On Working & Photochefs.com

Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.  –  Julia Child

I try to post at least once a week on PhotoChefs. Usually it takes at least five days of thought, writing, pictures and editing before I’m satisfied with the published content. In my initial research on food blogs, I bought two books on the subject: Blogging for Dummies, and another…. I can’t remember the name.  They recommended posting as often as twice weekly to build content and keep readers interested.  I also spent quite a bit of time studying the design, look  and content of the most popular food blogs: eggbeater.typepad.com, chocolate and zucchini, Chez Pim, Orangette.

A common thread among the authors of most food blogs: most of them DO NOT WORK IN PROFESSIONAL KITCHENS. Many have the time and money to travel the world, eating and blogging about famous chefs and  restaurants. I appreciate and sometimes envy their ability to dine in places you and I can only dream about. For most readers (including myself), these sites allow us to be voyeurs on a restricted budget. To know that they were there – at El Bulli in Spain, The French Laundry in the United States, Noma in Denmark–  and were thoughtful enough to let us share their experience through words and pictures is a privilege.

Ninety percent of the time, I’m the person cooking for everyone else. I rarely have the time to see a restaurant from the diner’s perspective; and when I do, it’s usually Burger King to go or some other cheap eats. Who wants to see pictures of that?!

I’m a cook first and a food blogger second. I work long hours. Each night is a marathon filled with several sprints. Clock in at 2 p.m., and the race to finish prep by 5:30 begins. Time is ticking, orders need to be fired, food is in the pass, there are hungry mouths to feed. And after all is said and done and the MICROS has chirped its last hurrah, clean, sanitize, re-stock, go home. I’m usually sweaty, salty, and ready to take a shower at the end of my shift.

But I’ve already begun to think about you, my reader. As I write these words at 2 a.m., please forgive me; I’ll finish and post an article tomorrow. I hope that my story, pictures, thoughts will be worth the wait. I promise that in the future I’ll be posting more frequently to keep my readers stimulated and ultimately satisfied. So until my next article, remember that I’m always thinking, pushing, and working at making this – PhotoChefs – the place where you’ll enjoy each visit and feel comfortable as I share.

 

CurryLOVE

The word curry has different meanings. In the English language, curry can refer to “an attempt to gain favor or approval from someone through flattery”  – hence the saying, “to curry favor”. The word curry is more popularly used to describe a blend of spices that traces its origins to the Asian continent.

Curry is ubiquitous throughout the cuisines of South Asia, especially India, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Vietnam. Unseasoned cooks subscribe to the popular misconception that curry is a single spice. In fact, there is no true spice called curry; it is a blend of spices which vary from one region of the world to the next.

Curry recipes in India can change from household to household and run the gamut from mild to searingly hot and spicy. Curry can be yellow or red or green, depending on the herbs and spices used in the blend. Common ingredients in curry powder include: coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds,  cumin, fennel seed, mustard seed,  poppy seed, chili pepper and turmeric.  The powdered turmeric root gives curry that distinctive yellow hue which most westerners are accustomed to seeing.

The word curry resides on a deeper and more personal level in my West Indian psyche. To speak of curry is to think of roti with split peas and dahl… A birthday party… the fair… the local cook shop. The smell of curry-spiced meat sizzling in a Dutch pot takes me home to my island heritage.

Curry is a 13 year old boy living on a cattle farm in Jamaica, workers in water boots chatting around a makeshift campfire. Curry is cooking and eating in the bush, with a banana leaf as my plate. Curry is boiled flour dumplings as large as a hand around topped the “watchman,” a small dollop of chicken back seasoned with said curry. Curry is more than just a mixture of spices;  it’s a harmonious blend of ethnic cuisines in the  global melting pot of food.Curry means goat. Local, from the butcher, cooked slowly until it falls off the bone, eaten with fried plantains, a raw salad of shredded cabbage, carrots, sliced tomato, and steaming hot white rice. In the eyes of the butcher, the ram goat above  is a prime candidate for the stew pot. Quick work with a knife will dispatch the animal to curry heaven, where greener grass and sweeter drinking water awaits. For the rest of us mortals, goat meat is easily found in supermarkets that serve ethnic neighborhoods, especially those with a strong Hispanic, African or Caribbean population.

