Tuesday, March 16, 2010


On my last (!) spring break possibly ever, I went to the Bay Area in California with Ari, where he is from. Of course, anyone who is from there would argue that it is the best place on earth and has the best food. While I am a loyal midwesterner, I must say that I have had some of the best food I have ever eaten in that area. It was my second time there, and we went back to many of the same restaurants, because they are just that good. However, Betelnut, on Union Street in San Fransisco was new. The food is somewhat Asian-fusion, and the decor reflects that, lots of Chinese characters and red, black, and gold. I loved the palm fans waving from the ceiling and the huge open windows at the front so you could people watch and enjoy the breeze.
But most importantly, the food. Apparently Ari and his mom, Roberta, always get the same things when they go so we stuck to their old favorites. The calamari was perfect crispy and well seasoned without being greasy, and served with fried chiles and a sweet chile sauce. The chicken and lettuce wraps were good as well, though I would have liked them a little spicier. Last, the short ribs were wonderful, finished with a spicy-sweet glaze and basil leaves. Messy, but so delicious. I would love to go back and try more dishes -- they had some noodle dishes that looked particularly good. However, Betelnut was a great place to go for appetizers and watch the city go by.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Some Thoughts on Cooking

I recently wrote this essay for a job application as an answer to the a prompt about a challenging situation in your life, but as it pertains to cooking and my experience working as a line cook, I thought I could post it here for your perusal.

I will be the first to say that cooking is no simple thing. Many people like to do it casually, but not as many realize that cooking in a restaurant is an entirely different prospect. I used to be one of these innocent people. When I was 18, I interned at a restaurant near my home in Minnesota for a school project, thinking that since I had cooked recreationally it would be “fun”. How wrong I was. Even though I was only working for a few hours a day, starting in the prep kitchen, I quickly learned that everything I thought I knew about cooking was wrong. At first, I was put to work chopping what seemed like endless vegetables and herbs, but eventually I was allowed to help out on the line at lunch, the slowest time of day. My first few attempts at throwing pizza doughs were miserable failures, but I still remember the first time I sent out a plate of food that actually looked presentable and tasted good.

All seemed to be going well until one day a cook didn’t show up for dinner service and the sous chef asked me to stay and help. Dinner often meant $3,000 in sales in one night, and there was only room in the kitchen for three cooks, sending out hundreds of plates in a complicated and frenzied dance. I was terrified. For the most part, I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, and eventually we got through the night. That was the first time I made a successful beurre blanc, and the first time I realized I could do this – I could cook professionally. After that, I got hired for the summer and have returned every summer since. The food and the people change, and it is not always an easy job, but there is nothing quite like it. The feeling at the end of the night when you know you have done a good job and have given people a memorable experience is like nothing else. I have come a long way since that first night when I had no idea what I was doing, and have earned the respect of the all male kitchen and proved my own. I have learned how to make order out of chaos, maintain calm under pressure, organization, and most importantly, passion. While cooking is difficult, stress-filled, and exhausting, it is also the most rewarding job I have ever had.