Please join us for this special event!
Tuesday, December 3, 2019
6 pm to 8 pm
Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering (CILSE), room 106B
610 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA
- Cynthia Graber - Gastropod
- Sara Joyner and Kaitlin Keleher - Proof, from America's Test Kitchen
- John Rudolph - Feet in 2 Worlds
Moderated by Kathy Gunst, Resident Chef for NPR’s Here and Now and author of the upcoming book Rage Baking—The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury and Women’s Voices.
Please register for a free ticket at our Eventbrite site.
Refreshments will be served.
This event is organized by the Boston University Gastronomy Program, and supported by a grant from the Association for the Study of Food in Society (ASFS).
This post was written by current student Hannah Spiegelman. Read more of her work here.
Happy Halloween season, fellow gastronauts! Many assume that Halloween’s food connections start at candy and end at pumpkins, but I like to dispel that belief. This season, I created a handful of spooky-themed ice cream flavors inspired by history and literature. If you aren’t familiar with my work, I have an ice cream concept called A Sweet History (@asweethistory) where I create ice cream/sorbets/and other frozen-focused desserts whose backstories reside in history, art, etc. I also do local small commissions from time to time (if you are interested email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)! Enjoy my favorite from my Halloween series below and let me know what frightening flavors I should make next year!
Mary’s Monster: Swiss Chocolate Charcoal Poppyseed Ice Cream with Cherry Curd topped with Candied Fennel Stalk
The year is 1618, also known as the year without a summer. The year prior, Mount Tambora (in modern-day Indonesia) erupted, setting off climate abnormalities throughout the northern hemisphere. In Switzerland, it was a rainy and cold summer. Low temperatures caused a dam to freeze. But this didn’t stop Mary Wollstonecraft Goodwin, her soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley, and her step-sister Claire Clairmount from joining Lord Byron, the renowned poet, at a rented villa on lake Geneva.
Mary, daughter of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, had met the already married poet Percy when she was 16 years old. He and his wife were estranged, so he spent much of his time with the young aspiring writer. Mary fell deeply in love and by the time they summered in Switzerland, she had supposedly lost her virginity in a graveyard; had a premature baby, who died; watched Percy have an affair with Claire; and struggled financially since her father did not approve of Percy despite his beliefs of free love.
The trio arrived in Switzerland in May 1816, but soon realized they had to spend the majority of their time inside due to the weather. A possible liquid opium-driven orgy led the group, which now included Lord Byron’s personal physician, to recite German ghost stories. Then, one night, Byron had the idea for everyone to create their own ghost story to share. Mary did not want to disappoint her companions and she passed for many nights following. After an evening discussion of galvanism, she dreamt of what would become her most famous work. And what was meant to be a short story turned into the novel, “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.”
The inspiration for the name Frankenstein most likely came from the Frankenstein castle in Darmstadt, Germany, where centuries before an alchemist claimed to create an “elixir of life.” Frankenstein literally translates to stone of the Franks, a Germanic group. Mary’s subtitle alludes to one of the book’s main themes: bringing something new into the world only to be afraid of it. In mythology Prometheus brought fire to humans hidden in a fennel stalk. In Mary’s novel, Dr. Frankenstein reanimates pieced-together body parts into a human form, but doesn’t know how to control his own creation.
Since 19th century society worried about controlling women, Mary’s name wasn’t on the first edition of “Frankenstein,” published when Mary was only 18 years old. Five years later, the second edition, published in two parts, gave her full credit. And on Halloween of 1831, a “popular” edition was published, in which Mary revised to be less controversial. This edition is what we all read today, veiling the political and social discourse Mary embedded into her works. Without her consent, her work began to be adapted by theaters, and pop-culture today proves the story has been blown-out and distorted.
Despite the deaths of many close to her including Percy the years following the publication of “Frankenstein,” Mary continued to write novels, essays, biographies, book reviews, and articles. While Mary worked to publish her late husband’s works, elevating him within the literary cannon, her own career was seen as a hobby, causing her to struggle financially. Since her acclaimed first novel was originally published anonymously and began with a forward by Percy, critics believed that he was the writer for surely an eighteen year old could not write such prose. To these readers’ chagrin, a late night dream on a frigid summer night sparked one of the greatest gothic novels written by the foremother of science fiction.
