Because I am a silly wacko, and because I know I can't possibly write everything about cooking and work all in one post, I will share this simple goofy story with you: One of the desserts we offer is plated with a squiggle of passion fruit sauce (prehaps a coulis? I am not sure. But it's on a squirt bottle and you make a zig-zag on the plate with it). The other day it ran out, and I had to refill two squirt bottles with new sauce. Since everything in the kitchen is labeled with masking tape, it was up to me as the refiller to label the new bottles. Others wrote "passion fruit" or "pas. fruit." I labeled my new bottles, "The Passion of the Fruit." It was my special kitchen homage to Mel Gibson and JC all in one.
Folks have written asking some questions about how I'm making the transition from geek to chef, and rather than reply individually, I thought I'd do a little public Q & A to share with all.
I am curious what steps you took to make the change. You're cooking in the kitchen of a good restaurant?
When I first arrived on Nantucket I met the owners of Fifty-Six Union through my aunt. Over the course of the summer, I talked with them about my interest in cooking and spent some time hostessing during August. Peter, the chef, recommended that before I head to culinary school, I spend six months working in a kitchen to see if I really wanted to do it. So I asked him if I could work in his kitchen, and he generously said yes. And yes, Fifty-Six is a good restaurant, and Peter is a graduate of the CIA.
[H]aving spent my formative years slaving away in a hot kitchen for my parents' Chinese takeaway, I can't imagine what on earth you like about it!
I like the energy of the kitchen, of being on my feet and being active. I love the way I get consumed in what I'm doing, almost lost. Last night I looked at the clock and it was 7 PM, a little while later (it seemed) I checked again and it was nearly 10! I'd just been in the moment, making salads and apps and desserts. I love the short life-cycle of a kitchen day. Unlike a software project that takes weeks to months to years (to even never!) to complete, in the kitchen the order comes in, you prepare it, and it's gone. By the end of the night, the "project" is over and the battle is won. I love the satisfaction of making something people enjoy. I made an apple tarte tatin for last night's dessert special. I plated an order and thirty minutes later, the server told me, "They loved the apple tart and were raving!" I love doing lots of things at once and figuring out the most efficient way to do it, and I love to be under pressure and make it all happen and get it right. I love sending out a perfect plate.
I just wanted to ask how you got into cooking.. did you need to take any formal training, or was it primarily on the job? did you take a pay cut?
I've always loved cooking and baking, ever since I was little. During college I always had food service jobs (made ice cream, worked in a pie shop on Cape Cod, etc.) and learned some skills there. And I've just been a passionate home cook, reading and learning as much as I could from doing and watching Iron Chef and other cooking programs. I've realized that I knew more than I thought and also that I have a long way to go. And yes, I took a pay cut. Cooks with no professional experience do not make the same salary as software engineering managers with 10 years experience.
If you have further questions, feel free to write! Obviously I have less time for posting than in the past, but I'll try. And soon too, a post about my first impressions…
Thanks to all who've written with words of encouragement about my adventure in cooking. The flood of support reminded me once again why I love to write megnut and reinforced my interest in continuing with it. For those that were wondering, I don't have any plans to stop the site anytime soon. And I wanted to share one especially poignant email that I received from Warren:
You've never met me, but Blogger did for me what cooking has done for you. I used to work in television, doing technical work. I was good at it, but I knew I should be writing. When I signed up with Blogger, I finally got in the habit of writing something every day, and many friends and family members told me time and again I was wasting my time in television, when clearly I should be scribbling. I took the plunge last year, first going to journalism school and now writing for a newspaper, and I'm glad I did. I know now that whatever career path I take, it'll have to involve writing.
But I wouldn't have been able to take these steps in my life without Blogger giving my ass the kick it needed. I just wanted to say thanks, and to wish you luck in your new endeavor. "Follow your heart" sounds sappy, but it's true. Good luck.
It really was nice to hear this. I think sometimes when I'm trying to make a decision, I focus too much on the negatives and overlook what's been good. Warren's email reminded me, once again, of the impact of Blogger and that makes me feel so happy and proud.
