Saturday, 20 September 2014

the writer, the chef and the big, big fucking joke





“Don't touch my dick, don't touch my knife.” 
Anthony Bourdain, "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly"


Jams is rocking the pass with his youth, his ninja blueroll headband and his effort to focus and concentrate on what he is doing.
It is not easy, especially when someone is distracting you.

"You can't say that, Danny," I said to Mr Cheers.
"Why not?" he replied.
"Because it's my wife," I said.
Danny turned and grinned at me, "We can say what we want, can't we? We're in here."
I looked around me and took it all in. The fans running noisily, the stove burning, the grill, the lights, the pans, the smell - the two big knives we each held.
I wiped my knife and grinned back at him, "Yeah. We can say what we want in here with these big knives and all this fire Danny."

I broke into Bon Jovi and it only took a verse before I started realizing what a parody of myself I'd actually become, what a joke I'd made of myself. We weren't in service and so my concentration lulled during prep time... ...all my life I had taken some interest in literature, philosophy and the concept of free speech, yet here I was singing "I'm a cowboy..."...


Not quoting Thoreau, Camus, Sartre, Joyce, Eliot on the banks of the Dordogne - but singing, "I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride..." in a Kitchen in Parkgate on the Wirral.
But then slap, bang goes reality and the cheque comes on... two -- one -- one -- one -- side of -- two  -- three -- one -- with starters... aaaand.... focus...
No I might not be quoting Thoreau, I might not be extolling the virtues of Plato, but I was equally and as intensely distracted. To boot, the only place you can really say what you want to is in the kitchen, with all those big knives and all that fire. Yes someone really must trust you to put you in charge of all that dangerous stuff.

And that might cover my interest in freedom of speech. I can say what I want in the kitchen because I'm the one holding the big knife.
As for philosophy, the perpetual and inexplicable cycle of service, the never-ending need for the human to consume and man's ultimate desire to create, begin to draw the picture of the aburd and horrific beauty that we all live. A pattern to study for one's own good. All the philosophy that one might need.
As for literature, it may ultimately be a mimetic substitute for real life experience and the vicarious living of emotion through another's perception - and therefore why not experience that life first hand.

When I attended the University of Liverpool I was banned from the English Society for writing a poem about them: The English Society
Yet no-one ever banned me from a kitchen for saying far, far worse..

The writer, the chef and the big, big joke...
...freedom of speech...
As a writer, I am compelling.
As a chef, I am adequate.
But a joke? A big, big joke?
As a big, big joke, I excell.
I am most certainly to be laughed at and neither pride nor vanity shall come in the way of that.
...I am drinking a cold, bold, black cherry Bulmers...

Reviews and link to the book "Chef and I: Lyrical Salads and Literary Vandalism" by Craig Guthrie


“[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.” 
― Anthony Bourdain, "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly"



Friday, 19 September 2014

Dissociative Identity Disorder and the Venn Diagram of Interests


A few days ago...
"I've been a beast today, Joe," I said in the walk-in to Chef, around 10 pm.
"Why? Have you beasted the prep?"
"Well, not entirely, but I have been a beast."
I walked out of the walk-in.
I couldn't really remember what I'd done that day, but I had the distinct feeling that I had been a beast.
Now, at midnight, I remember.
I remember I had had a plan at 7 am  when I woke that day.
Well, I had had a plan the night before when I finished my shift at 11.30 pm.
I had a mental list - and the list went mostly, thus:

Sort and bake breads
Check sauces/salads
Slice ham
Finish ratatouille mix /make lasagne
Confit duck
Sort pate/make new pate
Make spring rolls
Soup?
Make spring roll mix
Grate cheese
Melon balls
Spinach
New Veg of the Week
Back-up salad prep
Cut goats cheese
and so on...

I got home around 11, there was no beer in the fridge so at around 12, I had to begin my second list, but only ever got to the first point:

Be a good dad.

A couple of days later I made a similar list, but this time, I got in, in the morning and half the list had been done.
Chef had got in early, done half my prep and half set up my section before I even started. Not only this, but Danny Cheers works my side and Chef shares service all day.
But I still know what to do with myself.
Danny has his interests.
Chef has his interests.
I have my interests.
And so on, creating the Venn Diagram of Interests and Emotional Attachments which we are all a part of.



I don't speak to Joe about what I speak to Danny about.
I don't talk with exactly the same inflection in my speech to Andy as I do with Jams.
I don't discuss matters of the Gyula kind with Mike, and vice versa.
We each, I'm sure, have a distinct personality in the modern world, with almost every person we know. We each play out some level of Dissociative Identity Disorder, merely by existing in the modern world.
We, each and every one, in Old Skool Psyche Speak, are "Schizos" - split-personality schizos who barely know our real selves, as in every work place around the world.