Written by current Gastronomy student Laura Kitchings.
As an Archivist who is a current Master’s Candidate in the Gastronomy program, I am always trying to find ways to incorporate my professional training into my study of food. This summer I was fortunate to attend the 30-hour, 5-day workshop “The History of the Book in America: A Survey from Colonial to Modern” at Rare Book School (RBS) at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. Rare Book School is an organization that provides educational opportunities to study the history, care, and use of written, printed, and digital materials. The course was co-taught by Scott E. Casper and Jeffrey D. Groves who have published extensively on the History of the Book in America both separately and as a team. Our twelve-person class included antiquarian booksellers, librarians, archivists, and graduate students. I attended the class as part of my thesis research, focusing on cookbooks in the 1890’s. My goal in attending the program was to place the cookbooks of the 1890’s in the larger book history of the United States. While I had studies Special Collection Library management as part of my Master’s in Library Science at Simmons College (now Simmons University) I had never taken a course in the History of the Book.
Each of the five days during the workshop was divided into four sessions. I expected each session to consist of a lecture around an aspect of book history. Instead, each day was a mix of lecture, and activities. The various activities, including as comparing educational texts, almanacs, newspapers, and paperback books from a variety of time periods. As you can see from the examples below, each activity involved working with materials held by RBS and active discussion with classmates.
These activities allowed me to consider possible comparison cookbook activities in a library setting.
While our class was focused on Book History, we were also able to see what other courses were studying. One evening we were able to work with the Vandercook proof press that included the need to hand set type.
While our team struggled with placing the small metal pieces of type to prepare to actually print on the press, I found myself reflecting on how printing, like cooking, involves significant preparation and muscle memory. While I was frustrated in the movement while placing the type, I found myself thinking about the Saturdays I spent learning knife skills in MET ML 698 –Laboratory in the Culinary Arts: Cooking.
As with learning knife skills, I realized that if I had to regularly work with the small type, it would become Embodied knowledge.
On the last day, each member of the class presented on the future of the book. While my classmates focused on performative reading on social media and linked data, I focused on cookbooks. I was able to use work done as part of a team in MET ML 671- Food and Visual Culture. My presentation focused on how cookbooks now need to include significant visual elements such as photographs and illustrations, and how successful cookbook authors need to have a social media presence.
While it was an exhausting week, I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the workshop and hope to find opportunities to teach with historic cookbooks in the future.
We continue our introductions to student who will be joining the Gastronomy Program this fall with these three bios.
Victoria Collins grew up moving around the globe (Missouri, Maine, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, South Carolina, Dominica, and Spain). Throughout her travels, she developed a deep passion for food, culture, and history. After graduating from Drake University in 2016 with a degree in Education, she began Law School. Her life took a turn once she realized how unfulfilling the legal field was to her soul. Victoria decided to follow her appetite for food and culture; and enroll in Boston University’s Gastronomy program. Victoria’s interests include cooking, traveling, venturing to new restaurants, the farm to table concept, and hobby farming. She plans to become a professor of Gastronomy or another food related subject in the future; in hopes of connecting her education background with Gastronomy.
Jay DiBiasio has lived in every corner of the country and spent his adult life unsuccessfully trying to root down in any one of them other than Massachusetts, where he was primarily raised. After having spent over a decade as a professional musician and following whichever way the wind took him, he finally accepted after returning like a boomerang, that here is home.
In addition to being a musician, Jay has most recently worked for several years as a sales rep for a local brewery and distributor where he discovered that though he enjoyed a good bottle of suds as much as the next beer guy or gal, what he really was most interested in was talking to his colleagues about food and cooking. That passion grew like a slow flame overtaking most of his free thoughts.
When he and his wife started a family a few years ago, feeding their kids healthy, fresh, and local food became of great importance. They enjoyed making their own baby food to the point where Jay left his tenure as a rep to start a homemade baby food business together with his wife. In planning and writing a business plan, they learned a great many things and ultimately decided it was not the right time and a different direction was needed. Somewhat lost and doing some soul searching, Jay stumbled upon the Gastronomy program right here in his backyard. Feeling like he has found his calling, Jay comes into the program with a renewed excitement to learn, meet new people, get back to work.
