I got distracted…

Today, I was supposed to bring you the next installment of the Maslow and Food series… but I am sorry to say that I was distracted.

A few days ago, my executive chef told me to watch “Mind of a Chef” (a PBS series narrated by Anthony Bourdain, who is my hero, so obviously I was IN).  It’s available on Amazon Prime which means I can binge watch the first two seasons… dangerous but in a way satisfying.

I AM HOOKED. And, MY MIND IS BLOWN.

The first season features David Chang.  Episode 1 made me want ramen noodles more than I’ve wanted ANYTHING in a long time.

Episode 2 is devoted to the pig (otherwise known as the king of the meat animals).

I can’t wait to see what comes next!

I’m going to have a really hard time getting off of my couch to go to work.

Anyway, my apologies for not finishing the Maslow post, I promise to finish it for tomorrow 😉

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Maslow and Food (part 3) – Love, Belongingness, and Esteem

– an installment of the series Maslow and Food, which began with an introduction, continued yesterday, and is now on to its third installment, below –

The way the Pyramid works, in theory, is that you can not progress toward a completely fulfilled life until you have completed each layer.  Since food, for me, has fulfilled the requirements of the first two rungs, I can now move on to the third and fourth, which go somewhat together (as did the first two).

3. Love and belongingness needs

This layer focuses on interpersonal relationships and the feelings that stem from them – friendship, intimacy, affection and love.  It covers pretty much all relationships in your daily life, from your team at work to family, friends, and romantic relationships.  For me, food is involved in establishing all of these relationships, leading me to a feeling of fulfillment in all of them.

Somewhat obviously, my job as a chef brings food into my relationships at work.  Less obvious, though, is why these relationships are so satisfying.  To me, the teamwork, the experience of going through hell together on a nightly basis, the beers after service and the laughs in between… these all bring a level of closeness to my work relationships that I don’t feel I could achieve in any other setting.

Beyond work, all of my other relationships are somehow impacted by food:  whether it is sitting down to the table with my parents like we did when we were kids, or the perfect sandwich from that place down the street from my best friend’s house, or the little place with the great fries and drinks hidden in the south end where my fiance and I have date nights because it is quiet and we can sit in a dark corner and get lost in our conversation without being bothered.

…I can still remember what I made for dinner the first Christmas that I was with friends instead of my family.  I can still remember what I made the first morning that my now-fiance stayed over at my place.  I can still remember what I made for dinner the Christmas that my parents flew halfway around the world just to be with me, what I had for dinner on that double date with my best friend and her new girlfriend, what we ate on the Fourth of July the first time I spent it on the beach with my best friend’s family.  I can still remember how huge my uncle seemed, standing over the stove with that wooden spoon (“never, ever, put a metal spoon in your gravy, you hear me? You’ll ruin it”) on Christmas Eve, and my mother’s perfect Risi Bisi every Easter.

Every single relationship in my life is punctuated by memories of food.  Food belongs with me and I with it – there is no question.

4. Esteem needs

Esteem needs are things like positive self-esteem, achievement of goals, mastery of skills, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.  Basically anything that gives you a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Food satisfies these needs in many ways.  There is a daily sense of achievement, whether through small goals throughout service or putting a meal on the table at home.  A positive sense of self esteem is generated through this constant achievement (and dare I say, the occasional compliment?).

When you finally master that sauce, or technique, the satisfaction is through the roof.  When you are finally able to quenelle that foam/sauce/icecream/whipped cream perfectly with only one spoon.  When your stock comes out beautifully rich and gelatinous.  When you get that perfect crisp skin on a piece of fish.  Every little technique and task has a learning curve, and when you finally get it right, the satisfaction is …. inexplicable.

An accumulation of these little skills brings you prestige among your peers, a status among them.  You become looked up to.  You are eligible, in a sense, for the satisfaction that comes with a colleague asking your advice.  Maybe this will parlay into some extra responsibility, or a promotion.

You become, in short, fulfilled.

That brings us to an end for today.  Tomorrow we move on to more abstract things, with cognitive and aesthetic needs.  Convenient, how the pyramid kind of breaks itself down into groups of two, isn’t it?

Maslow and Food – The Bottom of the Pyramid (part 2)

– continued from yesterday’s introduction

There are certain things that we all need to live a fulfilled life.  One psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed a chart called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ which outlines the concepts that must be present in our lives for us to live a fully ‘actualized’ life… that is to say for us to be fulfilled in our lives and be happy.  The most recent version of the chart has eight factors that every human is affected by, some conscious and some subconscious, which motivate us to do pretty much everything in our lives

.maslow8

So how are these needs fulfilled by food?

(I am going to reference my own feelings from here on out but I welcome any comments and conversation about the concepts. I would love to hear what you have to say!)

Starting at the bottom of the pyramid and working my way to the top:

1. Biological and Physiological needs –

Maslow says these are the most basic essentials for life.  Things like air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

In the most literal of ways, no, food is not air or sex or shelter or sleep.  But, hear me out.

