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)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Food Consciousness #3 - In Memoriam for Tito Long

My Tito Long passed away in February this year and I miss him terribly. The following emails relate a touching story of human compassion found in none other than the restaurant world. Sometimes it's not about covering food costs and how many numbers you've done for the night. Well done, Ben and Emily Ford. This shows true class.

Patrick Gealogo to Friends
date Thu, Mar 26, 2009 at 3:36 PM subject Fwd: A little story about my Dad and Ford's Filling Station

Hi Guys, Ford's Filling Station is honoring my Dad, Long Gealogo starting next Tuesday the 31st - (also my Bro-in-Law Dodd's Birthday - so greet him if you know him!!)By placing nothing but Blue Irises as a dedication to him! This was the last restaurant where I was able to eat out with Dad and it means a lot to us that Emily and Ben Ford are doing this for Dad. Please read the emails below and pass this on to anyone who might like to eat at Ford's Filling Station in Culver City! It's owned by Ben and Emily Ford - And yes there is a relation to Indiana Jones and you'd know it if you saw the feature on FOOD Network. The info is at the bottom of this email. It's a highly rated restaurant and I personally love the food - as do my fellow co-workers here at the Culver Studios! Please make it a point to go there if you have a moment even for a drink - And mention that you are a friend of ours if you do! Thanks again for all of your continued support and Love, Patrick

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Patrick Gealogo Date: Thu, Mar 26, 2009 at 2:49 PM
Subject: Re: A little story about my Dad and Ford's
To: "Beretta, Emily"

Hello Emily and Ben, Wow! Your email brought tears to my eyes! I didn't think that was possible now that I've spent most of them in recent weeks. That's a very thoughtful and beautiful gesture on your part. I would be honored - my family would be honored, to see them in your restaurant. I do give you my permission, but don't be alarmed if I cry like a baby while happily eating your very scrumptious Chowder.But I promise not to make a scene. I will make it a point to go there at lunchtime sometime next week for sure -I'm over due for the soup!!.

With All Sincerety,
Patrick Gealogo....

On Thu, Mar 26, 2009 at 2:18 PM, Beretta, Emily wrote:

Dear Patrick, Please accept our condolences on the passing of your father. Thank you for sharing your story with us. It means a great deal. Irises are just coming into season. Ben and I would like your permission to honor your father next week starting Tuesday by having nothing but blue iris in our vases as a dedication. Thank you for continued patronage, and we hope to meet you in person in the near future. We are usually around during the weekdays at lunch, so please ask for us the next time you are in.

Warm regards,
Emily and Ben Ford
Ford's Filling Station
310.202.1470 (restaurant) 310.202.0428 (fax)

From: Patrick Gealogo
To: Ford's Filling Station
Sent: Thu Mar 26 12:43:25 2009
Subject: A little story about my Dad and Ford's

Hi Guys, Recently, I ate at Ford's - I believe it was Friday the 19 the of February.For the very first time during my 9 year employment at The Culver Studios, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with my Dad & Mom, who just happen to be in the area.I suggested Ford's because I am addicted to the Clam Chowder in particular, and I wanted them to have a nice meal since they are usualy in the Pasadena area.We had a chance to talk about my latest projects, including creating a toy with my friend Nathan Hamill - the son of Mark Hamill, based on his artwork, and some of my other toys in manufacturing -- The food as usual was top drawer -- Dad a home chef himself - an Excellent one I might add, was very impressed with the subtleties of the food.the sevice was excellent and the Flowers at the table, OUR table were beautiful. My Dad asked what it was, but since I didn't know, I asked the bus boy who asked a waitress, and they told us that it was a Blue Iris -- the one at our particular table. We had a wonderful time and then it was time to say goodbye though they lived in Eagle Rock and I lived in Pomona -- Long commute to Culver City, I know.What I didn't know was that it would be the last meal I shared with my Dad.He passed away on Tuesday the 23rd of February of a sudden heart attack - in his sleep. My mother was devastated -- our entire family was devastated - since this is the first tragedy we've had in our very close family. From the day he passed, paranormal activities have occurred like his Ferrari turning on by itself, his Picture sliding sideways, etc (as in at least 10 paranormal occurrences) - I guess his way to show us that he isn't gone forever, just in a different location...=)but these occurrences were in addition to just very pleasant coincidences inlcuding a very special one concerning flowers. They day I went to the viewing for the very first time, I noticed a beautiful arrangement of flowers from my place of employment the Culver Studios, but what my sister had to point out to me in my grief was that ist was a huge arrangement of none other than Blue Irises...I cried b/c it was a flower that he had admired...and I'd never known him to admire flowers prior to that From now on whenever I go to Ford's I'll make sure to ask for a table with Blue Irises if you still have them. This is my last connection with him and also one reason I hope that your restaurant flourishes and remains a culinary staple in the restaurant world.

