Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Cook's Life #6 - Adding Insult to Injury

about six months ago, i injured my back at work. i was wrapping up some mise en place, when i suddenly felt a sharp twinge down the right side of my lower back. i screamed from the pain, and surprise. i wasn't sure what happened, and everyone around me was concerned. i assured them i was okay, but as the night progressed, i had trouble walking, cutting, moving, and pretty much everything physical you need to do when you are cooking. i was sent home early and tried to rest.

the next few months were fraught with tests, painkillers, muscle relaxants, insurance and workers compensation paperwork, tons of sick leave, all mixed in with drugged up loopy work days (according to HR, i shouldn't have been working at all because they didn't want to be liable), and making absolutely no money. i was also depressed, because my doctors (i saw a total of four) were telling me it didn't look good. after the MRI came back, i was told that i had severe back spasms and that i would forever have back problems.

as a cook, my greatest weakness has always been physical strength. this has made me work harder and faster, trying to compensate for this. i've now been told that years of lifting things that were too heavy for me, and reaching for things that were always a few inches too high have contributed to my back problems. as of August, i've been working cold apps/garde manger while doing physical therapy to strengthen my back.

the restaurant has also been extremely slow. summer has always been our slow season, but this coupled with the recession has led to layoffs and the cutting of schedules. so in addition to having sick leave i've been working only 20 hour weeks. just to make it clear, i made about $1000 over the course of three months...$1000 over the course of three months...i won't write it again, but that's the reality of working as a cook. even as a skilled cook, we make barely enough to live on when we work full time, and anything less is unbelievable. yes, that's a little over $300 a month.

the good news is that i'll be working full time during DINE LA, and back on the hotline for at least three weeks. the chefs asked me if i was going to be ok doing this, and i told them it would be like anything else. i've always been the cook they moved around to whatever station or schedule because they knew i would handle it. they even asked me if they could count on me to work DINE LA, since they knew i was looking for part time work. i said yes because although i do have some prospects, nothing is set and i'd rather say yes to a sure thing. i need the money and i need to start working as a cook again, the kind of cook i used to be.

but lately, i've been feeling let down. first my back, then the restaurant; two things that i depend on for my livelihood have been so shaky, and with the chefs asking me to at least commit to DINE LA, i mean, i understand that everything has been bad for everyone, but honestly if i have a better offer in the next few weeks, i'm going to take it. i am the only one who can take care of myself, and i haven't been able to do that for half a year. i had spoken to the chefs a month ago about needing more hours, and they told me they couldn't guarantee anything, but now they come to me and ask the same? there is no reciprocation, no satisfaction, no guarantees, but still the expectation of professionalism, even if that means i get the short end of the stick. yes, i feel used and abused, but also lucky that i even have a job. and it hasn't helped that all i've been making is cold apps/salads. it's been months of my self-confidence and self-worth slowly being stripped away.

i am looking forward to DINE LA, because it will give the kick in the pants i need, and who knows, maybe the restaurant will get busy again, and i'll have full time hours, and i won't need to get a part time job, or maybe something unexpected will fall into my lap and i'll be doing something completely different. it's been tough, but i'm still trying to stay positive. i'm hoping October and November will bring resolution and a return to normalcy, but for right now i still struggle with lifting the french pans, paying bills, and wondering what comes everyone else, we are all struggling. hope your story is a better one.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Manifesto #6 - 1st Birthday!!!

and here we are, a year and a day later than my first inaugural post for my very first blog. 2008 had alot of postings, as my OCD manifested in sleepless nights of writing all the things about food that i had been constantly thinking about and stored away for "another day." luckily, i couldn't bear keeping everything in my head and had a prolific period. however, this affected my day job (or, night job, rather) and i had to make myself stop for balance. after this i had a few life changing experiences, lived without a computer and internet for a little while, was very busy, and perhaps was trying to build up some cerebral inspiration aka PROCRASTINATION GOLD!

so a year later, i finally start writing again, and i'm glad. thank you to all my readers; i hope you've enjoyed the experience and the greater story that is unfolding. here's to my 1st year and many more to come!!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mood Food #3 Tempus Fugit Manet Amor

thinking of my last post (Food Consciousness #3) i was reminded of how people pass away, but their memory remains. nearly every funeral i've attended, there is always some mention of how the loved one's cooking would be missed. i remember when at my cousin's funeral (died at age 27 from a motorcycle accident) his mother screaming how much she would miss his bbq. for christmas many years ago, i received a notebook with my mom's recipes that i specifically asked her to write out for me, so that when she died, i could cook her dishes and think of her. sounds morbid, but that is definitely part of my personality.

about a month before my uncle's passing, my dear friend PJ (his daughter) was taught a new chicken recipe by him. he was an avid eater and cook, and was always playing around with dishes. since his passing, we've had family get togethers where PJ has made this dish for everyone. it's a classic one pot dish, the kind that warms your soul, and if you'd have known Tito Long, you'd understand the kind of person he was by eating the food he cooked.

alot of time has passed, and the mourning and grieving has given way to fond memories and smiles. we talk about him everyday, and because he was so loved, it's like he isn't really gone. but whenever PJ makes this dish, and we sit to eat, she always mentions her dad. it's like this recipe was a gift he gave, by teaching her how to show her love for people through cooking. every taste brings a little tear and a smile, and everyone at the table quietly eats to remember something and someone good.

i cooked this dish today, and although i've thought of ways to improve the recipe, i decided not to mess with a good thing. it's the kind of dish that doesn't need wine or deglazing, or the caramelizing of onions; it's just good as it is. the following is an email sent by PJ not long after the funeral. if you decide to tweak it, at least try its original form. you won't be disappointed.


Hello All: Here's a recipe that Dad created and taught me last month.I had a chance to cook it for a couple of you -- it's pretty yummy.I'm going to make it tomorrow for my family. Buon appetito! Itadakimasu! Love you guys! PJ

Dad Long's Chicken w/ Tomato and Ginger

Chicken thighs or legs (8 pieces)
Tony Chachere's Cajun Spices
5-6 cloves of Garlic - crushed
1 medium Onion - diced
ginger - cut into thick slices (the greater the number, the better!)
3-4 small Tomatoes - sliced
Chicken Broth
Small can of Tomato Paste

1) Clean the chicken pieces and pat dry

2) Sprinkle the chicken pieces with Tony Chachere's Cajun Spices liberally

3) In a pot (e.g., dutch oven), combine the chicken, garlic, onion, ginger and tomatoes

4) Pour chicken broth into pot (but do not cover completely)

5) Sprinkle more of the Tony Chachere's Cajun Spices into the broth

6) Bring to a boil

7) Lower heat to a simmer and cover pot

8) Simmer for 45-60 minutes

9) Uncover and add tomato paste to thicken sauce

10) Cook for another 10 minutes

11) Serve with your choice of starch (rice, potato or pasta)