Coming from an internationally exposed, culinarily focused and rather open minded household, food and drink were always subjects Altamash Gaziyani was allowed to have an opinion on. It was always a topic that he could immerse himself into fully, whether he was idly bantering over Masterchef Australia episodes, or making a case for agricultural rights in papers and as a representative at world conferences. Gastronomy has been his North Star since he was eleven and his mother—a trained chef and food photographer—first handed him the recipe for a shepherd’s pie, and he knew it was the only subject he would want to pay his bills with.
He immersed himself into cooking, and found himself in the bucolic cradle of the Hudson Valley at the Culinary Institute of America. Here, he used his undergraduate degree in Culinary Science to zoom in on the intricacies of Indian cuisine and methodically answer all his questions about why food behaved the way it did when humans manipulated it. Relocating to Boston, his life took a sharp turn when he realized that professional kitchens weren’t where he was the most personally satisfied with his work, and found himself as a bar-back and eventually an apprentice bartender at The Hawthorne, one of the nation’s preeminent cocktail bars. Bartending fit him like a velvet glove; Altamash remains captivated by how he to gets to harvest the bartending community in Boston to learn about and invest in the confluence of creativity and hospitality that he’s so passionate about. He found that his mind could still sharpen as the first ticket of the night came through, just as it did in a kitchen, and he could still transcribe flavors at the edge of his consciousness into a glass…he just got the chance to do it on display now, and be both creative and kind to his guests and coworkers.
And yet, the questions never ceased. In shifting his pantry from a walk-in to a back bar with wells and top shelves, he found that every bottle told an anthropological story, and every liquor-sodden story was deeply grounded in history and politics, community and commensality, family and emotion. As someone entrusted to pouring and mixing these ‘ingredients’ together to pull the most profuse flavor out of them and also convey their emotional resonance, Altamash is determined to make the most out of BU’s resources by learning as much as he can about bartending and liquor through a gastronomic lens.
Dr. Ellen Messer teaches Food Policy classes in the Gastronomy Program and has prepared this overview of her classes.
NYT front page headline news asserts “Climate Change Threatens the World Food Supply, UN Warns” by Christopher Flavell, 8 Aug19). But how do agricultural and nutritional policies contribute to causation and potential mitigation? Can better understandings of national food systems and policies, and cultural dietary constructions influence outcomes?
BU Gastronomy’s policy track, as part of the BU MLA in Gastronomy, crafts answers to these questions. Two courses— “World Food Systems and Policy” (MET ML 720, offered in fall term) and “US Food Systems and Cultural Politics” (MET ML 721, offered in spring term) are specifically dedicated to clarifying international and US policy issues. A third, “Local to Global Food Values: Policy, Practice, and Performance” (MET ML 719, to be offered on-line in spring or summer term), addresses environmental, economic, cultural, and nutritional dimensions that influence producer, consumer, marketing, and regulator behaviors. Each combines a range of multi-disciplinary theoretical, advocacy, and practical readings, along with well-structured discussion exercises and written assignments that prepare participants for roles in food businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations, including research and activist policy think tanks.
Enrollment in MET ML 720 and MET ML 721 is open to Gastronomy and other graduate students, and to advanced undergrads with the permission of the instructor.
MET ML 720, World Food Systems and Policy, with Dr. Ellen Messer, will meet in the Fall 2019 Semester on Tuesday evenings from 6:00 to 8:45 PM beginning on September 3. You can register here.
MET ML 721, US Food Systems and Cultural Politics, will meet on Tuesday evening in the Spring 2020 semester.
We continue our introductions to student who will be joining the Gastronomy Program this fall with these four bios.
Danielle Jacques spent her childhood jumping on hay bales at her grandparents’ dairy farm in Maine. Too busy dunking homemade cookies in fresh milk, she never realized the hardships of small-scale farming and was shocked when the farm suddenly closed. During her first year at Smith College, she studied the economics of agriculture, trade, development, and poverty in the food system, which put her small family farm into a global, political context. She spent the rest of her college career studying the impact of global trade and agricultural policies on food producers. Her research brought her to sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic and to Havana, Cuba, where she studied the impact of US trade restrictions on Cuban farmers.
After graduating, Danielle spent a year in Maine before hopping across the pond to teach English in Spain. While living in Madrid, she started a blog to write about her experiences tasting, making, and sharing food. Her posts ranged from the role of Communism in establishing a unified Bulgarian national cuisine to the significance of representation and cultural integration of the doner kebab. She also blogged for Madrid’s refugee resettlement organization, Madrid For Refugees, covering classes taught through their Chefugee program as well as the Refugee Food Festival.
