Life, without Gluten

bread

I found out about 9 months ago that my body does NOT like gluten.   Gluten is basically my favorite food – bread, cookies, pasta (oh, pasta…).  The little places it hides… in sauces and syrups and beer.  They are all of my favorite things. Or, i suppose, they were.

As a chef, I defined myself by them.  The quality of pasta that I hand make, or the breads, or that perfectly textured apple pie filling.

Now they comprise this huge category of things that I can’t have, and that really, I shouldn’t even be around.  I had unknowingly been slowly poisoning myself since I was a kid.

I admit, I have not been tested for Celiac disease.  When I started my elimination diet cycle to figure out what was sending my digestive system into turmoil every day I started (and finished) with gluten and all of it’s hiding places.  I’ve seen such a dramatic improvement (and have also seen the effects of accidentally gluten-ing myself) that I can’t fathom going back to eating gluten for 30 days to be tested.  

All of these favorite things of mine… they seem to have been the root of chronic issues that I have had for decades. Literally.  I’m 32 years old now … I have been battling chronic anxiety and depression since I started high school.  I’ve had cronic inflammation in my feet, ankles knees, spine and shoulders since college.  I blamed dairy for all of my digestive issues.  I stopped eating ice cream and drinking milk… but still had all the same problems. Not to be too graphic – but I couldn’t eat a meal without having to be near a bathroom within 30 minutes. It was brutal.  I was exhausted… not just tired, fatigued to the bone … for years on end.  I blamed it on the stress of being a chef.  Alas, gluten.

Within seven days of eliminating gluten, my digestive system returned to a normal pattern.  Within two weeks, I felt well rested for the first time in years.  I was downright energetic in the middle of our most taxing season of the year here at the ski resort.  Within a month, my anxiety was at a lifetime low and my plantar fasciitis was all but gone.  I stopped using the anti-inflamatories, the CBD oil, the caffeine (ok, i still love my morning coffee, but hey, who doesn’t?).  I started drinking milk with my (gluten-free) oreo’s again.

So why exactly am I telling you all of this??  This blog hasn’t really been a place where I have shared things that are this personal in nature.  I’m telling you, dear reader, because “the gluten thing” has reinvigorated me as a chef.  It’s forced me to find ways to work around gluten and with new substitute products.  It’s forced me to change my perspective.

Nearly 3/4 of the menu for my new restaurant is discretely gluten free.  The remaining 1/4 is comprised of things that can either be made to be gluten free, or gluten is an essential piece of the puzzle… like tartine and pasta.  But I’m working on those pieces.  Hard.  I’ve been working on gluten free fresh pastas (pretty successfully) and on gluten free sourdough bread.   I took the first successful batch out of the oven today and ate almost half a boule. It’s sour. and dense. and moist. and crusty. and glorious. Truth be told, it’s a little too dense, but I feel like that’s easily solvable.

What I think it all boils down to, what I think the point is, why I’m sharing… is to tell you not to let tough breaks get you down.  I spent a long time after my realization – months – lamenting the loss of my favorite foods.  But I’ve managed to turn that around into a positive outcome for myself and for all of the gluten free people in my community.  I’ve discovered things that I didn’t think I would like, and learned to work with new products. My drive to learn has been reignited … my creativity is flourishing and I’ve left complacency behind me.

It’s appropriate timing, with the opening of our restaurant this summer, but most of all, it’s been a positive life change.  I hope that someone else going through a big change like I did will read this someday and know that it’s going to be ok.

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Family Meal

Family Meal….family meal is a tough, contentious topic if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant.

My feelings on family meal are wide and varied.  They start at the bottom with “go fuck yourself” and progress to the top and “come eat.” as a consumer I love family meal but as a producer, it can swing drastically based on how much other work I have to do.

I suppose how I feel about it depends on where I am working at the moment, the people being fed and their attitudes.  I don’t mind feeding the appreciative ones.  The ones who work really hard and understand how hard the kitchen works and appreciate their free meal every day.

The thing that triggered this post is an event – it happened last Sunday at work and I can’t wrap my head around it, can’t stop thinking about it.  I’m feeling a few things – anger, frustration… disrespected.

A little background before I dive in: we are open breakfast, lunch and dinner every day except Christmas and Independance day.  We aren’t mass production by any means but we definitely do some volume.  Dine LA (restaurant week) just ended Sunday night, Monday we had a huge buyout for a movie premier, we are/were exhausted, overstretched and behind on prep.  Family meal always falls to the saute cook… I’m not really sure why but for whatever reason, it does.  Which means that it falls to me 5 days a week.

Sunday was a hard day. We got wrecked on Saturday night, almost 300 covers. I was starting from scratch for mis en place… Which really is two afternoons worth of work and I had about 3 hours to get it done between my arrival and the first reservation, never mind the happy hour snacks that would roll in through the afternoon.

Most days I stay ahead enough on my prep that I don’t mind making family meal. I am usually able to find a half hour in my day to put up halfway decent nosh for the crew around about 5 o’clock.

This day was obviously not one of those days, from the very beginning.  Every cook was in the same position, scrambling to get ready before it got busy. We all came in early, we were running when we hit the ground. So, no help to be had from each other, we were all on our own gunning for preparedness. It took until about 5:30 for us all to get close enough that we could take a few minutes to put together a staff meal. We were doing it as a team when a big ticket of bar snacks came in. So, I put down staff meal and picked up the tacos. As we were plating, the sous chef goes “That’s weird, there is no table number or guest count. This better not be for staff. ”

Rewind the day about 10 minutes and step into the front of the house.