So where is the metaphor? Where is the philosophy in this? The obtuse knowledge? The lesson to raise the quality of our life?
Here is the metaphor. Our lives exist in temporal lists. Past, present and future. If my daily lists were boiled down to one short, lifetime list, my first move, may be to steal a reasonably-sized luxury yacht and sail off with my family to sunnier and more naturally abundant climes.
Here is the philosophy. We are all capable of intense, insightful epiphany. The ability to have sudden and life-changing realizations about our existence which we can act upon and not simply overlook.
The obtuse knowledge. Someone is always there to help you when you least expect it.
The lesson. Make a list. But make your list based upon your true feelings and not the mundane mechanics of everyday life that we are all sucked into. Prioritize your list... make the first thing on it, the very fibre of your being, make the first thing on it, your every passion, your dying soul. Let the beautiful, horrific beast which lurks inside of you write the very first of your priorities for the day...







Thursday, 18 September 2014

The KPs and the true meaning of Humility



I have written in the past, many pieces which I have considered to be types of philosophical metaphor, through the form of poetry and short fiction - too many to mention. When considering this entry and draughting the basic ideas in my head, I bore this in mind.
Well, what is philosophy?
The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline?
And what is a metaphor?
A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else?
And what is a KP?
A Kitchen Porter?
A person employed to wash dishes and carry out other menial duties in the kitchen of a restaurant or hotel?
No, not exactly.
A good or bad KP holds one of the most essential roles in the kitchen. With no clean pans to cook the food in and no clean plates to put it upon, we could not even begin.
The KP is the backbone of the kitchen.
And what is humility?
A modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.
I'm really not sure about that.
Humility is not a trait that everyone in the kitchen naturally possesses. And that just might be a terrible shame.
What if humility was actually the ability to put all thoughts of anyone else's opinion of you, out of your head. What if a dignified humility was the ability to say, I am in your charge, yet I am worth no less than you.
Then I say that Nick and Flapper both have some humility.
And both are quite simply, the very best of KPs.
The problem is, that the only time that anyone recognizes a good KP, is when they are working with a bad one.
I worked with Nick tonight.
Tirelessly, he washes and stacks wave after wave of burnt-out pans, grime-caked trays, glued-out plates. Throwing out the dregs of unwashed tub after tub while throwing plates through the washer like a blink.
Emptying bins, scrubbing floors, unblocking sinks, the list goes on and on, yet he finishes what I couldn't if I took four more hours to attempt it.
But Nick is strong, fast and has stamina. He also has better things ahead of him, and perhaps too much energy for one person sometimes. His eye is sharp enough to betray a mad streak sometimes.
He and Flapper make me welcome in the kitchen and I hope I have the same effect on them.
In any case, I wish them both all the best that life has to offer, not just for the fact that they are both honest, hardworking men.
All hail the KP unless you can do the job better than him.
So what is a philosophical metaphor?
Well, the KP is, of course.
The KP represents the bottom layer of the kitchen pyramid. The foundation upon which the construction can be assembled.
Undervalued, taken for granted, underpaid.
All hail the KP unless you can do the job better than him.
I give you two hours.











Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What do I forget on this dish?



"What do you think I always forget on this dish?" asked Danny tonight.
"The bacon?" I said.
"That's right," he said. "I think you're very observant. Are you observant?"
"No, not really," I said.
I walked into an old folk's home the other day. Just walked straight in to see the old people.
"Hello," I said, "My name's Craig."
I looked at them all sat there, helpless, and smiled at them.
Then I slowly and loudly, continued.
"I've never really wanted to smash someone's face in," I said, solemnly.
"But I have felt like punching someone in the face.
"My ideal punch is a right hook, not intended to kill its recipient, but definitely to render him unconscious, and if not, to hurt him sufficiently so as to render him devoid of the option of retaliation."
I then continued to ramble on about "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" to the elderly in front of me and occasionally stumbled against one of the chairs, quite drunk.
One of the elderly ladies stood up to protest my presence so I punched her in the face.
No, of course I didn't, but I did sing her a few lines of, "Do You Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart.


---

Today was a bank holiday.
We did about 240 for lunch.
I remembered the temporal paradox which was ripped in the bottom right hand side of the walk-in fridge.
I remember the light that shone through and the world beyond which was opened and let in.
The sunshine:

For this short essay I was given an relatively infantile rubrik something akin to, "Discuss wandering in The Odyssey" and told to read the Shewring prose translation.
Instead of taking the easy option, I read Lattimore, Pope and Shewring's translation and honed down to eight examples of comparitive text to exemplify how, indeed, the different translations wandered and strayed from each other, but always managed to convey a common message.