When I was a child, I would come home (shelter) after school to the smell of my mother cooking.  The (air) in the house was thick with the scent of (on tuesdays) onions and garlic sauteeing, the sound of meat sputtering, the acidic gurgling of my mother’s meat sauce on the stove.  I still can’t smell those things without being transported back to my mother’s kitchen and smiling.

As an adult, (food) and (drink) go together.  The best food paired with the best drink, or just a burger and a beer.  One can not be without the other, in my world.  The combination leads to the warm and fuzzies… (warmth) in the figurative sense.  My heart and mind are at peace, warm and full.

(Sex) is a bit of a stretch, but, that same level of satisfaction does come after a truly exquisite meal.  A well written menu can leave my mouth watering and my desire so intense that when the plate finally lands in front of me and I take that first bite, I get goosebumps.  A foodgasm, if you will.

Finally, sleep.  With an empty stomach or unsatisfied appetite, I am unable to sleep until I am satisfied.  A great meal can give me a night’s sleep incomparable to most anything.

2. Safety needs

The second stage of fulfillment, according to Maslow, includes protection from the elements, security, order, law, stability, and so on.

Food has always given me a sense of (protection) and (security)  Not in the sense of eating my feelings, but in the coming home kind of way.  Originally, it was based in that coming-home-to-mom’s feeling, as if everything would be ok.  As an adult it is about the sense of control I feel – it is the thing I do when everything else is going crazy.  It helps me regain (stability), put my life back in (order), see things more clearly.  Food always behaves a certain predictable way, in accordance with the many (law)s of physics which never change – maillard browning, the way proteins unfold to make an eggwhite hold air and become stiff, the way deep fat frying is actually a dry cooking technique, etc.  They are unbiased constants that can soothe me back into a feeling of calm, quiet, secure, everything-will-be-ok state of mind.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment, the third and fourth rungs on the ladder:  Love and Esteem and Food

Maslow and Food – Forward (part 1)

I was sitting at the bar a few nights ago, decompressing after work, when I was asked by someone how old I was.  The woman seemed to think that there was no way that I was old enough to be sitting in that bar drinking that martini legally.  I had to actually show her my license to prove to her that yes, I am 29, and yes, that is my real age.

She got up and went to have a cigarette and came back, again looking quizzical. She proceeds to drag me (unwillingly) back into conversation:

So how is it possible that you are 29 and look like you’re 18?

I was kind of taken aback.  Usually people just tell me that “you’re so lucky to be such a babyface, you’ll look young forever” and leave me alone.  But no, this woman needed an answer.

I’m only 24 and I look 35 already.  It’s not fair, you must tell me your secret!

So, I took a second to consider it.  What is it that I do that makes me any different from this woman? The only answer that I could come up with is this:

I do everything that makes me happy.  End of story.  My job sucked, so I quit it and became a chef because I love food and cooking makes me happy.  I just got engaged to someone who makes me happier than I’ve ever been at home.  I walk my dog at least three miles every day so I get a lot of fresh air (and perspective when I need it).  I quit smoking, do my best to eat well, try to stay in shape and laugh every day.  I do the things that make me happy. Yeah, that must be it.  Happiness keeps me young.

I think she expected me to tell her to go buy some crazy expensive face cream and get a massage or something.  This was definitely not the answer she was looking for.  She just kind of said “oh” and walked away to have another cigarette (“could you watch my drink again honey? I’ll be right back”).  Sure, lady, go smoke another butt.

She came back long enough to tell me that “that is the best answer I’ve ever heard” and pound the rest of her wine before paying her tab and heading out.  I couldn’t figure out if she had simply had enough, couldn’t handle the answer because it made her think too much about her own sad life, or if she just got lost in her own head and needed to go home.

Either way, the whole interaction got me to thinking; what is it that makes me so genuinely happy? Why is it that I can be so happy doing this thing, cooking, that so many people hate? And then I came around to thinking about food in general and why it is the centerpiece to so many happy memories for so many people.

Then I remembered something my dad used to talk to me about a lot (particularly in the less-happy times in my life): Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

stay tuned – more tomorrow!

That time the affair was CALLED OUT.

A joint effort with our sister-tumblr KItchen Wisdom – another entry in the Knockers on 32 series.

“I guess I have a tendency to work in open kitchens.

In one kitchen, you could see the whole dining room, but not the bar.  Interestingly, they could hear you if you were talking in a normal voice, but they had to be yelling for you to hear them.  Something to do with the way the vents worked. I don’t really know.

Things you should know about working in hotels:  It’s like being back in highschool.  Rumors abound, as well as backstabbing and undermining.  But, the pay is better than most and you get health insurance and disability. Sooo….

One server, he was married.  I never met his wife, except for this night.  We all knew he was having an affair with the hostess.  Everyone talked about it all the time, except for them.  They were both in their 40’s, and she was single (I think, all of a sudden I’m not sure anymore).  He always hung out next to the hostess stand, it’s not like he even tried to be discreet about his interest in her.  They would both park in the unnecessary depths of the parking lot and walked there together at the end of the night.  They had been ‘seen’ making out by his car more than once.

One night, it all came to a head. With a bang.

In the middle of service, out of nowhere, you just hear this awful screaming.

His wife had shown up.

