A Cook, God and a Boat

On the first day of creation, God looked upon the face of the deep and muttered something about that being a lot of water. He had six days to open his new planet earth and needed someone to help him, so he created a cook from some leftover pizza boxes, a six-pack of Mexican Beer, cigarettes, weed, a little cocaine and a class-action lawsuit filed by both Gabriel and Lucifer for sexual harassment.

Cook awoke on the first day in dire need of a shave, shower, haircut and change of clothes. He did not have access to any of those things, so he settled for a cigarette that was conveniently lying nearby in a puddle of weird stardust and green shiny stuff. “Shit,” said the cook, conversationally scratching his balls and squinting about in the darkness upon the face of the deep. “That is a big-ass fish tank.” While he was wondering if there was sushi, or about to be some or if he could catch some (God accidently-kind-of-on-purpose gave him some innate abilities later to be mistaken as “talent” to cover up the bad smell) a big puff of blue smoke appeared. At least Cook thought it might be blue, but he was color blind, like all cooks are when they are hatched.

God said (from the blue smoke) “Sup Cookie?” Cook said, “Son of a bitch, who said that?” God said, “Get your hand out of your pants, for my sake.” Cook replied that if whoever was in that blue smoke was going to tease him about tacos and sake, regardless of the twist in Asian and Mexican cuisine, regardless of the fact that neither culture existed, then, by God, he’d better deliver on that cuisine because he felt hung-over and his crotch itched. “By the way, what are pants?” asked Cook.

After this conversation, God felt that perhaps he shouldn’t have created a cook after all, that he should have created a bisexual interior designer with an eye for outdoor spaces and thought of a potential name for the creature. “I shall call him….Adam!” bellowed the blue smoke.

Cook was irritated that the blue smoke had interrupted his very first joint rolling experience and said as much. God, irritated as well, materialized out of the smoke looking very much like Vin Diesel and Oprah all rolled into one with a little Sandra Bullock and wearing a pink Bobby Flay shirt. Cook’s expression really didn’t change, as he was still wondering about the tacos and sake but his opinion of a being that could a. create him and b. start an argument about sake with a hung-over cook jonesing for his next drink while not delivering started to plummet.

While Cook ruminated loudly over God’s hideous pink shirt as he scratched his nuts and smoked his joint, God tried to explain that he needed a planet up and running in six days. Cook only started paying attention when money was mentioned, which was good as until then God had been seriously contemplating turning Cook into a monkey, but Cook was clearly intelligent in a deeply unimpressed kind of way. God was a bit offended that Cook wasn’t taken aback by his pink Bobby Flay shirt and so switched it in midstream to an Emeril coat. He did forget to leave out the stomach that Emmy would one day have in a few million years or so, which made Cook laugh. “I can tell you don’t work the line, God.” Cook smirked. God pouted.

Cook squatted back on his haunches, which from God’s point of view, was not a good look for Cook. God used all his creative powers and declared, “Let it be dark!” “Hey,” yelled Cook, “who turned out the fucking lights? Very funny, mighty Creator. Now I can’t see to fish.” I’ll solve that, thought God, who promptly killed all the fish. “What about the sake, God?” There was a scramble in the darkness as Cook grabbed at God, who promptly created a strait jacket for Cook, but in the ruckus and darkness summoned it to the wrong spot, herby fastening it on both of them simultaneously. The stench coming off Cook, especially given that he was just created, was unbearable. He smelled like raw, decaying fish and something dead. “Hey, for God’s sake!” yelled God. “Let there be light!”

The ambiance revealed what God had, in his infinite wisdom, already suspected. Cook had managed to somehow stuff a dead fish in his mouth and was greedily sucking out the eyes and gnawing on the cheeks. Cook handed it to God. “Here. This is the best part.” There was a loud pop and sparkle of fluorescent purple dust as God made the straitjacket disappear and put pants on Cook at the same time. Cook inspected his new apparel with appreciation. “Now this is fucking cool, God!” God thought the baggy pinstriped paints were even more ludicrous than his own purple shirt, which he did actually remember buying from a Bobby Flay in another universe, and he wondered again just how much of himself he had imparted into this odd creature.

Cook stared around in open-mouthed amazement at the dimly lit world he and God were standing in. Everything was covered in water, and if not for the light, he would never have noticed that the place was kind of dreary. It looked like he imagined Kansas would look if it were covered in a giant lake with no fish other than the dead kind, which were rapidly becoming inedible.

With a sigh, Cook turned to God, ignoring his horrid purple shirt. “God, you need me.” “What? I need you? What in God’s name for?” Cook became deadly serious. After all, God had needed something done in six days. “It seems to me you need a space, a decorator and a lot of work that needs to be done NOW with no questions asked. When do you need to open this place?” God slowly thought about it. He hadn’t really thought all the way through what he would do when he flipped the last universe to the Chinese. He just took the cash and ran.

