Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Full Loop

We're near the end of an 18-hour marathon of shopping, prepping, chopping, tasting and cooking for Sunday's birthday party for Ruthie's mom. With a crew call at the client's house set for 7:30am sharp in Santa Monica, every minute is critical, and getting every bite right is your only goal.

Using the kitchen timer on my niece's stove, catching respite with snore-filled catnaps on her couch, we managed to spell each other from midnight to 2:00am cooking and checking batch after batch of roasted red potatoes, letting them brown to golden, smearing them with a luscious mix of olive oil, garlic, chopped parsley and sea salt. Please everyone, remind me when I have had more sleep, to write more about the sensually titillating experience of rubbing warm potatoes with a bath of olive-oiled garlic and herbs. I'm serious.

For those who don't know Ruthie, I introduced her here when I first started this blog. She called me to cater this event because 1) She's tasted my food and she's sold; 2) she's a big fan of Alchemical Bites; 3) her daughters, Maya and Sarah fell in love with me when I introduced them to dark chocolate fondue with fresh pineapple at their father's election victory thank-you party for his volunteers, which I catered.

To say catering, or for that matter, industrial cooking like my father did is hard is an understatement. It can be brutal on your body if you don't take extra care of yourself.

First, to be able to think on your feet--a necessary survival strategy in the kitchen, you have to think of your feet. You only have two of them. They're there to move you through an obstacle course of deliveries, wending your way through a kitchen, kicking the door open when both hands are full, and they're probably the last sentient extremities you have left, doing their job while you're keeping your eyes open with toothpicks and your hands are on auto-pilot. You've got to have good arch support in your shoes. In fact, I will fight to the death with any fashionista to defend Mario Batali's living in his fashion-backward orange crocs. I understand, man. Its a totally forgiveable fashion faux pas and an industrial necessity.

You've got to do some form of strength exercise. I don't care: if you can manage a weekly visit to the gym or your Pilates instructor, or do yoga or get a massage, if you do anything even while in the act of making love that gives you some form of core and back strengthening, you'll last longer. When you're bending over a cutting board prepping your vegetables, heaving loads of crates, or pots full of boiling broth, lifting heavy trays of hot food out from under the broiler and you don't have a second to lose--any physical advantage you have is critical to endurance, which is what this business is.

Music is not optional. It is the atmosphere you breathe in to keep you motivated through your day. It also keeps you inspired when you begin to find yourself thinking all of your food tastes the same, or you just can't figure out what spice configuration you need to make the chutney complete, or you've got to determine whether you should make that eighth trip to Ralph's to get more of the vanilla extract that's just run out, or should you use almond extract instead. Music fills the gaps in self-inspiration. It often and always, as Sly and the Family Stone sing--takes you higher.

Comrades in arms. What can I say about this? That I was lucky enough for my sister to give birth to my best kitchen partner in this incarnation in life? It appears to me now that Fi chose to come to this lifetime gifted with a wisdom beyond her years, and the ability to instantly pick up cooking instructions and subsequently IMPROVE them. She's been this way in the kitchen since she was five, by the way. I love the way she swims in the kitchen under even the most stressful of times, as a fish takes to water.

As I am writing this, I am full of memories of my father coming home every night after an 18 hour day in the camp kitchen where he worked for twenty years. His was a life of hard labor, which undid him in the end, but was also filled with some fun times with mates watching over large-scale production of food, sharing filthy stories and ribald jokes to keep it going. Of my mother who labored in a canning factory in Watsonville, California grading produce for packaging and shipment, buoyed by friendships that stood the test of time, following her into retirement and the last years of her life. Fi and I come from a long, proud line of hard working people who did their best under amazingly hard circumstances, weary and grateful they had the skills to make it work in this rough place called America.

In a way, we have come the full loop. Daughter and granddaughter of new immigrants taking on, with pleasure and satisfaction, the jobs our family took on to survive when they first arrived. This time though, there's the difference of experience, modern health regimes, and the wisdom of good business decisions to make sure we get the recognition and the time we need to take good care of ourselves and keep the flame burning without destroying the torch. We're in this because we love this. There's no other reason better than that to do anything.

My father and mother, upstairs in heaven, must both be laughing with pride.

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