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CURRY GOAT

For this recipe, a pound of goat meat bought from the supermarket will be sufficient to bring joy to you the cook and your diners. Season the meat with a teaspoon of salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Add two generous tablespoons of curry powder, preferably Jamaican or Trinidadian curry.

If you can find it in your supermarket, add three or four seeds of whole allspice and a generous sprig of thyme. To this mixture, peel and cut two carrots into rounds as well as one large white onion (diced). If you are truly daring, procure a habañero pepper –  set it aside for now.

Mix all ingredients together and let sit for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator. In the meantime, find a sturdy pot suitable for stewing and add an ounce of vegetable oil. When it is really hot, add the goat meat (only) and sear for two or three minutes. This gives some color to the meat and “sets the curry”. There is nothing worse than eating uncooked curry; it is a surefire way to spend hours in the bathroom bemoaning your unlucky fate.

Add 6 cups of water to the vegetables, making sure to give it a good swirl to catch all the spices. Add this to the goat in the stew pot, reduce the flame,  and let your meal  simmer. Add the whole habañero (while the goat cooks, the habañero will imbue the stew with a rich flavor without over spicing the dish).

Let simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally until the meat pulls off the bone. Serve with white rice or other foods of your choice.

Curry from Trinidad

Sous Chef, I Know You

Sous Chef, I know you. Your life has changed. For a split second, the room stands still and in that one brief moment, I look down.

“There’s an asparagus peel on my shoe.” It’s an errant thought and I mentally swat it away and force myself to breathe. My executive chef points and my eyes follow the motion of his hands and see the embossed folder lying on his desk. It’s there on paper – the title, I mean – all neatly printed in bold font. I sign my name and he says ,“Congratulations, proud, good job, yada yada yada,” and all I’m thinking is “I need a drink.”

It came so quickly, Sous Chef … I know you can never be truly ready. I’ve spent years preparing for this one moment.

I’ve worked hard, then forced myself to work harder. I’ve endured the insults and absorbed the pain. I remember one night when I was working the grill. It was just before service, and we had more than a hundred reservations on the books. It didn’t help that our executive chef was anal about every little detail; we were all tense and our fear was palpable.

He strode over to my station and took a black truffle the size of a ducks’ egg and told me to shave some for service. I was nervous: the truffle slicer was razor sharp, and I sliced my palm open. I ran to the back with a kitchen rag wound tightly around my bleeding palm. Another cook had a few waterproof Band-Aids, and together we pasted them on, then used masking tape to bind my wound. We stuffed my aching hand into two latex gloves, and I went back to my station.

I’ve never called in sick, never told my chef no, never complained. I’ve kept my knives sharp and my uniform clean. I’ve  seen each challenge as an opportunity. I’ve nurtured my passion for cooking even at my darkest hour. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve never burned a bridge; I’ve  always made sure my next job was in a better kitchen.

Sous Chef, I know you realize the dream was the easiest part of this journey. It’s easy to imagine all the perks of the position: finally your name on a jacket, on the menu, the beautiful food, the adoration, the careers of cooks you’ll influence. What I didn’t see was the great responsibility that comes with the position. Suddenly, I’m expected to have all the answers. Now I’m the adult in the room; it’s my job to make the tough calls  – and whether that pill is  good or bad, I have to swallow all my choices. It’s a sobering thought to realize there’s no one else to turn to. I can’t kick the can down the road anymore; Sous Chef you are the can.

Sous Chef, I know you’ve been at work since six. The day is done, the cooks have gone, but there’s still work to do. Can’t go home till payroll’s finished.  There’s inventory, and the produce and meat order. Gotta think about specials for tomorrow; did I order everything I need.? My inbox is overflowing and I sift through all my email and respond to as many as I can. I’m connected, I’m always thinking about work:  my computer, my phone, my thoughts. I take it all in, sort it in my mind, and go in search of another cup of “the devils brew”.  It’s either coffee or Red Bull, and I’ll probably drink large amounts of both throughout the day.

Sous Chef, I know you finally begin to see the dedication it takes: the sacrifice, the strength of will to pull it all together even when everything seems to be going to hell. Thing is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m comfortable with my vices, I love what I do, I’m not afraid of the responsibility, working in my kitchen is my adrenaline rush. I live for it.

