Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Food Talk

I'm gonna cover a few food-related topics, so let's get started:

1) Wanda, a longtime friend of TFR (and mother of the second cutest toddler on the planet) asked for a synopsis of orientation day, so here goes:

Orientation started in the gymnasium of Lane Community College at 10:00 AM this morning, and after a brief welcome, we broke out into groups based on major. From 10:20 or so until 1, we had a general orientation for the college and a campus tour. Our orientation leader was not someone directly associated with the culinary program, so a lot of what she told us was completely irrelevant, and a total waste of time. But at least we discovered on the tour (and had confirmed later) that a lot of the planters around our building are planted with herbs. That will prove useful.

I made a couple of friends, guys I clickedwith right away, and I plan to eat in their restaurants some day. I found myself early on evaluating people (based on appearance, demeanor, body language, etc.): "Executive chef, exec, sous, dropout after 4 weeks, sous chef, exec...." Along with the Culinary Arts program, the college also has an excellent hospitality mamangement program, and some of our classes overlap, so I plan on starting my networking while still in school, so that some day I'll have contacts to run/staff the front AND back of the house when I open my own place.

General orientation, which was supposed to go till 1, was done before noon, so before we split for a 2-hour lunch, we went around the room introducing ourselves to each other, name, why we were there, and favorite dessert. It was interesting to watch a group of people who are all crazy about food react to each other, agreeingwith each other's thoughts and favorite desserts: even if they weren't our own favorite, they were damned good points. It was almost like a religious experience. Creme Brulee, Cheesecake, chocolate, etc... one classmate wants to own a wedding cake business. My favorite dessert, old school rustic blackberry cobbler, also got a good reception.

I'm more intimidated by the business end and the fast pace of production in a restaurant environment than I am about the technical skills and artistry of creating food. But I didn't make this big a leap because I had no other options -- I did this because I love food, I love to cook, and I'm damned good at it, and by God, one day you'll be able to order my food from a menu.

2) I'm no fan of Pate, but I applaud my felloe culinarians for taking this stand for freedom. I personally do not cook or eat veal, pate, or certain other dishes for ethical reasons, but I draw the line at banning those foods. I also find it highly ironic that the people who would ban pate tend to be on the end of the political spectrum that fights for the right to abort babies. Would you like a nice glass of hypocrisy to go with your double standard

3) As I mentioned in my criticism of Red Agave, some of the best food you'll ever taste is not high cuisine. And if you're willing to forgo delightful atmosphere, lovely presentation, and pampering service, you can get some %$@*& amazing tasting food for dirt cheap. My favorite example of this is the best Goram pizza I've ever had in my life:

Back in 2000, when TFR and I lived in San Diego, she had to take her state boards to practice esthetic (spa skincare), and the closest place to take them was in HelL.A. The test was in two parts over two days, so we spent the night in a cheap motel a couple blocks off of Wilshire. We got there pretty late in the evening the first day after her first session, and were famished. We went to the front desk and asked for advice on where to eat. the manager/owner, and Indian fellow, asked what kind of food we wanted, the started showing us all the brochures for places that were advertising through the motel desk. In a sudden, brief, and all-too-rare moment of brilliance, I suddenly stopped him and asked, "No. When YOU order food, where do YOU order from?"

He stopped and smiled at me with the same sly kind of smile I suppose Socrates or Buddha or Jesus might have smiled when one of their disciples had a moment of enlightenment, yet at the same time, it was the same sly, conspiratory look someone might give to a fellow member of a secret society after the handshake has been exchanged. Looking around as if to avoid detection by the KGB, he reached unter the counter and pulled out a well-worn, grease-stained menu for a place called Roman's, which billed itself as a Mexican-Italian-American Takeout & Delivery establishment. We ordered Pepperoni Pizza which took an hour or more to deliver due to police roadblocks of most of the surroung streets as the result of a high speed chase (California's official state sport).

Oh. My. Dear. Lord.

This pizza thin, almost New York thin, but with gallons of sauce on it. It was still hot. The crust was a perfect consistency -- not too soft, not too hard, with a mysterious combination of crisp bottom, and light, chewy upper crust. The cheese was perfect -- completely melted and bubbling, but substantial enough that you felt your teeth go through it. I took a bite of it and discovered what I thought was a bone (weird/scary), only to discover that it was the secret to the Nirvana-transporting flavor of the pie: the stem from the fresh oregano used in the sauce. It was... well, Lord, it was 6 years ago, I freaking HATE California, hate LA even worse, and I'm still getting nostalgic for that night. That pizza was perfect. That pizza ruined me, and every pizza I've ever had since has been judged based on how close it comes to being that good.


Oh, yeah, a couple more cool, culinary-related personal notes:

As I mentioned, on her visit, my mother brought along some items I inherited from my family, as well as a few gifts she purchased for us. Among them were my great unvle's filet knife (razor sharp, old school hand-ground stainless steel), my grandparents' food/meat grinder (electric), and an apron she bought for me -- it's black denim, and it has a pirate's skull embossed on the chest. I've always been fascinated by pirates, and it's an appropriate apron since I've also taken an interest in hard core barbecue, and the word barbecue and buccaneer both come from the same root word: boucan.

I'm as Excited as a Little Schoolgirl, Schoolgeezer, in this case. Scholl starts in a month, and this morning I'll be attending Freshman Orientation. I'll also be fitted for my uniform -- Black pinstripe pants and a white chef's tunic. I can't believe this is finally happening! I just hope I'm not biting off more than I can chew -- TFR has already told me that my housekeeping skills suck. At least she acknowledged that I'm being a good father.