Crazylandia Four

So. Most people that meet me think I’m a pretty relaxed non-competitive kind of guy.

You know, that’s bullshit.

I’m actually an incredibly and annoyingly competitive guy.

Sometimes passive aggressive.

It’s just that a lot of the people I hang with, and sometimes myself, don’t notice until well after the fact.

I have been over to people’s houses. Had kind of crappy food. Noted it consciously or subconsciously.

Months, or years, later, I have caught myself improving their dishes and trying to serve it back to them when they were visiting my house. Pretty shitty. I’m not proud, but sometimes I have to police myself even if others don’t notice.

I was chatting with a friend who participates in cocktail competitions, and he was saying stuff like, “taste is subjective,” and, “you just can’t take that sort of thing personally.”

And I’m like, “Bullshit.”

Sure. You do your day job. Whatever. It rolls off your back.

When you put yourself and your taste out there it matters. And when you fuck up or when people don’t get it, it hurts.

In general, my life philosophy has been to avoid pain.

Sometimes this has meant avoiding risk taking.

Not to be all dramatic about it or anything. But maybe I should think about that.

Crazylandia Three

So things got a bit sticky for a while.

Because I know a bunch of cocktail people, online or in person, they sometimes send me notes asking for advice on where to go for cocktails in San Francisco. A while ago, a foreign bartender asked me for advice. I gave him a list of places, said we should get together, and asked why he was in town. Anyway, it turned out it was a business trip related to the liquor and bartender business. That sort of thing is sort of out of my realm, so I referred him to a San Francisco bartender, and they set up a sort of itinerary for their trip.

Unfortunately, one of the venues didn’t really live up to its reputation, resulting in a certain post by the name of “Boutique Ethos.”

In the meantime, a few weeks after the Tilted Portal dinner, I received a note from E. asking if I would perhaps be interested in meeting for a drink. He suggested a couple places, including the one which had resulted in the above unfavorable experience. A friend of his was working there.

Anyway, we ended up meeting at that venue, which worried me a bit. I was a little afraid I would be taken out back and beaten with sticks. But, no such thing happened. What did happen was certain things came to light regarding service at the venue which were quite eye opening. As we watched E.’s friend field foot long drink order after foot long drink order, it was quite apparent what a brutal slog working at that venue could be.

Somewhere during the course of the evening, E. asked me, “Do you think you could do that?”

Now, every time someone asks me about my experience in Food Service, I tell them I worked as a cook for 10 years.

Apparently, from this statement, they get the idea that I worked in some pussy foot job like a vanity catering gig.

Rather, my resume, prior to the last 10 years of IT work, looks something like this:

In 1984 I started worked for a Brat und Brau as a set up and prep person.

From 1985 to 1986, I worked for a catering company washing dishes, doing prep, delivery, events, whatever.

From 1986 to 1989, I worked for a Southwestern restaurant as a prep cook, line cook, and Kitchen Manager.

There’s a weird period around 1990, where I worked as a coffee delivery person and espresso jerk for a small coffee roaster. Don’t ask. The only real good thing that came out of this period was meeting Mrs. Underhill, who was apparently quite attracted by the accompanying Eau-de-Coffee and free beans.

In 1991, I worked for a local bakery and restaurant, first as a dish washer, soon graduating to prep and line cook for breakfast, lunch and brunch.

Later in 1991, connections at the above restaurant allowed me to become a part of the team which opened the first restaurant to attempt to serve authentic regional Italian dishes in the city I was living in. Great job. One of the highlights of my working career to date. The chef was a great woman who was really into sharing knowledge and treated the staff almost as her extended family. It was great team environment where everyone was treated with respect and encouraged to contribute. Unfortunately, I think she was a bit uncompromising when it came to costs and quality, so eventually fell out with the owners. When she left they hired a new chef who wanted to bring his friends on board. I didn’t really get along with him, but a good worker, so was shuffled off to Breakfast, Brunch, and Dinner work.

After our move to California in 1993, I got a job at a Cafe, working Breakfast, Lunch, and Brunch line cook. For 2 years, I worked as an expediter, made soups, and created lunch specials.

As anyone who has ever worked a busy Mother’s Day brunch, Valentine’s Day Dinner, or New Year’s Eve Dinner can tell you, that ain’t pussy foot work. Those shifts are brutal slogs. I don’t know what it says about the culture or work ethic of America or Americans, but to be a bit frank, Anglos no longer even really work in many of the sorts of jobs I did.

Dish washing at the Restaurant and Bakery was the worst. They had an attached busy retail bakery and only one dish washing setup for the bakery and restaurant. Basically a 24 hour operation. You had to be there at 6 AM, you worked for 8 hours, and no matter how hard you worked, there was no way to make a dent in the dishes coming from the bakery and restaurant. It seemed like the same stacks of muffin tins, bread pans, and breakfast dishes were there at the end of your shift, as had been there at the beginning. The only real difference was the change from egg detritus to sandwich detritus on the plates towards the end. It was a truly Sisyphean exercise.

So, somewhat glibly, I replied, “I know I could do the making drinks part of the job.”

Crazylandia Two

While at Flower talking to E., I had asked if there was anyone at Tilted Portal who would be into making a few cocktails from “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” E. mentioned that one of the bartenders, J., was an eGullet reader, and that he thought she might be interested in participating. Also, that when I came in I should bring my wife and we should have dinner at the bar.

Well, that all sounded fun. For a few weeks I tried to get down to Tilted Portal to say, “Hi,” to J. and ask if she would be interested.   Usually like to meet people before sending them random emails. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, so I just cold emailed her using the address E. had given me.

Fortunately, J. was interested and we worked out a day to meet at Tilted Portal.

Another fun evening of geeking out about cocktails and technique. Making cocktails and trying inventions. J.’s fantastic house made orgeat was a highlight and something of a revelation to me.

And Mrs. Underhill did drop by to meet me. After all the cocktail geekery, we also had a wonderful dinner at the bar and got a chance to chat with E., who was also working that evening.

By this time, however, E. had heard of johnder and donberts escapades as bartenders, so upped the ante. “When are you going to be like johnder and donbert? Work a few shifts behind the bar?”

I repeated my usual refrain. Blah, blah, I’ve experienced slaving away as a line cook. I like to sit at home at night. Wife, cats, house, sleeping. Stuff like that. And that was pretty much where we left it.