Welcome to Portland, The Birthplace of Jamaican Jerk Pork

“Jamaican cooks have imagination and flair. That’s why we adore pigs and never think of them as bacon. It’s a reggae celebration, the smell of pimento, fiery scotch bonnet and jerk seasoning filling the air. A street party for swine in heaven.” Jomo Morris

IMG_7454It’s raining again, and as the raindrops pepper the ground then burst like ripe fruit, my heart sinks.

This isn’t the way to start a vacation; in fact, choosing to visit Jamaica in May  –  the official start of rainy season – is a sure way never to see the sun, walk on the sand, or swim in the sea.  There’s nothing to do but wait and watch as lightning flickers along the distant blue mountain tops. The rain picks up in pace and tempo, and my despair deepens.   Water gushes from the drains along the side of the house and a small river forms in the yard. The eddying current sweeps away twigs, leaves, mud, and with it, my hope of visiting Portland.

IMG_7483The parish of Portland (and by extension the small community of Boston) is recognized as the birthplace of Jamaican jerk pork. This visit should be one of the highlights of my trip, but I’m hard-pressed not to let this morning squall dampen my spirits. The rumble of thunder is ominous but distant. The ground is wet; the grass and the trees all glisten as if brand-new.  It’s as if the rain has made all the natural colors of the land brighter and more vibrant. Even the air seems crisp and fresh, and I breathe in deeply then turn the key in the ignition. IMG_4202It’s a two-hour drive to Boston. The coastal road passes through the small towns of Anotto Bay and Buff Bay before reaching the much larger town of Port Antonio. The parish of Portland is straddled by the Blue Mountains, Jamaica’s highest peak.  It rains often here, and the runoff from the mountain rivers is fierce and ice-cold. Portland’s topography is lush with the bold hues of green bananas, avocado, breadfruit, mango and red ripe coffee berries. Nature is alive in this parish, and I am happy that my destination for jerk pork traverses this unspoiled piece of paradise. IMG_4059It’s a scenic drive, and my mind drifts to thoughts of Jamaica past. During the short-lived banana boom of the early 1900s, Annotto Bay was an agricultural hub for the sprawling plantations that covered the landscape. Eventually king banana gave way to rows and rows of sugarcane, and the government-run Gray’s Inn sugar factory.  But the industry was ailing and though the town tried to hold on, declining production and revenue forced the factory to close in 1985. Now, a layer of grime, garbage and stray animals have left the town a shadow of itself. I’m glad to leave Anotto Bay and its sad past and continue along the highway. The road is a lot smoother now, and my car pulls easily through the twists and turns of Free Hill before descending into Buff Bay.waterfall I’m getting closer; but again, there’s no rush.  Portland approaches: it’s an old friend, a familiar memory, gentle as a butterfly’s kiss.  It’s my mother’s ancient VW bug bouncing down narrow country roads, dodging potholes, honking at chickens, scaring wayward goats back into the bush. This is the parish of my childhood adventures. It was just the three of us, Mommy and her two sons. Each Sunday afternoon, she would introduce us to the Jamaica she remembered and loved.  It was exciting: we went to Sommerset Falls and swam in the aquamarine pool under the waterfall. We went to the Blue Lagoon, and my brother and I spent the afternoon frolicking at the water’s edge. We went to Rafters Rest, where the mighty Rio Grande Rafters met the sea, and found a tour guide who was willing, for a small fee, to give us a short, 30-minute ride up the river and back. IMG_4139 Even back then it was expensive, and Mommy’s schoolteacher salary wasn’t enough for the full three-hour trip down the river. These bamboo rafts originally brought bananas from deep in the bush to market down river. It was the Hollywood actor Errol Flynn who convinced locals to carry people instead of bananas down the Rio Grande. We journeyed deeper into Portland, up and up to the Nonsuch caves. We went to Reach Falls, caught crayfish, had an all-day cookout on Swift River. In this parish of dasheen and cocoa, white sand beaches and waterfalls, little has changed  – and I’m glad for that.IMG_7484 From the town of Port Antonio it’s a short 20-minute drive to Boston Bay. The scenery along the way is breathtaking. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to drive right past the unkempt shacks selling jerk pork, sausage, chicken and fish.

I arrive at Boston Bay late in the afternoon. The sky, dark and overcast, is still pregnant with rain, and I’m a bit leery of the intermittent squalls that accompany my journey. I’m surprised: despite the worldwide fame of Boston as the birthplace of Jamaican jerk cooking, it’s still an odd jumble of concrete, board, zinc roofs, flies, stray dogs, loud music, roasting meat and spices.