One of my first tasks last night was prepping the shrimp for a dish we do called "Javanese Fried Rice." Around the kitchen though, everyone refers to it as, "Javi." I mixed the shrimp in the marinade, and then Ben told me to cover it, label it, and put it in the walk-in. With my black marker I wrote, "Java Shrimp, 9/13."
Later in the evening, as dessert orders were coming in, a ticket printed out that said:
Erin grabbed the toffee chips off the shelf and handed them to me to put on the scoop of vanilla ice cream. It took me more than a moment to realize that what I'd read wasn't "bang Toffee chips" (geek speak for "no toffee chips") but rather a request to add toffee chips to a dish that didn't usually come with them.
I have a lot to learn. Or maybe it's unlearn.
This past May, when I decided to go on sabbatical I wrote that I needed a break because:
I had no perspective on anything, I was so deep into my world of weblogs and tech that I didn't have much sense of what was going on outside of my geek circles… I've been burning my candle at both ends for years now, and decided it was time to stop. Emotionally I was drained. Physically I was drained.
But that wasn't the full truth of it, because there was something I'd been feeling that I wasn't quite able to admit. It's taken me several months of time away from computers and tech and geeks to accept the fact that computers and technology are not my passion.
My interest in the web and tech was always more about people. With weblogs, it was making it possible for everyone to write online and share and communicate. And while I was doing it, I really did care very deeply about my work — the products we were creating, the people for whom they were built, and the people who worked with me to build them. As my career progressed, I pushed myself to be more visible as a technology speaker, dabbled at freelance writing, and started another tech company. But something was always missing, and I've realized that was true passion for what I was doing.
So last night I ended my sabbatical and began my new career doing something I've always felt passionate about: cooking. I'm working in the kitchen of a restaurant called Fifty-Six Union (mentioned at the bottom of this Feasting on Nantucket article) here on Nantucket. Yesterday at 3 PM I put on my black chef's clogs, my black pants and white t-shirt, pulled my Red Sox cap over my hair and got to work peeling and deveining shrimp. Seven hours later, sweatily scrubbing the kitchen floors, I was still smiling.
I've learned a lot this summer during my sabbatical but it all can be summarized in three words: follow your heart.
I've been building up my distance lately as marathon day (or M-day) draws closer. Last Sunday I had a beautiful 10 miler out to the ocean and back, which you can see here on my map of my running route. I'll keep adding to this as my weekend runs lengthen. For my 20 miler, I'm thinking about going out to Siasconset, around to Polpis and back home. And maybe if I go totally insane, I'll run out to Great Point and back. But that seems unlikely.
Exciting news! "Soups are back" at the Fog Island Cafe, or so claim the signs posted in their windows, enticing customers with an exclamation point and "thumbs-up" graphic. Ah fall on Nantucket…
If you find yourself on Nantucket, wandering about trying to find a good spot to watch the Patriots game, you would do well to wander yourself to the Gaslight Theater on North Union Street in Town. (Note: it may have a different name now, but I can't remember if it does, or what its new name would be. Update: it's now called the Starlight.) It was there last night that my friend Sarah and I partook of the Patriots glorious victory over the Colts in their season opener, watching the game on the movie screen! With a waitress delivering beers to those unwilling or unable to move from their movie seats, and a raucous crowd of New England fans, it was a great start to the season.
In case you haven't been checking in with my Slower.net widget (bottom-right corner of the screen), you should be aware that Elliot's been posting some amazing photographs from the Republican Convention in New York City over at Slower.net. His work raises many important questions, including, "What is it with Republicans and hats?" Surely the following photos demonstrate the decisive issues facing our country: Ugly red hat, Why wear one hat when you can wear two, Cowboy up #1, Cowboy up #2, My giant American red hat, My American red hat #2. Maybe the whole red/blue America is really just a question of headwear.
Holy moly but I can't believe it's September already! I'm not sure where the entire summer went, but it seems to be nearly gone. The nice thing about that? So are the tourists! Different plants are blooming, traffic is returning to what it was back in June, and we're into an R month so I can go shellfishing for oysters!