Cook watched him carefully. For a guy with some pretty incredible powers and ludicrous shirts, God seemed pretty slow. He was going to have to be careful. God explained that he needed a venue, was planning lots of guests and having a party in a garden. Chef nodded sagely. “What you need, God, is a head chef. That could be me. Trust me, I’ll get it all done.” God nodded slowly back, after what seemed to Cook to be a few million years. The fish was turning into a primordial soup. Jesus H. Christ this guy had trouble making up his mind. “How quick?” Cook rolled this question over in his mind. He knew a guy who was into planets, Hawkins or something like that, who also had mob connections. Check. He knew this chick (could be a dude, but who cares) who was killer with outdoor spaces and could pull together modelling gigs like no other…there was the other guy, with mob connections who knew how to make stuff grow, then the farmer who supplied rare organic meat, no questions asked. The dinosaurs would be tough, but with a proper brine…it might just work!

“Tell you what, God. Cash up front and I’ll have it done by Sunday.” God was thrilled. God rested on Sunday and they all had Gin and Tonics by Lake Tahoe. They threw a magnificent dinner party in the new garden hotspot, which they named Eden, but he had to ask two of the guests to leave the party when he caught them in a very awkward situation involving a tree, an apple, a snake, the gay guy Adam, some girl Eve and Cook.

Cook left with them and fed construction crews after he was over his hangover from the Eden fiasco. Try as he might he could never find the place again, but he was too involved with other stuff. There was this pal of God’s named Lucifer, hell of a guy, and he all kinds of ideas for new restaurants and other gigs that didn’t involve that strange Adam dude, but instead they focused on this cruise ship his cousin Noah was building. He was looking for a chef for some kind of voyage after something called rain started. Cook was pretty sure he was crazy, especially since the boat wasn’t designed for dinosaurs, but Noah had all kinds of cash and his sons had some strange Daddy complex, always trying to see the old man naked. Besides, Satan had some awesome ball cream that made him feel all tingly and shit. Eve was still looking pretty good too, for an old lady and Cook heard a couple of her daughters were going. It was too bad about the snake. Satan claimed all sorts of bullshit about actually “being” the snake for a while. Cook felt sorry for him and gave him some baggy pants and a tall hat and told him he looked cool, for a sous chef.

Cooking For Real

The transition, I’ve found, from being a home cook to a primarily professional one is very difficult. In cooking for mostly family and friends, with an occasional dinner party or two thrown in, you are very much the focal point of the meal for all your adoring fans of the moment as you lovingly and carefully plate your final finished products for people who usually aren’t paying for you or for the food, or if they are, it’s to a charity of their preference. The environment is relaxed, you are usually working with ingredients that you are familiar with, appliances you are accustomed to, and if it’s not perfect, after everyone is plied with appropriately paired (or not, just so long as the guests think they are) wine and/or cocktails, you can honestly do no wrong. Particularly if you are confident while cooking, or at least give the appearance of confidence, chat with the guests and make everyone feel special with little treats and appetizers.

Your help, if you have it, are focused on the one or two things that they feel comfortable with, such as plating salads, making a dressing (under your supervision of course) or simply getting things out of the oven. There is always a male family member whose specialty it is to carve the protein, as long as it isn’t fish – for some reason unknown to me the very same adult male who can fearlessly massacre carving a turkey won’t touch a whole fish. You are, in all honesty, the hero of the moment. You feel good about yourself, your guests feel good about their meal (with the perfectly paired wine, which you likely honestly have no idea about, particularly if you don’t drink) and at some point during the afterglow you think to yourself, “I could be a real CHEF!” I mean, how hard could it be, right? After all, based on the unabashedly flattering comments from the mostly tipsy and very full guests who have the added glow of giving money to someone that they don’t know, tax deductible, of course, to trust to do what’s right to save a starving dog or cat, you are relatively certain that you are at least the chef that Sandra Lee is and quite possibly better than the blithering idiot Rachel Ray, whom you secretly believe is beautiful, in her own way, of course.

In that moment of ignorant bliss, it is easy to leap at a decision, easy to dream of running your own kitchen, of your moment or three in the sun on the Food Network or Travel Channel (who knows, even the “Today Show!) with adoring fans clapping as you ply your trade and knowledge gleaned from cooking shows and magazines and the hundreds of cookbooks that you’ve accumulated since you first watched Paula Dean make biscuits and gravy from lard and sausage.

For most of us, it’s not quite that simple. If you have plenty of money, time, little to no financial responsibility or immediate family that need your help on a daily basis, then there are such acclaimed schools such as the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Le Cordon Bleu and so on. There are a plethora of such schools now scattered all over the U.S., Canada and if you really want to get adventurous and have truly unlimited funds, then you can travel to the Amalfi Coast of Italy; Paris, France; New York City, NY; the Hudson Valley, CA; London, England; or even Sydney, Australia and study in some of the most acclaimed chefs and students in the world.