People who come to Boston, come here for one thing and one thing only: jerk pork, sold by the pound, cooked on spits of pimento wood the same way it’s always been done. Boston Bay hasn’t been sanitized and repackaged. There’s no air-conditioned comfort here; this isn’t a tourist attraction. This place is strictly for the locals, and Boston seems determined to stay that way.IMG_7475 On my most recent visit, someone had built a tourist trap on the hill just above the original, a spanking-new jerk center and bar complete with a large neon sign and asphalt parking lot. It starts to drizzle again, but the rain only adds to the allure of this place.

My mind is clear as I walk towards the old collection of shacks and bars along the side of the road in tune with the throng of people moving in and out their favorite jerk spots. The decision is easy for us: we take our pound of pork please, with a bottle of ice-cold Red Stripe beer – never mind the flies or open huts or dirt floors – this is the Boston we know and love. This is Boston the way we remember it, and we’re glad for that. IMG_7482

Watch Out, There Are Vegetarians Among Us !!!

Vegetarians are weird: they don’t eat meat, they don’t eat this, they don’t eat that…. Some eat fish but not dairy products; others prefer everything RAW !!!

Vegetarians can be defensive when normal people (aka carnivores), poke fun at their dietary choices.

Being a vegetarian is not that simple, Bugs Bunny. It’s not all carrots and alfalfa and endless salads at Ruby Tuesday.

I’ll try to explain, but be warned: it’s kinda complicated…

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Imagine standing at the counter at Starbucks staring at the menu wide-eyed, like a deer caught in headlights. Ask for an espresso. The barrista calmly looks at you, then looks up at the menu board.

There’s a line of impatient customers behind you, and you suddenly realize that Starbucks serves twelve different styles of espresso and they all have fancy names like Caramel Macchiato, Mocha Valencia, Espresso Con Panna, and Latte Espresso.

Defining the vegetarian lifestyle is like ordering an espresso at Starbucks:

  • There are ovo-vegetarians (eat eggs, but not dairy products)
  • Lacto-vegetarians (eat dairy products, but not eggs)
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians (eat both eggs and dairy products) –  also my personal favorite Scrabble word.

Near the end of the healthy eater lexicon are vegans: the standard bearers, source of inspiration, purists with a cause. Vegans consume no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products, and will not use or consume any animal by-products.

I’m in awe; there’s no way I would last more than eight seconds as a vegan. Think about all the delicious food I would have to give up. Darn, there goes my favorite chocolate pudding – has cream and eggs – big no, no no; there goes juicy hamburgers – ground beef – ughhh ! And “86” delicious salty butter for popcorn.

Despite my dim view on the subject, more people are opting to eat healthy, adopting the vegetarian lifestyle as a counter-culture to hamburgers and french-fries.

Films such as “Fast Food Nation”   and the Morgan Spurlock documentary “Super Size Me,” have captured the collective imagination. The nation has been battling the influx of “junk food” found in school cafeterias and fast-food outlets. America is responding: the city of New York has banned the use of artery-clogging trans fat in restaurants, with cities such as Los Angeles planning to follow. Emphasis on nutritional content, plus access to healthy food choices and brands,  have made it easier for us to be proactive in our food choices.

Changing eating habits to a vegetarian lifestyle is not as difficult as people think. It’s ok to make the change with little baby steps. Gradually add more vegetables and fruit to your diet, while reducing your intake of red meats such as beef. Don’t lose heart if your resolve crumbles at the sight of a sizzling, juicy rib-eye steak; no one is perfect!

What truly matters is being aware of what you eat and making healthy lifestyle choices. Removing meat, our primary source of protein (vitamin B-12), is easy to replace by combining foods such as rice and beans or soybeans and wheat to make complete proteins. Minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc, which support growth and strengthen bones, are found in green vegetables like spinach and broccoli. Essential fatty acids, important for brain and nerve development, are easily found in nuts, seeds, and fish oils. It also doesn’t hurt to take multivitamin supplements to compensate for any nutrient the body might be lacking.

Over time, as your body removes the toxins, preservatives, and other chemicals stored in the body from years of eating junk food, you will see and feel the benefits. People who follow a vegetarian lifestyle are less at risk for developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Add some exercise to your routine, and you’ll be good to go for at least another seventy years. If you really think about it, the cleaner the fuel in your car, the better it runs. Why not do the same for your body?

