. I plated it up with the macerated berries and cardamom, and Matt said he thought it was better than anything else we had on the dessert menu. (“Thanks, but please don’t tell Jason that.”) Chef had a bit of the dessert wine left from the tasting. It was absolutely perfect in every way. Matt and Chef expressed their approval and Jason uttered some sound of satisfaction at the combination. I can’t be bragging, because it’s not my recipe, you know? I’m just thrilled for Lola. I hope she’s smiling up in heaven.

Matt helped me with caramel on Saturday, and lecheflan has been successfully made in 4-oz ramekins. Exactly what we did differently, I have no idea; I’m just thankful from the bottom of my heart that it wasn’t the failure that happened when Jared and I attempted it, but darn. Why did it have to be the epitome of disasters with Jared and all ease and perfection with Matt? Matt would’ve taken the disaster better. There were harsh words between Jared and myself that day, not gonna lie. It took a while to not be bitter over that.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were as smooth as we could hope. We were out so early on Thursday; it was pretty dead because of the weather and the consequent cancellation of Tantric Thursday. We did around 80 on Friday and around 90 on Saturday. Jason was cut early on all three days. And then, you know, Matt was shotgunning Red Bulls. Chef had quite a few himself, though he passed on the shotgunning.

I completed the saute survival guide as I promised, and Matt began using it this weekend. He says it helps a lot. In fact, yesterday, Matt worked saute and Chef worked middle and breads, and tag-teamed me on garde and the tandoor. I’m so grateful that he did, because the tandoor got really small for a couple of passes – we had a few bigger tables – and he was keeping an eye on everything going in, so all I really had to do was skewer and plate stuff for the majority of the night. He is constantly reminding me that he has my back, that he’s here to help me, and that I shouldn’t worry.

So much towel snapping this weekend =) From me. Not in any real anger, of course. Entirely in good fun. But Chef did want to talk to me after Friday’s shift for a bit. He asked why I hit a brick wall in the middle of service. The truth is, I should know to do a thorough check-over of garde when I’m only coming in to work service, like on Friday when they didn’t want me in until after all my classes, and at the same time, we’re a better team and more trusting and trustworthy than the Daveed’s crew, so while I should check, it doesn’t mean I should distrust anyone and stress over whether or not my station is set up properly. There was only one thing which none of us anticipated, and that was duck, which we don’t sell that much of, anyway, but on Friday, we had to defrost duck on the fly. Chef kept going, “Ais- I’ll make it work- just keep doing what you’re doing- it’s fine- snap out of it- now!” So I was kicking myself. Anyway, Chef just wanted to talk about what happened, why it happened, and to remind me to work smarter and not just harder. “I want to see you at the top, my dear.” “Well, Chef, I guess part of it is, I never aspired to be at the top.” And it’s the truth. I’m content on the line. I have no big dreams of being a sous chef or owning my own restaurant… But it’s ok. We can meet halfway and help me continue to strive towards my goal of being the best that I can be.

While Jason and I were both prepping upstairs for a bit earlier in the week, I had quietly declared that work was the best part of my week. “Really? That sucks.” “Why??” I demanded. “Why should it suck? Isn’t it a blessing that I have a great love for what I do?” That he was willing to concede, and also that he only said that really because he needs to get there himself, to that place and that point where he’ll love what he’s doing and be at peace with himself at the end of every day for it.


So many funny spots of conversation with Jason this week. “I was talking to my family about it-” “Were you discussing it with Mother and Father?” “Whyyy do you find that so funny?” “It’s just so proper.” “So???” Shortly afterwards, someone offered me something to eat or something – I don’t even remember if it was Jason or someone else in passing – and I said something like, “Not right now, but perhaps in a minute; thank you very much,” and again, Jason expressed amusement at my response being “so proper.” Trying to comprehend the basis for others’ perceptions is so interesting.