Coming from Julia Child’s alma mater, Danielle is thrilled to develop a career in the realm of food academia at the graduate program Julia founded. Most days, you can find her behind the cheese counter at Formaggio Kitchen, talking at length about the incredible cheeses from small dairies not unlike her family’s. In her free time she enjoys reading about food, writing about food, and making food for loved ones.
From humble beginnings, Elizabeth Weiler holds roots in fast-food saturated Van Nuys, California, where words like ‘organic’ and ‘local’ are only thrown around to poke fun at ‘hippie vegans’. For the past few years, Elizabeth has made her home in the Pacific Northwest where the sentiment towards food is dramatically opposite and both food transparency and sustainability are at the forefront of consumer values. Studying food studies at the University of Oregon opened Elizabeth’s eyes to the breadth of impact that food industries have and the challenges they are facing today. Taking on employment at various restaurants, an organic produce company, a food bank garden, and a French-American bakery has given Elizabeth much insight into the ever-changing role of food in society. It has also given her an immense drive to be a part of shaping a sustainable future for these vital food systems. In order to take on this venture, she must be able to gain a more in-depth knowledge on the foodways that shape the world. Elizabeth is thrilled to quench her thirst for knowledge at Boston University’s master’s program.
Kate Watson recently moved to Boston with her husband and son after a lifetime in the San Francisco Bay Area. Growing up in a food-obsessed family, she received an early education in the importance of shared meals, wine, and the value of "harvesting" your own Thanksgiving turkey.
After initially pursuing Psychology, Kate made her way to the food industry, where she has worked for the past decade. Kate’s time in the ingredient sourcing world opened her eyes to the complexity of agricultural supply chains, while her work on Clif Bar & Company’s Community team with organic agriculture and food-centered nonprofits inspired her to dig deeper into the world of food. After a health-related diet shift, Kate also became interested in the relationship between food and belonging. She is extremely excited to explore Gastronomy with others who share her passion for learning.
Elle Wignall was born and raised in Iowa, where salads don't have to include greens, chili is best enjoyed with a side of cinnamon roll, and ranch reigns supreme. Elle joins the Gastronomy program with a deep appreciation of the regional cuisine she was raised on and a hunger to explore cultures and relationships through the lens of food. Like many in the food industry, Elle has been heavily influenced by the cooking of her grandmothers. Elle received an English degree with a nonfiction writing focus from the University of Iowa and currently works in the financial industry as a technical writer. She moonlights as an essayist and baker-- usually of sourdough bread and pies.
We hope you will enjoy getting to know some of the new students who will be joining the Gastronomy Program in September.
Neema Syovata feels fortunate to have been born in Nairobi, Kenya – where she had many beautiful and varied culinary experiences fostered by grandparents who were culinary geniuses! She received her undergraduate degree in International Business, Entrepreneurship and Spanish from Northeastern University, before moving to NYC. There, she joined the PR department of Food & Wine magazine, where she got the opportunity to participate in culinary events such as the Food &Wine Classic in Aspen, and Best New Chefs. Spending time in the world of culinary publishing/events piqued her interest further on the subject of food. She noticed that African cuisine is seldom represented on the culinary landscape and this in turn led her to ponder the future of Modern African Cuisine, which is something she would like to dedicate her purpose to.
Stella Morfessis is from Long Island, New York. She recently moved to Boston to start a new job as a laboratory technician in the Department of Molecular Genetics at Boston University. In 2018 she received a B.S. in Biology from Marist College but has always been interested in actively being a part of the culinary world. Her culinary journey started when she was a child, watching her mother and grandmother cook traditional Greek dishes together at home.
Stella always found food intriguing, however she never thought about it scientifically until she studied microbiology and biochemistry in college. Taking those courses led her to ponder the makeup of food and also how it affects the human body. In microbiology, she learned about fermentation which peaked her interest in the science of wine making. She also learned about the role of fungus in the production of one of her favorite food groups, cheese. Stella’s ideal job would allow her to blend her interests of science and the culinary arts, working in recipe development. Stella is excited to fully embrace the culinary world by learning more about the culture and roots of different cuisines as well as how her background in the sciences can be incorporated into her cooking.