What Drives My Passion

“…but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”

― M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me

The kitchen has always held a mysterious fascination for me. My fondest memories as a child are the times I helped my mom prepare Sunday dinner.

Some people find their vocation early in life, but I was headstrong and stubborn. I went to college, had enough, and decided I was better off earning a paycheck than going to school. That pattern of obstinance has repeated itself many times in my life.

I’m a professional cook by default; I’d be lying if I told you it has always been my passion – in fact, I spent years trying to do everything but cook. I had to carve and whittle my youth away like a block of wood before finally conceding I was happiest behind the stove.

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I thank my mom for allowing me to find my own path, even though I made many wrong turns and sometimes appeared to lose my way. She never told me what I could or could not do. In her eyes, if I could dream it, then I could achieve it. She never told me to become a professional chef, but I’m sure she heaved a sigh of relief when I announced my intention to go to culinary school.

I’ve always liked to read. I developed the habit in my early teens, when a neighbor lent me her collection of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew detective novels.  They became my secret pass to worlds filled with dashing adventure, hated villains and valiant heroes. I devoured the adventures of The Swiss Family Robinson, The Jungle Book, Treasure Island, and The Three Musketeers.  I was shamelessly addicted, I wanted more, and each word and every sentence from the author was the only way to sate my appetite.

I’ve matured in preference: now my shelf is filled with authors such as Wilbur Smith, Stephen King and Anthony Winkler (a personal favorite). Strangely, I’ve developed an aversion to cookbooks, and my collection of them is varied and sparse. One of the few that I treasure is The Art of Eating by M.F.K Fischer: part memoir, part cookbook, seen through the eyes of a woman deeply in love with food.

I’ve never come across another writer able to describe her life and experiences as a gourmet in such a sensuous and provocative way. Fischer’s works date from 1937 to after her death in 1992,  but good prose is timeless. Her writing, crisp and incisive, has been the source of inspiration for Photochefs.com. Often, when I’m writing and words seem to fail, I’ll take her book from the shelf and randomly thumb through the pages, reading whatever first catches my eye.

Looking back, I still feel the same sense of awe and excitement as when I started as a culinary intern. As a cook, I’m always learning and progressing. Each kitchen is unique in the lessons it teaches: technique, cooking style, respect for ingredients are passed from one generation to the next.

I’ve grown to love this conundrum of fire, rubber mats, stainless steel and sweat. I’ve learned from my experience – older, wiser  – that cooking is my way of sharing with my peers.  It’s how I give back and say, “Thank you, this is what I’ve learned and I’m proud to show it to you. ”

I derive my pleasure from feeding the hungry with well-prepared food and well-written words. Through Photochefs.com, I have an outlet for these twin passions.

Lima Beans, Eggplant, Cucumber, A Chef’s Wishful Wait for Spring

“The unfortunate gardener loves gardening, but isn’t very good at it.” Jomo Morris

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Loves gardening, but not very good at it.
That description fit me perfectly. The 12 or so scrawny hibiscus planted in a row along the edge of my lawn would agree. In my defense, I dug the holes deep and lubricated each one with copious amounts of manure before sticking the young saplings into their final resting place. Like a doting father, I gave each plant an early morning shower with the water hose. 

I never shirked my duty and would talk to them like children as I stooped low to peer at the leaves for bugs. Then I’d run my fingers along the stems to check for other plant maladies.

But they were doomed from the start. Poor soil and a malicious Jamaican sun transformed my pet project into a forlorn row of spindly kindling wood. Despite my best efforts, the unfortunate gardener had struck again.

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My luck with gardening wasn’t always a downhill struggle; a wee sapling of an avocado tree clung to life and seemed to enjoy the spot I picked for it. The ginger lilies by the side of my house were in constant bloom, especially since I grew handy with my favorite pruning tool – a machete. I had three beautiful frangipani trees, two Julie mango trees and an unruly bed of Mexican petunias that were pretty to look at but apt to spread if not carefully watched. My bougainvillea hedges were a riot of color during the summer, not to mention the pink oleanders that led up my driveway.

It’s been years since I left my garden home in Jamaica for the United States; and I’ll admit, I had a good run. But the memory of my ill-fated hibiscus plants still makes my green thumb wilt.