I never actually mean it when I accuse Jason of being mean, but he always agrees. It isn’t unusual for me to immediately attempt to take back the accusation and consequently apologize profusely, but what was… unusual… this time around was Jason’s response: “Jason. You’re one of the nicest people I know.” “Yeah, I know. … I mean!! I don’t know– Like-” “Really?” “No, I didn’t- I mean, I don’t know-” That had to be the most immodest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say.” “Wait… What did you say? Immodest?” “Yesh…” “Is that a word??” “Yes, Jason.” “Oh.” “Geeze. Something to blog about, I guess.” “What- NO, Ais- I don’t even- Don’t-” “What?” “Oh geeze. Don’t blog about it. Or don’t say it was me!” “It’s not like you’re going to read it. So what?” “Oh geeze. You better not say it was me. I mean, not like I’m going to go look-” “Exactly.”

Jason was quizzing me on chem/tech of flavor stuffs. He should’ve done so before the midterm! I mean, I did ace the midterm – which I was totally not expecting – but… !!! I remember things when Jason tells me! Like sodium bicarbonate and benzaldehyde and the coffee grounds…!!! Bah.

I was turning red pepper coulis into peri peri marinade, and he told me what ingredients to get, but didn’t give me proportions. Typical Jason, and maybe it’s just my own fault that I don’t quite trust myself yet, but he tried to apologize and claimed to be a bad teacher by not giving me proportions to help with consistency. But then he’s so used to Chef telling him what’s in stuff and not giving him proportions and just telling him to make it taste good. It’s totally cool, but it has happened so many times before that I couldn’t understand why was suddenly apologetic about it.

Chef and Jason were talking about the special, and Chef said something about doing tartare. Why Jason’s approval of the idea seemed severely downplayed for someone who loves tartare as much as I know he does, I cannot explain, but it seemed appropriate to assure Chef when he asked if I thought it was a good idea after Jason had gone downstairs, “Chef. Jason loves tartare. Like, he craves it; I’m surprised he hasn’t told you.” “Really?”

So Josh has apparently told Richard that he is convinced that I hate him. I don’t. But I do detest his attitude. He just won’t let things go! and if one little thing goes ‘wrong’ [in his eyes], he’ll whine about it all night. All night. “Someone needs to put him in his place.” “But, Ais, I don’t think he gets that.” “Well, too bad. Maybe one day he will.” And then when we were at KnockBack Nat’s and he was saying something lewd to Jason, Jason interjected, “Close your ears, Ais,” to which Josh replied, “It doesn’t matter; she already hates my guts.” I really didn’t feel like correcting him.

It was ridiculously relieving to have Josh stuck bartending all of Saturday, and Nathan working expo. It was one of those situations where you don’t realize how much you appreciate something until circumstances change, and halfway through the night, I had to stop and step back and think to myself, Oh. Em. Gee. Tonight is not being punctuated with constant whining. Oh my gosh!!!!! Seriously, it’s that bad. And even more seriously, Nathan’s that awesome. Josh can have all of Yards’ cocky side, Nathan has all of Yards’ confidence and gravity. He watches the line and only asks for an ETA if he can’t see or honestly can’t estimate based on what he does see. On top of doing an excellent job as expo, he was training Heather all the while into the bargain. Nathan’s a BOSS =D Legit.

I suppose could’ve gotten home a couple of hours earlier on Sunday morning. Early on in the week, Matt had started talking about hanging out on Saturday night, and he’d complained the week before that Jason had bailed on him the last time they’d supposedly made plans. I was all for hanging out, but I almost bailed when Matt told me the guest list at wherever it was that he wanted to go. It was 0030. “Ais! You can’t bail on me!” “I said I was down for Yesterdays, I didn’t say I was down for hanging with **** **********-” “But Ais, you said you’d hang out, and now Jason’s heading down and I don’t want to be the one bailing on all of you!” “You won’t be bailing; you’ll be hanging out with your brother and wife and-” “Ais!!!!”