"Appendix 1a presents eight examples of three different translations of the text which illustrate that each remains true to the core theme of the narrative, all addressing the same vital subject matter in hand, while the mood, imagery and emotional response that they evoke drift radically in different directions from the point of embarkation. Specific word choices, prosody, syntax and phonology are but a few of the components which assist in producing the diversity between texts. This makes the comparative study of them a rich and rewarding process. It is also the case that exposure to multiple translations may also, perhaps accidentally, give us a flavour of the traditional oral poetry in which it is rooted, as the textual deviations mirror the alterations which muses were compelled to make when reciting such lengthy epics." - Layers of Wandering in The Odyssey - Craig Guthrie.

Yes, indeed, to follow, are those examples.
And yes, indeed, the university was put to sleep through a lack of funding and forced to employ frightened post-grads to take classes and mark papers.
And yes, indeed, I feel like punching someone in the face.
Lets just hope it's not you.
It is probably you.
On this bank holiday weekend.


---

"What do you think I forget on this dish, every time?" I asked Danny.
"The irony," he replied, "the fucking irony."
"Oh yes, Danny, you're observant too, I do indeed, tend to forget the irony of my whole existence, not to mention the absurdity of it all."









Tuesday, 16 September 2014

each moment slipping away...






"There's talk of me being a drug addict or an alcoholic or serious miscreant of some sort," I said to Andy.
"It's not true you know. None of it is true."
"I'm not interested in that. But your writing," he said, "Is there a serious point to make in any or all of it?" 
"Of course there's a serious point to make," I smiled. "My whole life I never knew..."

What do you do when you find out your wife doesn't have cancer?
That's what happened to me today.
Celebrate? But celebrate by doing what?
More to the point, what do you do when you find out that your wife does have cancer?
Celebrate, surely? Celebrate life. Celebrate every minute you have left together.
But then think, why do we distract ourselves so?
Why do we fill our lives with distractions from the most intense and all-consuming truth that we exist for but a moment in time - fast-burning candles, bubbles forming and popping in the stream, fireworks, come and gone in a nano-second.


"Today, I was distracted, by the kitchen," I said to Andy.
"But tonight, I shall tolerate no distractions. 
"My whole life I never knew. But tonight I shall know everything. How distracted I have been, how apathetic, ungrateful and uninsightful.
"Then I shall dwell no longer on my failings, but on my loved ones."

But my whole life, I shall know tonight, not least by a reasonable concept of time and mortality. Not least by the pursuit of happiness but by the consideration of my those closest and most loved by me.

...each moment slipping away, and not a rulebook or a deity to tell us what to do with it... 

...each moment to enjoy, slipping away, best enjoy each while we can...







Monday, 15 September 2014

8 tips to efficiency. Next Week : An Interview With Joe



"Be careful what you say, he might write a blog about you," has been said more than once in my presence.
No I won't.
It would be a cheap, nasty, not to say effortless trick, to play character assassination in such an industry. No, I'm pretty sure the psuedo-psycho-analytical kitchen-related philosophy is the more trying but rewarding path.
And so, on this serious note, and with the thought in mind that there are "new-starts" in the kitchen who might wish to immerse themselves in the culinary arts but have a lack of practical or technical experience, I should like to take the liberty of listing a few tips to get you on the way.


1 - Learn how to use a knife properly.

I have cut myself on bins, ovens, shelves, boxes, racking, doors, plastic tubs, dishwashers, blue-roll dispensers, shelves, pots, food, frying pans, graters, hoovers, brushes, dustpans, sinks, taps, earthenware, glass and clingfilm boxes. I have never cut myself with a knife.
1 - Learn how to use a knife properly.


2 - Buy a second-hand copy of Practical Cookery by Kinton, Ceserani and Foskett - undoubtedly the best basic reference tool for any aspiring chef.





3 - Wash your hands and wipe your boards.



There is a lovely Scottish mother on the web commenting on her child's toilet ettiquette Lovely Scottish Mum describing what it is if you don't wash your hands as a chef or flush the toilet as a child)
Wash your hands, wipe your boards, don't get pepper or dill stains on your sandwich bread, it's fucking disgusting.

4 - Tune into your Wangfuk.
 This is the south-east Asian monks' term for your energy which is specifically stored for your animal instinct - for example, the energy one would use to have sexual relations in a graveyard after drinking cheap cider and blackcurrent until 3.30 am after a day of M-cat
and liberty caps.
Bonin' in the Boneyard - trimming meat in the abattoir?
4 - Tune into your Wangfuk.