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Maybe this year I’ll finally be able to make things right. Each spring the cooks in my kitchen volunteer time and energy to fill four large concrete planters on the fifth-floor terrace with herbs, flowers and vegetables. Each concrete planter is four feet high and eight feet square with a tent- like covering for shade. The state of Georgia experiences all four seasons, which is perfectly fine with me, because I need time to assuage my  fears. Maybe I am still haunted by the ghosts of hibiscus past? Am I superstitious? I am determined to prove myself wrong. So as Old Man Winter releases his icy grip on the earth, I thaw enough courage to join the team in charge of this year’s chef garden.

Chef says we should make sure that we do some research on what plants are best for our small garden. He said, We should think about the best frost-tender vegetables and herbs, because whatever we choose to plant in the next few weeks must be able to withstand sudden temperature changes. According to the climate chart, Atlanta is in zone 7b, which means that there is potential for cold snaps well up into the end of April.”

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I stand with the other cooks in a semi-circle around him, hands respectfully clasped behind us. “The best part of planting a garden is the learning process involved. It requires commitment and a willingness to get your hands dirty,” he says. It’s obvious that he’s on a roll and you can see his enthusiasm for the subject building.

“You will sweat, being outside in the July sun can be hot work, but sweat builds character and you’ll learn first-hand how plants grow. Imagine being able to put seeds in the earth and watch them grow!”

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His excitement is infectious, and if he had said, “Charge!”at the end of his speech, every cook would have run out the door screaming, ready to dig into the earth with their bare hands.

It was  good meeting, and we finished prep for dinner service in an animated mood. Even as tickets came in and plates flew out the kitchen, gardening was all we could talk about. Now, the gardener in me would have loved to plant scotch bonnet peppers, callaloo, gungo peas, pineapple and sugar cane, but I’m a long way from Jamaica.

Instead, I chose to apply my green thumb to lima beans, eggplant, peppers, tomato and cucumbers. I can already imagine myself cooking with all the fresh basil, thyme, oregano, sage and mint just picked from the garden. I may be pushing my luck but a planter filled with various types of plump lettuce would be ideal. I’m excited by all the possibilities. In the next few weeks, as I head to the nursery to buy compost and select plant seedlings, I’ll be thinking about warm spring breezes and a privileged cook working in a small urban garden, planting dreams, wishes and memories.

 

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A “Woman’s Place” In The Kitchen

“Only men have the technique, discipline and passion that makes cooking consistently an art”.

Fernand Point, 1950 

Women have a hard time working on equal footing with men in a professional kitchen. Line cooks  shudder at the thought of working the pantry station and justifiably so – that’s a woman’s station: safe, away from the heat, away from all the action. Like it or not , “the back of the house” is still an old men’s club, where women are traditionally hired to work primarily in the pastry kitchen or in garde manger.

 Am I lying ?

 Have I upset you ?

I ‘ve worked in enough kitchens and seen it myself. Ask yourself this question: Have you ever worked the hot line with a female line cook?  Better  yet, have you ever stopped for a moment to watch as she puts pan to flame in the middle of the 7:30 dinner rush?IMG_2446

Women cook differently from their male counterparts.

The motions are not the same –  the rhythm is subtle, less aggressive in cadence and tempo. Almost intuitively, women tend to be more fluid in cooking style. Their moves are more  graceful and orchestrated,  there’s a connection from the time the pan hits the flame that remains until the plate hits the pass.

Men are polar opposites.

They cuss the stove, jiggle the handles, bang pots, grab plates, as if by sheer will, the beurre blanc will reduce faster, the halibut will sear more evenly… rush, push, rush… Honestly,  I have a deep respect for my female counterparts.  Being a cook is not easy. Cooking professionally is not easy. To do it, and do it well, takes years of dedication and physical toil. Cooks work with sharp instruments, boiling liquids, extreme heat and extreme cold. It is presumptuous of men to think that women  are unable to withstand the the rigors of working a hot line. And even more so, to promote based on gender instead of talent, attitude and the dogged determination to work hard.

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 Some of the best chefs that I have worked for are women.