Even then, after abandoning what family that you have and embarking on what will no doubt prove to be a life altering experience, there is no guarantee, immediate or otherwise, that you will get a job. There is also the very real chance that you will quit your job, assume a ton of debt and actually not enjoy cooking! I don’t have the statistics for the number of dropouts in some of the harder and more prestigious (and expensive) cooking schools, but I do know that it is quite high, with some VERY disgruntled students leaving the programs.

“What??” They say, “They wanted me to WORK at the CIA! After all the money that I gave them to attend classes, they wanted me to work in a kitchen too?” I have to get up at 5:00 a.m. is also a common lament amongst the more spoiled that attend such schools, mostly from those whose parents, awash in pride that their previously unmotivated brat actually wants to do something, foot the entire bill in the hopes of seeing their child in immaculate Chef’s Whites on television, preferably on some reality show, living the dream of cookbook deals and being an Executive Chef for one whole year in Bobby Flay’s endless chain of constantly opening restaurants, where even the famous become lost in the confusion.

My mother cooked for nine to twenty people, seven days a week, three times a day for nearly forty years. She can truly make it look effortless. In her own kitchen, she is a God. Everything is perfect. She knows exactly what everyone wants, how hot her stove gets, which pot is where and what each recipe is. She went to work as a cook a number of years ago and vehemently hated it. She said, this mother of seven, a child of the coal fields who grew up in poverty that it was the hardest job she ever had.

The reality is this: It’s hard. It’s painful. You get burned. You get cut. Your feet hurt so badly that you don’t care about the burns or cuts. You get so tired you can barely see. When you first start in a kitchen, you don’t know where anything is and for the most part, the other cooks are too busy to show you, expecting you to hit the ground running, especially if you went to some fancy cooking school. Most of them didn’t. Most professional cooks were lucky enough to find a mentor early, worked harder than anyone else and became a not-very-well-paid professional through time, mistakes and work.
A professional cook is nothing like what you see on T.V. A professional can scrape together a thirty plate dinner in a matter of minutes with whatever ingredients are on hand. A professional is expected to, and does, work sixteen to eighteen hours a day when necessary and not at all when he or she is not needed. The professional cooks is rarely salaried, most likely will never have a desk and will rarely, if ever, be overweight. Running stairs with stacks of plates, hundred pound sacks of onions, potatoes, flour, rice, boxes of meat and hotel pans full of food will see to that.

You also rarely get to eat, and when you do, it’s not likely you’ll want to. I know that before I started cooking in a professional kitchen, I loved bacon. So much so that I wouldn’t buy it, because I would eat all of it. Now, after a few months of cooking thousands of pieces of bacon, you can literally chase me with the stuff.

So, we’ve established a few things. It’s not glamorous. It’s hard. It’s difficult to get a job and even harder to keep it. It’s painful, especially if you’re like me and have a few knee and ankle reconstructions in your past, mixed in with some arthritis and other inevitable health problems associated with mistakes of your youth. It doesn’t pay all that well.
At the end of the shift, when I stumble towards the car in the dark, knowing the satisfaction in my heart of hearts that I have done a good job, that I have worked as hard as I possibly could, and, most importantly, that my chef shook my hand and said: “Good job today, Ron.” I can honestly say that I have never felt better in my whole life.

That is the secret of cooking professionally.

A Day in the Life of a Manx Cat

After some very Jane Goodall-ish styled observations while placing myself in harm’s way much as Tim Treadwell did, I have carefully documented a typical day in the life of a semi-feral Manx cat (otherwise known by his Latin name Takus Whateveroppurtunuspresentethitselfeth):
5:50 a.m. Stagger home after a wild night of storming mouse villages and snorting catnip. 6:00 a.m. Yowl loudly at the door of the weird structu…re that the human servants occupy until they reward your music with raw venison and chicken soup. Snarl if it’s not on your menu and you wanted salmon instead.
6:10 a.m. Dodge buckets of water thrown by the angry female servant. She’s the most unpredictable and violent of the three servants.
6:30 a.m. Cunningly conceal yourself under the servants vehicle while plotting an assassination attempt on, well, anyone.
7:00 a.m. Forget why you were under the vehicle and position yourself strategically on top of the shed while showing a hawk who actually owns the skies.
7:15 a.m. Accidently fall asleep in the sun and roll off the shed. Pretend you meant to. 7:45 a.m. Have a staring contest with the smallest of the servants through the window of the human quarters to remind him who is boss.
8:00 a.m. Sleep until dark.
8:30 p.m. Lick various unmentionable body parts unreachable by most other mammals in order to prepare for the wild night ahead.
9:00 p.m. Parade around the yard with the hapless, yet still kicking body of a small rodent. Leave the rodent by the servants door to remind them of what you are capable of. Proceed to the night’s festivities just in time to be fashionably late, yet impeccably groomed.
5:50 a.m. Repeat.