5 - Do all the jobs you least want to do.
We only avoid dishes, either because we don't know them well, or don't execute them adequately enough. If you continue to do all the dishes you don't want to do, they become the ones you know and execute better than any other.
5 - Do all the jobs you least want to do.

6 - Pray.



Under the guidance of your Lord or "Higher Power" you shall realise that you are not walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but merely a kitchen, on your way to the toilet. No-one forces you to be in the kitchen, we have a welfare-state which will adequately provide for the overly-lazy, so if you choose to be there, take some pride in what you do, feel the freedom of that choice.
6 - Pray - thanking your Lord that you both physically and mentally able enough to survive such an environment and be involved in the process of feeding your fellow man.

7 - Shut your fucking puss and do what your told.





The kitchen does not work as a democracy, it can only work as a dictatorship.
If someone is superior to you, in any sense, shut the fuck up and do what you are told. Then, if it all goes tits up, blame them.
Personally, I have always been of the opinion that I am firstly and only answerable to my head chef. I take orders from no-one else, only advice.
Chef is my boss, anyone else, I am only doing favours for. (please refer to Chef and I)
7 - Shut the fuck up and do what your told.

8 - If you can slip anything under the radar that is better than the spec dish, but costs no more and does not affect the bulk protein, do it - it's under the radar, isn't it.


-------

Well, now to get to the point, philosophically of course.

Sigmund Freud was a crank, but he did some important work.
He developed what became known as "The Talking Cure" although the phrase preceded him.
In what would be known as the Modernist period in literature, with James Joyce, TS Eliot and Virginia Woolf coming to the fore at the turn of the nineteenth century with an unprecedented honesty about their feelings, thoughts and mental behaviour, psychoanalysis began to develop and the reality that certain ailments, or problematic behaviours could be changed - cured - just by talking about them.

The problem with Freud though, is the same as the problem with prayer, in that neither, neither really scratch that itch. That relentless, taunting spine-monkey, that scratch, that scratch, that itch, that itch.
But talking, just talking, can actually cure you - just like the kitchen can - it can distract you from all those fears and itchy itches.

Bonin' in the Boneyard.

That bass scratches that itch.

But who is Chef? Who is Joe?
What of the food? What of the fishing? What of the dogs?

Well, fortunately, Joe has agreed to be interviewed by myself for the next post (though he doesn't know it yet).

Next post - "An Interview with Joe" where I shall respectfully bombard him with interesting questions about himself, food, philosophy and existence.

If you would like to hear what Joe has to say, please show your support on the dedicated page - "An interview with Joe" - it might be on Facebook, or Twitter or Snapchat or some other shit like that.
I'd like to know, anyhoo... who likes bonin' in the boneyard? Me? Joe? Jams? Find out in next week's issue of "The ninth and most important tip to kitchen efficiency..."











A Catalogue of Frustration




Am I a complainer? I'd like to think not.
Am I a gossiper. I'd hate to think so.
I'd like to think that while I exude a general air of malaise and maintain a slightly depressive and cynical countenance, I still bear the air of rebellion which ignites the concept of personal freedom in those around me.

After having virtually nothing to eat for 12 hours I mentioned to Staples that I hadn't had a burger for a long time. Around an hour later he gave me half of a kid's cheeseburger he'd made for himself. Oh boy, did it taste good - who is Staples, this exgoth, this straightman, this, this... I don't know yet, but boy was that half a burger good.
How nice it is to share.
How nice to share.

My dad went into hospital last night. He's 83, maybe 82.
He's worked all his life and brought up a family, married 52 years.
He's been through hard times and been through easier times.
He's been honest and forthcoming, frank and open with his ideas and thoughts.
Very talkative, lost people along the way.
A living advocate of the simple life, the countryside and a better view.
A great man, who has never, in his life,  raised his voice or his hand to me and loves the sun to beat down on Scotland.

I would like to direct anyone who might read this to "The Lonely Road and Other Occupations - poetry and prose concerning literary rejection" 

Why?

Well, because these two subjects and my life are inextricably linked - my frustration as an unrecognised and largely unpublished writer, my frustration as a moderate, forgetful chef, my frustration as a generally incompetent homo sapien. I said to Andy today, when he mentioned my writing, that it has merely become a Catalogue of Frustrations with little or nothing published, even less read.

So what are these frustrations?

Well, in fact, there is only one - as a writer, as a chef, in life - and that is, that there is simply never enough time.

The catalogue of one frustration: Never... Enough... Time...

Yup, it's nice to share.