Some of the toughest , hardest hitting, pan-slinging cooks I’ve had the pleasure to work beside are women. The dynamic of the modern kitchen is changing, championed in part by chefs like Alice Waters ( widely credited for defining California’s cuisine), Cat Cora ( Iron Chef) , Cristeta Comerford ( first female executive chef at the White House), Clare Smyth (Head Chef at the three Michelin starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay). The classic idea of a “chef ” as male is changing. “A woman’s place in the kitchen” is no longer limited by our culture, tradition, and male chauvinism. We stand shoulder to shoulder, prep together, work together, laugh together and most importantly, share our passion for craft.   staff

When Life Sours and Tears Taste Like Limes

When life sours and tears taste like limes… CRY. Or decide that today is the day to eat pie.

I’ve been feeling like a sour lime of late. Normally, I’m an optimist who can find something positive in any situation. But somehow, my sunny outlook has gone dark, leaving seeds of uncertainty and melancholy. I will not let them germinate.

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Hope springs eternal in the kitchen… Make a graham cracker crust and pat it down firmly in a pan or pie mold to keep melancholy away.

Graham Cracker Crust

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tbsp all purpose flour

 2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 stick unsalted butter (melted)

Combine first three ingredients. Add butter in a steady stream until mixed. Make shell in pie mold or pan, pressing graham cracker crust mix in bottom and sides until evenly applied throughout.

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My life savings paid the first year of my college tuition; the next year sort of took care of itself. Instead of believing those who cast shadows of doubt in my path, I persevered. At night while my classmates slept, I worked; and with each paycheck came the means to pursue my passion. Passion created Photochefs.com, a blog that allows me share my love of writing and cooking – a passion is as thick as Key Lime Pie Custard – with you.

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Key Lime Pie Custard

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

5 egg yolks

4 oz Key lime juice

If juicing your own limes, zest them first for Key Lime Whipped Cream and set aside for later. Mix milk, egg yolks, and lime juice. Pour key lime custard mixture in shell until it reaches the top of the sides. Bake at 200° F, until custard is set or approximately 30 minutes, then refrigerate for 2 hours. Top with Key Lime Whipped Cream, below.

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Complacency is to grow up in a small town and never leave. Like limes in a basket: sameness, roundness, green-ness… safety in being just like everyone else. But there was this pinprick in the back of my mind. Something was not right…. Like the feeling of an oncoming headache, building slowly, tiny stabs of pain, immune to aspirin and water.

Many lack the courage to dream of being more, and fall to the ground and hide under leaves and grass. Away from the warmth of the sun, growing hard, bitter, resentful… But some limes are meant for greatness. They grow from seed to sapling to tree and bear fruit; hoping that one day –  somewhere, somehow – someone will notice their efforts. A lime hopes that someone will see beyond its green skin and say, “Imagine if…”

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By itself, a lime is tart and its essence sharp and forceful to taste; but condensed milk, yolks, and graham cracker crust are good company. Baked in a hot oven, a lime gives its juices to balance sweet with tart, and custard adds creaminess to crispy. Left to our own selfish ways, we too become harsh and tart; but with the gift of love and warmth, a smile will emerge. The day will brighten and the mind will clear, as surely as the lime ripens.

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… But one lime heard the whispering in the wind. And listened to the buzzing of the bees. And it knew within its pith and seeds: that the day would come when it would become sublime, covered with Key Lime Whipped Cream.

Key Lime Whipped Cream

 2 ½  cups heavy cream

½ cup granulated sugar

zest of  5 Key limes or 2 regular-size limes, finely grated

Place all ingredients in bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Set aside in refrigerator.

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… Until finally we are rejuvenated, for how sweet it is to be truly alive.

Carrot Cake to Mend a Broken Heart

Ever since Artichoke was a little boy, he was fascinated by cooking. Every Sunday after church, he would help his mother prepare dinner. Artichoke’s family wasn’t rich, but usually there would be a whole roasted chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, fried plantains, rice and peas, creamy potato salad, and sliced tomatoes with lettuce tossed in oil, vinegar and a pinch of sugar. For special occasions, his mom would buy bundles of fat and crunchy carrots from the market. She would allow Artie to peel and grate them, and even let him crack the eggs. Then she would whip and blend, combining flour, eggs, sugar, and carrots to create the moistest carrot cake Artichoke had ever tasted. carrots wit h depth of field

His father wasn’t as supportive of Artie’s forays into the kitchen; in fact he was perturbed by “this dolly house behavior.” He would often call his son’s mother aside and plead with her to send the boy outside to “play football.” He often complained that Artichoke’s hands were too soft for a growing boy, at which point she would roll her eyes and tell him, “Go read your Bible, the boy is just fine.” Artichoke rarely thought about his dad, and why should he? His father was a cheat who abandoned his family for another woman. Growing up, Artie had few memories of him.

