Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Paths We Take - The Tale of A Wayward Saint

I worked with John Smith at Cullen's in Clear Lake, TX for a time then hired him later when I was at Yelapa.  We made some kind of bond and have managed to keep in touch.  I asked John to share his story because I think that 'industry' people will be able to identify and hopefully get some benefit from these types of accounts.  We'll keep these up as the Order of the Chef continues to grow.  Please let us know your thoughts.  

Thank you, and (as John would say) Namaste.

In 1994 Hugo Ortega walked me by the hand into HCC culinary dept. and introduced me to the chef instructor Charles Pyle.  That was the beginning of the beginning of my love of all things relating to food production...

Granted at that point, I was already a seasoned server that hung out more in the kitchen than than at my tables and, saw the wee beginnings of a fixation on whiskey, women, and late nights. Never did I once call in from the all night debauchery that ensued, a point of pride I carried with me for a long time-until I learned better. 

After a bit of cursory training and basic skills gained at the culinary department of said community college (all of which I felt beneath me, since I had already surpassed most in my class, just from having been in the industry for 7 plus years at that time) I had no idea what was in store for me. I found out the hard way that it was to be years of being beaten down by some of the top chefs in the city at that time-the names will remain with me so as not to embarrass or, perhaps more importantly, piss them off (again).  Even through the bitter years, their ways of instruction led me to where I am today, and for this I am forever indebted to them. 

Whether it be throwing sauté pans at my head, or wishing death upon me for being a minute late on a side item or entree, I still hadn't been broken. More on that later. It is not a good thing for an aspiring cook to go unbroken. It's a must that somewhere along the early path of a line cook that it happens. Looking back, it teaches discipline, focus, and a drive to become better. So, feeling stagnated in that arena of the restaurant, I made the decision to go back to the FOH.  

My decision was mainly due to the fact that at this point, seven years later, my drinking had turned its focus to other not so healthy "relaxation tools", which by nature, was the complete opposite of what the intended use for such substances was.  The internal lie had begun.  And the fact was that cash in hand every night was easier than cash every two weeks for procurement of what were at the time, necessary ingredients to function. 

From Hugo and serving food I bounced around from job to job. Playing in a band that got signed, so that pulled me even further down the scale with my original goal of being a good cook. And added to the drinking and other accompaniments that in my mind seemed to go along with the alcohol and lifestyle of a musician.  In '02, I decided that It was time to get back to the original profession of love that had brought me so much joy originally.  So, I headed to Dallas and worked with Tim Byres at Standard 2706 on Elm street, across from The Green Room and Trees.  

Chef drove me hard, he saw my potential and worked very hard to get me to see it as well.  Unfortunately, I didn't, or couldn't at that time. So, after a write-up in Texas Monthly about a dressing/salad that I had designed, and did not realize that when under the chef, that it was actually HIS food, I left. Once again, having not being broken, I felt slighted, and my ego raised its ugly head, and I and headed back to Houston again.  

Almost immediately I went to work at furthering my addiction for alcohol, and cocaine at this point, and the knowledge I had gained in Dallas I used to show my peers how "good" I had become.  Which was a farce. The little I had gained at Standard I used to feed my ego and once again feel "better than" my colleagues, only because I felt like a piece of spit shined shit on the inside. 

Of course my colleagues at the time of my return from Dallas consisted of a few 'base-head' cooks and like-minded servers. Not a whole lot of expanding each others professional aptitude, to say the least. With that in mind, I once again returned to the FOH because I had developed, over the past few years, the art of manipulating people. Not only the patrons of the establishments I happened to work at, the people I worked with, the management I worked for, but also myself, into believing any and all sorts of self created bullshit. I think I killed off five grandmothers, four sisters, two mothers, had fifteen car accidents - in short, I was a real piece of work. No one trusted me, including myself. Bearing this in mind. I headed out West.


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