Most Sincerely,
Patrick Gealogo

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Cook's Life #5 - Calling In Sick

when i used to work in an office, it wasn't uncommon for people to call in sick. some did it more than others, and it wasn't a big deal. no one else wanted to get sick, and honestly, they didn't want to see you hacking up a lung, surrounded by moldy tissues, sweat pouring down your face, with snot and saliva everywhere.

then, there's working in the kitchen. i remember one of my first classes in culinary school, one of the Chefs said that you NEVER call in sick and that you got mad respect from the other cooks. it showed true dedication and hard work, and that you didn't let your team down, no matter what.

you may think that, hey, if you are sick, you shouldn't be working in the kitchen where you are cooking for people, but there is an intense pressure to not call in sick. last week i started to feel under the weather, and although i debated calling in sick the whole of Friday morning, i settled on asking if i could leave after the rush, that way i would at least be able to help prep for the weekend, and help out with part of service. they were thankful that i came into work, and i was able to leave around 8pm. however, i forgot to make a double batch of pasta dough before i left, so i returned the next morning around 10am to finish. it was okay because i didn't really get to sleep because i couldn't breathe, and because i had the damn pasta dough on my mind.

did i mention that it was also my birthday, and that i had to cancel my party on account that i was feeling crappy and didn't want to get anyone else sick? well, now it's Sunday (a lot has happened this weekend, you don't even know the WHOLE story) and i am wondering if i should go into work. i suppose it would help me keep my mind off of things, as whenever i get sick (it doesn't happen too often) i can't rest because i keep thinking of the things i need to be doing or should be doing.

you may think i'm a workaholic, and that i'm crazy, but if you are a cook, everything i've written just sounds like a regular day at work, sick or not. i think i feel some pressure because i know that help is needed, and i also want people to take me seriously. it also doesn't help that the kitchen is a fickle place; you are only as good as your last plate and even though you've put in a lot of work, once you fuck up, people will be moaning and groaning about how they have more work to do and how everything is harder because so and so couldn't handle a little cold and that they should stop being a big baby BLAH BLAH BLAH!

used to hate it when people under estimated me, but now i like that i have the option of surprising the lucky few! i'll probably mull it over tomorrow morning, drinking my morning smoothie, while i'm doing laundry, after i'm walking the dogs, and...i'll probably go to work.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Manifesto #5 - Hiatus

Dear Readers,

as of late, it's been a very busy and difficult time at work.  i was having some issues, and over the course of a week, they were being addressed by my superiors.  yesterday i was able to gain some sense of closure, but honestly only time will tell if the situation gets better; one day does not a year make, but it is at least a start.

i will not go into detail of what happened.  you might think that this would be perfect writing material, however, i find that it would be in poor taste for all parties involved.  as far as i know, only six people know of what's going on (including me) and i hope it stays that way.  although i know that working in a kitchen automatically means that everyone already knows what's going on, i hope people, out of respect for all parties involved, do not talk about it.  i already know that some of front of the house saw me in tears yesterday, and they gossip like wildfire.  only god knows what they've come up with.

so, i haven't written a whole lot on the blog, as my mind has been elsewhere, but hope to get back into it as means of de-stressing.  

on a lighter note, i've hit over 200 profile views, so i'm glad people are actually reading (when i write, that is).  i think the next few posts will be very introspective and when i'm feeling more jovial, i will be back to my (as my co-workers call me) wacky self.

so thanks for those of you who've kept checking in.  read some of the blogs i follow on the right side as they are great.  i'll be back up and running, hopefully very soon.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Philosophical Musings #2 - Nullum Gratuitum Prandium

today is All Saints Day and i decided to attend mass (it's been a LONG time) with my dear friend, PJ.  we went to the beautiful Our Lady of the Angels, and afterwards went to the cathedral store to search for saintly items, namely patron saints for, oh i don't know...cooks?  