His mother didn’t bake much after father left.  He had seen her try, but her sorrow seeped into the batter and each slice tasted like bitter melancholy. His mother had once told him, “Never cry when baking; tears will make the cake sour.” She did a lot of crying in those days.

 

IMG_7202As he grew older, Artichoke continued to cook, and eventually met and fell in love with a professional cook, Shanice. Together they bought a house and dreamed of the future, maybe kids, marriage, maybe something more.

They were going through a rough spot in their relationship. Shanice was happy with things the way they were, but Artichoke was growing more depressed as winter progressed.  All of these thoughts swirled like a cosmic soup in Artie’s mind as he lay listening to Shanice snoring softly beside him.

He had been awake ever since the first rays of sunlight had crept past the shuttered curtains and into their bedroom. For a while he had watched as the light cast patterns on the wall, and he thought about his mom in Gainesville before his thoughts drifted back to the person sleeping beside him.

Somewhat irritated by her rhythmic snoring, Artichoke poked her in the side.

“Shani, tomorrow’s my birthday.”

“Huh,” she mumbles, still half asleep.

“I said, tomorrow’s my birthday.”

She yawns, turns to face him, and sighs; she pulls the blanket closer around them, and asks, “What are you talking about, Artie?” He moves closer and kisses her lips. Her eyes are still closed but she smiles, “How can I forget my baby’s special day?”

He pauses, afraid he might hurt her feelings. “It’s just that, just that, I barely see you anymore.” He snuggles closer to her, “Baby, wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend tomorrow together?” 

Shanice knew this was coming; this is why most cooks prefer to date other cooks or waiters. Being a professional cook is poor soil for developing any type of long-lasting relationship. It’s inevitable; at some point every cook has to face the dilemma of choosing. She’d promised this year to spend Thanksgiving with Artichoke and his mom, but Chef asked her to work that day.

Artichoke couldn’t understand: cooks don’t get holidays off.  A cook’s life revolves around the kitchen, that comes first and everything else… well, there’s not much else.IMG_5590

 

Now Christmas had come and gone and once again Artichoke had made the one-hour drive to Gainesville by himself. Shani had done something lame like try to kiss him on the cheek before he left, but he put a hand on her lips, turned away and walked out the door.

Shanice loved Artichoke as much as any woman could.  She felt the sadness in his heart, as deeply as that first night, the dinner cold on the table, his fathers’ chair empty, the sound of his mother weeping in her room.  Intuitively, she knew there was a way to heal the rift that was developing between them. She would bake for him, she would offer hope using Artichoke’s beloved carrot cake recipe. Shanice was excited and began to hum as she moved around the kitchen. There was a smile on her face as she peeled the carrots then grated them. She cracked the eggs then set them aside. Then she poured all her love into the batter, combining flour, eggs, sugar and carrots to create Artichoke’s birthday cake. 

Artichoke’s mom had once told her, “There’s magic in cooking; yes, it’s quite possible to taste love, if you truly put your heart into it.” There was love in this cake – enough to mend a broken heart – and Shanice knew within her own heart this was true. Tomorrow they would drive to Gainesville and surprise his mom for Artichoke’s birthday. She would mend what was broken and maybe together they could face the future again. In love.  Maybe kids, maybe marriage, maybe something more.IMG_7364

 

Carrot Cake to Mend a Broken Heart

 1 cup grated carrots

 1 whole apple grated

 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

 ½ cup granulated white sugar

 ½ cup brown sugar

 1 tsp. baking soda

 1 tsp. baking powder

 2 tsp. vanilla

 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

 1 tsp. salt

 2 eggs

 ½ cup vegetable oil

 Cream Cheese Frosting

 8 oz. cream cheese, softened

 ½ cup butter, softened

 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Prepare a 12” cake pan by spraying it evenly with non-stick baking spray. In a bowl mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix together. Add the grated carrots and grated apple.

Whisk in the milk. Whisk in the vegetable oil. Pour batter in prepared cake pan and bake for approx. 30 to 45 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a skewer; it should be dry when taken out.  Cool then fill and frost with cream cheese frosting.

TO MAKE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: With an electric mixer, mix the butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar until creamy and smooth. Add the vanilla extract and mix for another minute.IMG_7371