Catie Duckworth was raised in Western Pennsylvania in an Italian American family where they often celebrated the food of their heritage. She learned to cook many Italian recipes that were passed down through the family, kick starting her love of food and cooking at a young age. After graduating college, Catie moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue a career in the legal field. She worked at a Veterans law firm for over four years before making the decision to change course in her career.
Catie has put her passion for food into her food blog, Catie Cooks, where she writes about everything food-related. She loves spending time developing new recipes for her blog. Through the gastronomy program, Catie hopes to gain more technical culinary skills to apply to her recipe development. She is very excited to begin her new life in Boston, especially to explore all the Italian food in the North End.
Programs in the Pépin Lecture Series in Food Studies & Gastronomy are free and open to the public, but registration is requested.
We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God
With author Kendall Vanderslice
The gospel story is filled with meals. It opens in a garden and ends in a feast. Records of the early church suggest that believers met for worship primarily through eating meals. Over time, though, churches have lost focus on the centrality of food-- and with it a powerful tool for unifying Christ's diverse body.
But today a new movement is under way, bringing Christians of every denomination, age, race, and sexual orientation together around dinner tables. Men and women nervous about stepping through church doors are finding God in new ways as they eat together. Kendall Vanderslice shares stories of churches worshiping around the table, introducing readers to the rising contemporary dinner-church movement. We Will Feast provides vision and inspiration to readers longing to experience community in a real, physical way.
Kendall Vanderslice is a graduate of the BU Gastronomy Program and has recently received her MA in Theological Studies from Duke University.
Friday, September 20 at 6 PM
College of General Studies, 871 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA, room 505
Meat Planet: Artificial Flesh and the Future of Food
With author Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft
In 2013 a Dutch scientist unveiled the world’s first laboratory-created hamburger, and since then the idea of producing meat, not from live animals but from carefully cultured tissues, has spread like wildfire through the media. Meanwhile, cultured meat researchers race against population growth and climate change in an effort to make sustainable protein. Meat Planet explores the quest to generate meat in the lab—a substance sometimes called “cultured meat”—and asks what it means to imagine that this is the future of food.
Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is a writer and historian, and currently a Visiting Scholar in Anthropology at MIT. He was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT and a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the New School for Social Research. His essays on food and other topics appear regularly in publications from Gastronomica to the Los Angeles Review of Books to the Hedgehog Review
Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 6 PM
College of General Studies, 871 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA, room 505
Vanishing Bees: Science, Politics, and Honeybee Health
With author Daniel Kleinman Thursday
Vanishing Bees takes us inside the debates over widespread honeybee deaths, introducing the various groups with a stake in solving the mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder, including beekeepers, entomologists, growers, agrichemical companies, and government regulators. Drawing from extensive interviews and first-hand observations, Sainath Suryanarayanan and Daniel Lee Kleinman examine how members of each group have acquired, disseminated, and evaluated knowledge about CCD. In addition, they explore the often-contentious interactions among different groups, detailing how they assert authority, gain trust, and build alliances.
Daniel Kleinman is the Associate Provost for Graduate Affairs in the Office of the Provost and Professor of Sociology in the College of Arts & Sciences.
This program will be complemented by a honey-based tasting prepared by Chef Janine Sciarappa.
Thursday, October 24 at 6 PM
Fuller Building, 808 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA, room 117
Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating
With author Dr. Robyn Metcalfe
Even if we think we know a lot about good and healthy food—even if we buy organic, believe in slow food, and read Eater—we probably don't know much about how food gets to the table. What happens between the farm and the kitchen? Why are all avocados from Mexico? Why does a restaurant in Maine order lamb from New Zealand? In Food Routes, Robyn Metcalfe explores an often-overlooked aspect of the global food system: how food moves from producer to consumer. She finds that the food supply chain is adapting to our increasingly complex demands for both personalization and convenience—but, she says, it won't be an easy ride.
Robyn Metcalfe, a food historian and food futurist, is a Lecturer and Research Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin and Director of Food+City. She holds a PhD in history from Boston University.
Tuesday, November 5 at 6 PM
College of General Studies, 871 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA, room 505
This post from Gastronomy Student Caitlin Bueno continues our series from students in Anthropology of Food.