It was near 0100. I was astonished that Jason had actually come back to Mt. Adams just to hang out. Unfortunately, he had to drive around for a bit and hunt for parking, but once he’d found parking and we were all standing around Matt’s car, Matt chose that time to appeal to everyone else. He told them the plan, and then entreated them to convince me to come along anyway, because he, “probably shouldn’t have told Ais that **** **********’s going to be there – and now she’s saying she’s gonna bail on me – but c’mon! I really want to hang with my whole crew!” “Ais, you don’t have to look at h**.” “Oh geeze.”

In the end, I gave in. I know what Matt means; I love our crew. And work is the best part of my week because I get to be with these people; I’m never in any hurry to leave them. Hanging out after work with everybody is my reward to myself for getting through the school week, staying on top of my homework and all that lovely jazz. Matt was right; I wanted to be with everyone in spite of a couple of names on that guest list.

Eye contact was made, but I don’t think there was any recognition, or at least, not enough to encourage conversation with someone maintaining as distasteful of an expression as moi could manage.

So I let myself be dragged downtown. Josh rode with Jason, Chef and I rode with Jason, and Matt went home to pick up his wife.

I haven’t been downtown so late since the night I went to the Moerlein and the Hofbrauhaus with Steffy and Brett and Julz and Brad. I’d almost forgotten how gorgeous it is.

Most of my conversation while downtown was with Nathan. It was nice to learn about him… school and traveling and family and work and people and music and life in general. He’d been a little out of sorts on Friday and I’d wondered what was up.

We stayed at KnockBack until it closed, then walked to some place just past Madonna’s for a well-past-midnight snack. I wasn’t hungry, but all the guys got something, and I wish I’d gotten the name of the place because it smelled incredible, but I really couldn’t eat. We’d said goodbye to Matt at KnockBack, and at this point, it was just me, Jason, Nathan, Chef, and Josh. Upon completing snacktime, Nathan left first, then Josh said he was staying and would get a cab, and Jason and Chef and I headed back to Mt. Adams.

Matt said something which made me sad… “Good kitchens don’t stay together, Ais.” And then he went on about me leaving for the summer and betting that Jason wouldn’t be around for very long either, and then what would he do? “See, you’ll leave for the summer, and we’ll replace you with someone who’s actually in it for the long run.”

If they need someone, they need someone, but as I was telling Dad today, Mantra and Pond Hill have completely changed my perspective on working in kitchens. Daveed’s made me think I couldn’t possibly do this for any longer than I absolutely have to. Now I realize that I can, as long as I’m working for and with people who really care about each other. My priorities are shifting again. Wine was important because I saw that as a career path that could potentially make me a lot happier than the kitchen path. But now I’m here, and health discourages wine as a serious career focus. I realize that, as much as I like the thought of teaching at MCI – something I haven’t previously declared publicly – I can ‘save’ that option for when I’ve got a family that I want to focus on and just need something I can handle over just a couple of days out of the week. But if I can stay at Mantra – or be at any place that makes me at least as happy, because I don’t know if I’m so optimistic as to suppose that I could possibly be happier than I am blessed to currently be – then I want to stay in kitchens for as long as I can; at least until I have a family that I do very much need to prioritize.

It was nearly 0330 when we made it back to Mantra. Well, actually 0230 with daylight savings taken into account, which my phone did, but my car did not. Still, it was time to go home. Jason had to lock the front door on our way out… because Chef kinda sorta lost his keys on Wednesday. Yeah… there’ve been a lot of jokes about that all week. But I really feel bad because he actually has not recovered them. Still –

Chef: Ais, it was nice to see you out gallivanting-
Jason: Gallawhat?
Chef: -after a long night.
Jason: That is a long word.
me: No it’s not-
Jason: I have never heard that word. Ever.
Chef: Gallivanting?
me: Jason. I’ll explain outside.

Definitions could wait until we were walking. Chef needed to do paperwork. Sort of.


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