The servers don’t understand how the kitchen can be busy when there are no guests sitting at tables. They all started complaining to the floor manager that they are hungry and that staf meal in’t up yet. And his response is to try and shut them up by RINGING IN BAR SNACKS FOR THE STAFF.

“What? You guys are too busy to put up family meal? Let me create some MORE work for you and use up the meez you already did. That seems like a good idea.”

So there we are. The kitchen dimension intersects the front of the house dimension, and I am standing there, fuming, family meal in one hand and a big platter of bar snacks in the other.

Are you kidding me? Is this real?

Now, I get why restaurants provide family meal. The days are long, we don’t make a ton of money, it builds the team to share a meal. But, the expectation that your free meal be more important than the mis en place with which I will feed our paying guests? That’s just some bull. I get paid to feed them, not to feed you.

I don’t know. Like I said at the beginning, family meal is always (and probably always will be) a touchy subject.

I guess my point is that the front of the house needs to have more respect for the weight that the kitchen bears on a daily basis.  You come in, you roll your silver and put out your candles, talk to your guests, ring some food in.  It can be hectic at times, yes.  I respect that to be a true professional server is an art form.  However, that respect has to go both ways.  Without me doing my job to the best of my ability, you quite literally don’t have a job.  And that meal – Family Meal – is a gift, from me to you, because we can not survive without one another.  If I want my passion to be conveyed to a guest, I need you too.  We need each other.  So Family Meal is my gift to you, to say thank you for your help.

But for the sake of our team, the respect has to go both ways.  Recognize when we are flying.  I know you can tell.  I haven’t stopped to say hi today? Service hasn’t started and the cooks are already soaked with sweat? It’s Saturday? or, Saturday was banging and today is Sunday? Just take a second to stop and think.

And maybe say thank you once in awhile.  That means more than anything else.

The one with the puddles

– An anonymous contribution to the Knockers on 32 series –

One night, we had some of the runoff from a big event nearby – men in tuxes and women all done up to the nine’s.  They came in after their charity event or whatever and were having some drinks.

I spotted her around eleven, she was hard to miss… Gorgeous, Dior dress, Jimmy Chu’s, sparkling from everywhere with perfectly cut diamonds, glass of champagne swinging wildly in her hand as she talked to her friends, dripping with new money and class.

Around midnight, I see her again.  Sitting in the barstool, halfway passed out.  Wobbling back and forth a bit, eyes unfocused, some guy (not in a tux) kissing her neck and trying to get her to stand up.  As any good restaurant manager would, I took it all in and realized that this was all wrong.  So, I went over and shoo’d the creep away and talked to the girl.  She agrees that she wants to go home and has, in fact, had a bit too much champagne and not enough to eat.

As we are talking I walk her to the front door and hail a cab.  We say good night, the taxi pulls away and I turn around to go back into the bar, which has cleared out a bit.

I look down the path from whence I came and what, to my wandering eyes did appear, but ten tiny puddles leading up to where I stood.

That chick peed herself, starting at the barstool, and continuing until just before she got in the cab.

I guess that you can dress them up like dolls and give them everything in the world, but you can’t instill class or control.  The best looking girl in the room, made her exit by getting hammered and pissing all over her thousand dollar shoes … and my floor.

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.”

What’s your ‘Knockers’ story?

Knockers on 32 is my favorite story from my adventures in the kitchen.  I have so many others but this one stuck with me in the most vivid fashion.

What is your ‘knockers’ story? The one that is the first story you tell when you get around a group of chefs or restaurant people telling war stories?

Share it with us – we will be sure to give you credit (if you want it) and add it to our series. Just click “knockers on 32” on the header and you’ll find a submission form there 🙂

Or, just tag it #knockerson32 and add it to the collection!

Knockers on 32

From our sister-tumblr KitchenWisdom Knockers on 32

Someday I am going to write a book about all of the things I’ve seen happen over my career.  The name is going to be “Knockers on 32” because this story is always the first one I tell when someone asks me for a crazy kitchen story.

“I was working in a restaurant that had a semi-open kitchen.  By that I mean that you could see approximately one high top table in the bar if you were on the line, but you could see the whole bar from the expo station.  You also got to see all of the people traipsing up and down the stairs into the dining room.

One night, it was kind of slow, and one of our managers was on expo. This guy was always good for a laugh, and was super even tempered, so everyone relaxed when he was in the kitchen for the night.  We were just kind of hanging out, when he starts talking about the one table we could all see, table 32.

First thing he says is “have you washed your hands lately? I think you should wash your hands. There’s no soap back there, come over here.”

That’s code for, “if you don’t have a clear view of 32, come see.”

He proceeds to go on and on about this woman’s chest, how it is so big that they’re resting on the table and how the table must be getting tired from all of that weight, when one of the other managers, who had been downstairs doing some paperwork (and also happens to be this guy’s wife) comes up the stairs to hear the end of the description.  (Now, it should be noted, that she also has a great sense of humor, so no one was worried.)  She just comes up around the corner, takes a discreet glance into the diningroom like she does every night before leaving and turns her back to go out the back door.

When she hits the door, hand on the knob, she turns back to us all and just says, as if it was a daily thing, “right.  Knockers on 32, heard” and walked out the door.

I don’t think we stopped laughing until the ticket machine finally started grinding away.“

I’ll always remember that moment though.

Knockers on 32, heard.