She was screaming at the hostess, on the other side of the dining room.  It continued as the hostess ran away, through the dining room, weaving her way through the tables trying to get into the relative safety of the back of the house.  “You whore, you slut, you homewrecker.“  A great many other expletives and the like. About halfway through the room, he sees what is going on, and starts chasing after the two women… “baby, no, it’s ok, just stop, why are you doing this” etc. etc. etc.

All the way through the rest of the dining room, and into the back kitchen.

The cat was officially out of the bag.”

That time the hooker got stood up.

A joint effort with out sister-tumblr Kitchen Wisdom, another installment of the Knockers on 32 series.

Have you ever seen a high-class, high-price escort get stood up?

I have.

It’s hysterical, and sad, and you can’t stop watching it.  Kind of like a car accident.

One night, I’m standing at my station in my exceedingly open kitchen, and watching the bar crowd come and go.  It’s a steady night so I don’t get to watch it too closely, but closely enough to follow the plot.

Close up on the ‘butherface’ smokeshow in the red dress, nursing a belvedere and cranberry.  Banging body, tight dress, long weave with bangs to cover her moderately ugly face.  I don’t mean to be judgemental, I just have to paint the picture.  This woman is SEXY from about 15 feet, but once you get closer, ehhhh.  I can tell you pretty definitively that this is the M.O. of most ‘escorts’ in my city… at least the kind that show up a few nights a week in our 5 star hotel …

anyway

She has a canada goose jacket draped casually on the corner of her chair at the bar, and an iPhone 5 in her hand.  She kind of dawdles aimlessly with the garnish on her glass, her hair, her dress, the napkin, her dress, checking her phone and the door every few minutes.  She says “oh no, I’m sorry, I’m waiting for someone” to four or five people who try to sit next to her, as it is getting late, and it is now the only open seat at the bar.

An hour or so passes, and no one has shown up.  Her glass is empty, the bartender asks if she wants another, she orders it but doesn’t touch it.  Not yet.

Eventually, a well dressed man in maybe his late 20’s shows up and sits next to her.  At first you think that this is him, the john.  You write him a quick story in your head; He’s probably new money and single and needs some ‘company’ because he works so much he can’t maintain a relationship.  Then she notices, and tries to shoo him off.  He says something to the effect of “I’m waiting for friends too, I’ll move as soon as yours gets here.”  And your story drifts away like a cloud and everyone recommences the waiting.

Eventually, the guy’s friend shows up.  They are both attractive men, both clearly have money.  You see the woman go from annoyed and lonely to working in about 5 seconds flat.  She has finally given up on whoever was supposed to meet her to begin with.

She talks and flirts and tosses her hair around…. adjusts the top of her dress and drops something on the floor to bend over for.  She worked hard, let me tell you.  But, the guys weren’t budging.  They held conversation and had small talk with her in between, but never really showed interest.

About half an hour later you see why: their girlfriends show up.  Now, there was zero noticeable tension.  Good for these guys and girls, that even though the guys were talking to an obvious hooker, the girls were able to dismiss it – or maybe they just didn’t realize?…  Either way, they even started conversation with the woman.

By this point, the bar had filled up so much that I couldn’t hear what was being said anymore.  I am curious though, if the girls figured out that this woman was a hooker.  What kind of questions do you ask if you are standing next to “pretty woman” at the bar?   And I wonder if the boys picked up the tab that she so expertly walked out on.

1,000 dollar extensions, and she couldn’t pay 30 bucks for two drinks.  What a roller coaster it must be to be one of those ‘ladies of the night.’

Sound.

To an average outsider (that is, non-chef) the kitchen is a cacophony of noise. Things banging and clanging and loud and hot everywhere.

To a chef, though, it is a symphony.

The sound of knives chopping, slicing, the tip tracing a line on the cutting board then the back of the blade gathering a pile of freshly cut herbs.  Pepper cracking in a handheld grinder – fresh on every item.

Saute pans going down on the stove…. bang

the electric lighter on the burner…. click

the flame catching … woosh

product going down in the pan … sizzle

bangclickwoosh

bangclickwoosh

sizzle

crackle

sizzle

crackle

it’s my favorite symphony and it changes every night.  I am my favorite composer but what I write is dictated by the ticket machine, in a rhythm that is ever changing and unending.

clickclickclickclick clickclick clack click clackityclack

The sound of butter as it hits the pan, and how it settles in as the water evaporates and you get to pure butter.

splattersizzlesizzlesettle

The pitter spatter of bursting cells as fresh herbs go into the hot butter and release their water, flavoring the fat for the

light scratch

of the basting spoon, like a stick across a snare drum.

Risotto pans

scraping around and around

never stopping for fear that they will stick.

The bubbling of water, the sound when it’s about to boil.

The way meats sizzle so hard at first and then ease up as the fat renders out and a crust develops or the skin becomes crisp.

Spoons going in and out of bains, the tap tap of water being knocked off before something new gets stirred.

Drawers opening and closing. Product going in and out.

It’s primal, beautiful. Like listening to evolution: new things being created from old things. Growth. Development.

Hardly noise.

A symphony.