it seems to be a running joke about how many different kinds of patron saints there are for a wide variety of occupations and ailments, such as bus drivers and alcoholism, computer users and venereal disease.  a full list can be seen here, and although i don't take this sort of thing seriously, it's kinda nice to think that there are these saints that represent important aspects of everyday life.  i had been doing some research prior, and found the patron saint of cooks to be St. Lawrence, however, upon visiting the cathedral store i found that there was indeed more than one patron saint for cooks.  i will list them as follows:

1.  St. Lawrence (also Patron Saint of archives, armouries, brewers, butchers, comedians, confectioners, deacons, fire, glaziers, laundry workers, librarians, lumbago, paupers, poor people, restaurateurs, Rome, school children, seminarians, Sri Lanka, stained glass workers, students, tanners, vintners, wine makers).  as the story goes, he was slowly burned alive on a gridiron, his death sentence by Emperor Valerian in 258 AD.  it is claimed that he told his executioners ,"Turn me over, for I am cooked on this side!"  he usually depicted holding a grid iron (gotta love that catholic sense of humor).

2. St. Martha (also Patron Saint of butlers, dietitians, domestic servants, housekeepers, servers, single laywomen and travelers).  She was sister to St. Lazarus and St. Mary of Bethany, and acted as a hostess to Christ and the apostles.  inventor of bouillabaisse.

3. St. Paschal Baylon (also Patron Saint of Eucharistic congress and organizations).  a Franciscan lay brother of the Alcantine reform, serving as a cook for his brethren.  inventor of zabaglione.

4.  St. Macarius the Younger (also Patron Saint of Pastry Chefs and Confectioners).  was first a merchant of fruits, candies and pastries in Alexandria, Egypt.  he left his successful business to become a monk, living a life of extreme poverty and asceticism in the desert.  for seven years he ate only raw vegetables and water, and on feast days ate crumbs of bread dipped in oil.  he later spent six months in marshes, exposing himself to mosquitoes and flies that left him permanently disfigured as an attempt to rid himself of earthly desires. 

5.  St. Radegund (Patron Saint of Female Cooks/Chefs).  a Merovingian princess and later deaconess and found of the monatery of St. Croix du Poitiers of the 6th century. known for the caring, clothing and feeding the sick and poor, namely women and lepers.  

while at the store, they had a wall display of small patron saint figurines to choose from.  i found myself wanting to get the saints that weren't food related, but instead were the cooler looking "action figures".  St. George was on horseback with a lance slaying a dragon, and St. Michael was brandishing a sword and had his foot stomping on Satan's face (his FACE for christ's sake!  you're going DOWN satan, and you're going to eat my feet on the way!).  the only food related patron saint in tow was St. Martha, and all she was doing was holding a cross.  i later read that while in france, she was supposed to have slain a dragon by sprinkling it with holy water, lassoing it and killing it in a river.  and this is while she invented bouillabaisse?  why couldn't the figurine be her holding a pot of bouillabaisse AND smiting a dragon?  that would have been, the BEST!

i decided to hold off on the figurines and instead purchased some refrigerator magnets of St. Martha and St. Paschal.  St. Lawrence is on the way by special request, and i plan to post this "Most Holy and Venerable Triptych of Gastronomy" in my locker at work, that way when it's time to shine, i can see my saints and have a moment of focus and meditation.  why am i doing this?  simply put, work is getting harder, the numbers are going up, the pickups are getting larger, the prep is disappearing faster, Chef is getting LOUDER, and i'm going to try ANYTHING that will keep up a sense of positivity, hope and concentration.  

i know they are just magnets, and i'm not praying to these saints to intercede.  i focus mainly that the message and sentiment behind them is real and a lesson that i can take heart.  i don't plan on subjecting myself to a volley of arrows (St. Sebastian), or be sentenced to death in the coliseum in defense of my virginity (St. Agnes), but i do plan on meditating on what these saints did, and how me cooking food, is of infinitely less importance.   i should be able to go for the gold and cook food and do my very best because honestly, it's just food and my life isn't on the line.

see, who ever said self deprecation was a bad thing?