Cabot’s Ice Cream & Restaurant is “a family owned and operated old-fashioned ice cream parlor and restaurant” in Newton, MA. The restaurant, known for its ice cream sundaes, also has a full menu serving breakfast all-day, and diner fare such as burgers, soup du jour and daily specials. Cabot’s, opened since 1969, emphasizes its mission to “provide quality, value, service and consistency to all…customers” in several locations on its website. At Cabot’s, nostalgia is served on a silver platter, a treat for all five senses.
Sitting at the restaurant counter, my eyes are immediately drawn to the oversized, colorful and enticing sundaes that are moving quickly out of the central ice cream workstation. The restaurant smells very sweet, understandable with the volumes of ice cream and toppings present, but also has the faint smell of fried foods, coming from the kitchen in the back of the restaurant. The dining room is lively and filled with sound. There are many customers laughing, wait staff talking, the soft serve and milkshake machines whirring, dishes placed on the stone counter and into clearing bins, glass clanging against the metal ice cream workstation, and noise coming from the kitchen. The floor and counter are sticky, inevitable from the overfilled, dripping sundaes enjoyed around the restaurant.
Finally, the taste of nostalgia – mint chocolate chip ice cream with hot fudge and fresh whipped cream. The experience at Cabot’s communicates nostalgia, though the food, atmosphere and décor. Handmade, cold, sweet, creamy and rich, a sundae that is hard to find in our modern fast-food nation.
This post from Gastronomy Student Altamash Gaziyani continues our series from students in Anthropology of Food.
4th March, 2017
As a food runner during a backed-up lunch service on the first Saturday of a new block, there’s not much I can do to help other than scrabble around, plucking tickets off the floor as they whizz out the machine unrelentingly, and scuffle against the wall, waiting for the floundering students to start putting plates up: the chef can though. Dwayne Lipuma famously shows no mercy when a single cog slides out of place from the ever-ticking, jewelled kitchen that is American Bounty; his prodigious skill and all round bad-assery in the kitchen are probably direct results of his years spent toiling in the industry and the disturbingly acute instincts and skills he’s developed over time. Today, it was overcooked beef that caught his eye. The hefty glaze of sauce wasn’t enough to hide the fact that the tenderloin was no longer blushing and rosy behind its veil; sauce was spattered across the plate like something from a street fair and the miserable brown-grey hunks of meat huddled in the center, the plate angled ‘cleverly’ in a desperate attempt to pass off the dud order.
He kicked into high gear immediately: with a single bellow, the students were cowering against their stations as he stormed down the line, all eyes trained on him. His hands were a busy, coordinated blur; his movements were perfectly coordinated; his eyes whizzed in their sockets as he barked orders and barked some more until they were carried out to his standards. He was absolutely savage, refusing to mince words or take the time to explain his actions—he knew just how long to baste the meat and flash the potatoes, just how much salt to flick into the wilted greens, exactly what order the components went on the plate. In the blink of an eye, we had nine plates of beef up and he continued toiling and raging away as the runners scurried to get the plates out. As I dashed out, I couldn’t help but shoot one last glance behind my back, watching him plate and cook simultaneously, and think that that was a man that knew exactly what impression he was making, and also how thoroughly he’d earned it.
17th August, 2016
I can’t stand it anymore. That pool house is tiny and quite unclean (which is a nicer way of saying its corners are grimier than a toad’s backside) and horribly stuffy during the Virginia summer. There’s barely enough room for one person to dash around and fire onion rings, flip burgers and toss salads for the horde of children swarming outside—I found myself stuck with two servers (who had the sense to bring portable fans) and Carlos. Good God, Carlos. He spent the all of prep chatting with the manager and then with a friend, regaling them with lurid stories about the busy services he’s endured in places “much more high quality” than this, leaving me to prep for about 350 people all by myself. He then proceeded to snatch the most difficult, ‘macho’ job—working the flat top and cooking pre-portioned, cookie-cutter patties of beef while trying to chat up Anu and Taylor, lolling by the front until we opened and rolling their eyes over and over in their skulls as he attempted flip after higher flip. When we were finally open, he swaggered up to the front window, bumping the two girls aside and handing plates to customers himself with a trollish grin as I let a continuous, steady stream of muttered swears flow while firing and plating…everything. Everything. I have no idea what he achieved today. All I know is that I hope for goodness sake that his cooking can keep up with his bravado tomorrow; that stuffy little kitchen is all his to work in (and scrub down) after he’s done inflating his ego some more overnight.
