Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Hankering Ambitions of Culinary Glory

It's funny how life works. I spent a few years working in kitchens, generally in a more "senior" role both in terms of difficulty and position. It was something that just came naturally to me, I suppose I had the disposition to be a leader of a crew of either young and stupid or old and stupid people, and the ambition and cool head to take pride in creating delicious food under pressure.

However that was just a stepping stone in my life. I never intended to make a career of it, and likewise after several jobs and a few years of school I've comfortably set my course to being an accountant.

Yet those old ambitions just keep gnawing away at me. I don't like the stress of the job, it has already taken a toll on my health early in my young life. The job was too dirty for me and required the cleaning of things no sane person would want to. To top it all off, the pay was generally just crap. Sure I could have made some money if I'd made a career of it, but as has been established that will never happen.

But there were so many things I did love. The feeling of accomplishment when you kill a two hour whiteout without a single table coming back. The pride you get from creating what can subjectively be called art; art that tastes fantastic. The camaraderie that develops in a kitchen. Simple brotherhood that is without all the political bullshit involved in office relationships. Almost like army buddies, except while we have to deal with the stress of being "under fire", there is never actually any chance we'll be killed.

Every time I hang out with one of my old kitchen pals who are still in the industry the urge comes back. Knowing that I could still do that; be a part of that war story I'm being told. Whenever I watch a good cooking show late at night I want to be able to make food rivaling that which is being shown. I crave for the creative freedom a stocked commercial kitchen provides.

The most recent pang came after reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. Yeah, as everyone who has ever worked in a kitchen and read the book will say, I could relate to much of what he said. I laughed at many of the references and thought back to how my own relatively short kitchen career compared. But what really got to me was his anecdotes about Steven the baker.

I've never had to bake at any point in my kitchen career. The most complex baked goods any restaurant I've worked for produced generally came either frozen or in a pre-made batter. After reading Kitchen Confidential I really had the urge to learn to bake; I want to make fantastic breads, superb pastries and rolls to die for. I have no idea why of all things the urge I get is to bake, something entirely different from my own cooking experience of broiling, sautéing, and other creative ways of cooking meats and vegetables.

My Granny apparently made the most amazing pie crusts. I know my mother certainly gained that skill amongst her many other top notch baking talents. However that skill never made it down to the next generation, and that is something I intend to fix. It's only too bad that none of my friends who now have kitchens have any need for a baker, especially one who doesn't know how to bake at that.

I Miss Being Lazy

Sometimes I miss the ability to have three days off and accomplish absolutely nothing.

The school semester is starting to wind up for me. I suppose the positive way to look at it would be that it means summer is coming up, and after three full semesters of being a poor, stressed student are coming to an end. Yet all I can focus on right now is the increasing work load. Group projects, tests, quizzes, presentations, and the regular homework are what essentially dictate my life schedule right now, and are the major reason I've spent the better part of my last six weekends at school. Oh and there are those silly final exam things coming up soon too. But yeah, positive thoughts!

On the bright side I managed to get into the only class I wanted to take this summer. It's a business law class and I've been waiting three semesters for the chance to take this class with this particular teacher. The only downer is that while I know half of the people who want to take the class, many can't even get in because of the huge demand for it. I consider myself lucky to have squeaked in as the last few slots filled within a few hours of my registration time.

This week was officially the start of my summer job hunt. It's something I probably should have gotten on sooner, but I'm a superb procrastinator, even if all this work and school means that ability of mine is dying. While my first choice would be the Finance department where my mother works, I'd certainly relish any accounting of finance related job that would actually put some of my schooling to the test and better prepare me for future classes.

My current job doing basic bookkeeping for a local restaurant is certainly nice. I enjoy the people I work with, and have a fantastic boss. However it suits me much better as a school semester job; I find it very easy and if need be can finish my days work in only a few hours. The downside to that is the pay reflects it.

I suppose the only other thing to talk about is future travel plans. Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Australia are looking pretty much locked in for next January, money permitting. But the details of those can wait until later, mainly because I haven't figured them out yet.

Friday, 20 March 2009

It always seems worse from the train station

I've always found when traveling to a new place that everything about a place seems worse when you step off the train and onto the platform. It never really mattered whether I was traveling by myself or with trusted friends, or whether I arrived at night or during a bright sunny day. I would like to believe its because the stations are gloomy, but often they're spectacular examples of architecture. In fact the only negative thing I've ever had to say about train stations are the type of people that like to hang out there.

No, I suppose what has always given me a sour feeling about a city as I walk through the station towards the exit is my own fear. All I can notice are that people aren't speaking my language. I don't see the beautiful glass ceiling, only the shady looking guys leaning near cafe. I can't stop thinking about the fact that right now I have absolutely none of the local currency. I only focus on the fact that, regardless of what time of day it is, I have no where to stay, and even if I have for some reason booked a bed ahead of time I have only a limited idea of where it is and less of a clue as to how to get there.

The irony in all this is that most of the times I've sat around gloomily pondering what exactly I've gotten myself into, the city turns out to be fantastic and nothing like my pessimistic fears. After getting kicked off of a train just outside of Amsterdam, and finding out that the first half dozen people I had to deal with on reaching Amsterdam did not even speak English, I found myself wondering how Holland had become such a hyped up country. After I'd had an hour to find my hostel and start exploring I knew why, they are a remarkably friendly people, with a great command of my native language, and live in a beautiful city. Salzburg was a similar story; I walked out of the train station to find a dozen cops taking down a bunch of drunkards fighting. However Salzburg is one of the most beautiful cities I've been to and high on my list of places to return. I arrived in Krakow, Poland after dark with several trusted companions I had been traveling with for several weeks. We are all more than capable of looking after ourselves, but spent the long walk to the hostel looking over our shoulders and calming ourselves with the knowledge that we had our own improvisation weapons at hand. Anyone that has ever been to Krakow knows it is a remarkable city. I could go on and on with such examples. In fact most of the cities I visited would fall into this category, regardless of who I was with or when I arrived.

Of course there are exceptions, both positive and negative. Cesky Krumlov was an absolute pleasure to arrive in. I got to travel through the scenic Czech countryside sitting on my bag with three friends in the back of an old two car tram. We arrived to a one platform, outdoor station where the sun was shinning, and a wall plastered with posters for local hostels to quell the fact we didn't have the slightest clue where we were going to stay. However Cesky Budjovic, the city we had just departed was the exact opposite. We arrived in a big, dirty, concrete station late at night. We had no money, no where to stay, and none of our guidebooks said more than a few lines about the city. The girl at the ticket counter spoke a miniscule amount of German and was able to communicate passably with one of my companions who himself spoke German only as a fourth language. It took us a good hour of walking, arguing with the counter girl, and asking strangers to determine that the city did not have a hostel, and that we would spend our two nights in the scummiest hotel I've ever seen. Aside from a fantastic brewery tour, it's fair to say that the city did not improve upon our first impression. Sure we had a lot of fun, and maybe we only happened to stay in the crummier parts of the town during a part of the year it maybe isn't an exciting place to go, but my opinion of it wasn't particularly high.

Of all the lessons I learned on that trip, one of the best was to not judge a place by its local train station. Through my entirely unscientific and non-reputable statistical sampling I determined that train stations are never a good representation of the experience you will have in the city. Even if the station itself is a masterpiece, I found in myself that when visiting a new place I would never be in the right frame of mind to realize it until I had a chance to actually see the city for what it is and meet those who inhabit it.