19th March, 2016
Sean and I have this system down. As an order comes in, he calls out to the other stations to coordinate times as I pour vegetables into different sauté pans over melted butter, ready to fire. When the order’s called, he drops the seafood and I begin picking up the sides, stirring smoked potato puree and basting leeks while he makes sure the scallops are perfectly burnished, the halibut achingly soft. We turn at the same time: I swish the puree across the flat plate, he places the scallops on and I start garnishing with vegetables like clockwork, while he positions the halibut and leeks in another bowl, waiting on me to pour the broth for the second dish. We walk up in perfect time to the pass, a plate in each hand, and set them down for Jasmine and Chef G to garnish, for the kitchen to keep the pace up with, for the customers watching eagerly from the window to admire. I can’t attest for him, but I can feel every single eye on the food as we walk back and see, ever so clearly in my mind’s eye, Chef G’s eyebrows raising unwillingly in surprise and pleasure. God, does recognition feel beautiful.
28th June, 2015
If I had to describe service tonight, I would call it unnecessary: it was an unnecessary, showy affair that Chef insisted on escalating into a cockfight between all the stations. I was demoted to make cupcake batter for the amenities we give our posh, prima-donna clientele and got to sit this one out, which meant I had a front-row seat to the catastrophe. It started off with a simple jab towards garde manger—the eager externs looking to establish their place in the new exec’s kitchen and earn his respect. “You guys wanna buck up that snail-pace there?”, he drawled, his icy-blue eyes flashing as he shot a roguish wink towards the ‘big guns’ on the hot line. The externs looked like they’d just been tasered, and began floundering in a desolate attempt to quicken service, pushing out niçoises and ceviches (with a certain lack of attention to detail). Chef’s head flicked instantly towards hot apps, as he began taunting the experienced line cooks for “letting the kids thrash” them. I saw several scowls burst across faces and fists clench as they hopped to and began veritably flinging plates at servers while Chef sniggered at the pass.
I saw one extern slip across the floor and smash his forehead against the metal countertop, only to shake off the blinding pain and continue with tears in his eyes. I saw another on the verge of hysterics, bleating incessantly for his partner to buck up as he toiled to keep up with Chef’s demand. I saw one line cook sweating buckets into his sauté pans, his mouth an imperceptible line and a frown scratched across his face, and another pair snapping at each other to keep up with the demand. I saw everybody trying to please the horrible ringleader, dancing along like circus animals to his tune for the fear of feeling his whip, and turned right back around. The cupcake batter deserved more attention than that rigmarole.
1st April, 2010
The clock kept ticking. The risotto was ready, I’d just mounted it with enough butter and pecorino cheese to bring a grown man to his knees—it was good too, if I may say so. I had the prawn skewers all ready to go for people as they walked in; the powerful aromas of honeyed, roasted garlic, and nutty-brow butter that had imbued the shrimp were permeating the house. The pie was ready too: plump and bursting at the seams with lamb and sauce (lamb that cost me a fortune and was probably why I now had no money, but hey, it was worth it). I’d even gotten the cake into the fridge to set; a giant, Oreo-cookie-crusted spectacle, resplendent with fudge crumbs and vanilla ice cream to go with it. As I wiped rivulets of sweat trickling down my forehead, I sat patiently, staring at the door, waited for the twenty-or-so people that had promised to show up for lunch to come. My cat nudged my ankle, her eyes round and anxious, but I gently pushed her aside; these people were bound to show any minute, I thought, and I needed to be ready. I needed to make an impression, because who was I, if I wasn’t the guy that cooked for everybody? The quiet, little boy with the awful fringe that sat in the front row and did everyone’s project assignments? Or the one who got asked to parties out of obligation and watched while everybody danced? No. That wasn’t me. That isn’t me. I can make miracles out of basic ingredients and coax flavours to life. I deserve to be recognized for what it is that I do for these people, for how much I care, even if I have to work harder and wait longer by the door with a plastic smile on my face.
Ten hours later, after I’d poured all my food (minus enough for dinner) into the trash and carried it out myself, weeping senselessly as I stumbled down the stairs and into my pillow at night, the clock kept ticking.