The Recovering Chef is a collection of recipes I have made. I took my first restaurant job in 8th grade. I was a garde manger for a family-run Greek pizzaria in Atlanta, and I truly enjoyed the work. I wanted to be a chef before I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to be an architect before I wanted to be a writer. It doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever.
But, I remember when I was 13, making salads, watching the shaggy dishwasher swill the beer dregs from the bus tubs, dipping pizza in the brews, thinking one day I’d run a place like that. Part of my job was to go out back, lay a sheet of plywood over a couple of saw horses, and place upon this makeshift table a 50 lb. block of refrigerated mozzarella. This was 1983, and child labor laws in Georgia were fairly permissive. I would heave the white chubby bale onto the table, careful not to let it bounce off the heaving plywood, then get my chainsaw. That’s right! They gave me a small chainsaw to quickly render the mozz into chunks that would fit into our giant Hobart mixer that had a bulbous appendage you could attach to it to make it shred cheese. I had to produce 100 gallons of shredded cheese every Friday. So, I’m out back with my chainsaw, getting ready to cut the cheese. I can see the movie theater lines, being right in front of me. We’re right next to a theater. People lined up in front of the small town two-screen microplex in acid washed jeans, puffy Reeboks, Members Only jackets – they look rad!
I had to work the cheese. The chainsaw had a special chain that had basically no sharp edges. I cleaned it by dipping it in a plastic drum of olive oil and revving it, then wiped it down. I’d start it up, a puff of blue smoke stinking of oil and gas would float away, and I’d swing the chainsaw like Leatherface, in wide, crazy arcs a few times before savaging the mozzarella at the highest rpms, screeching, sending a shower of white cheese confetti into the parking lot, making quick work of the block. I think I did 75 lbs. into chunks. Whatever it took to fill two fifty gallon containers. Anyways, that made me want to be a chef.
What got me started was a vocational experiment my school was engaged in called P.E.C.E.,
( Professional Excellence through Cooperative Education? Planning Every Child’s Errors? Putting Evil Cretins Everywhere? I don’t remember) which had something to do with exposing kids to a number of businesses in town over the course of three months, making them work a half day once every week in one of a dozen local places that the school had previously contacted and made arrangements with – hey, want some free labor? – then you got to pick your business of choice as your final project. I picked a restaurant. I liked food. I’m sure my teacher was thrilled.
On and off, for 25 years, I worked in restaurants. It got me through college. As I became more and more maladjusted to normal society, I found myself increasingly valuable in the kitchen, growing old, weird and ugly, hag-ridden with vice and insanity, foul-mouthed, crass, unpredictable and manic. I belonged in the kitchen, where I was loved. In the kitchen, on the line. That chapter is over in my life, but it was quite a ride. I’ll write down recipes I was honored to make in good kitchens and bad, for it wasn’t the story behind the dishes which mattered so much as how they tasted, and what they meant to the ones we pleased. It’s true. But you can’t taste my dishes unless you make them. All chefs are pirates, so please, steal my best.
Everyone goes to grandma’s to get it, to feel that love. But I was not grandma, and love turned into an obsession that nearly ruined me. The dinner bell became a siren song, and to the chorus of foodie culture, cable networks, hep-cat bookstores and our own craven motives, chefs like me were lured by the songs of the hood, smashed against the crockery of a more polished and reserved age. The recession also fucked up a lot of businesses. I was basically a line cook with: moves, an occasional flash of brilliance, a scientist’s pathological need for reproducible results and repetition, and a dash of asshole – everything needed to keep a kitchen humming on a Friday night up until the regulation blackout drinking binges. I just got tired of paychecks bouncing, waking up bloody, still in chef clothes. All that mess.
Recipes coming soon
Now, I am a reformed chef. I live a different life. Like Frozone, I hung up my super suit, wrapped up my knives and garnish tools, and quietly walked away with, luckily, almost everything intact. I still cook every night. I enjoy it. My patrons are far fewer, and our menu is tailored to please a five-year old boy, so things are pretty dull, but there was a time when I tasted the glory. The recipes are away to take me back to grandma’s, out on the farm where everything was coming up out of the good earth, giving great joy and activity to a weirdling dreamer like myself.
I’ll be placing in here recipes and anecdotes from my life cooking in pizzarias, redneck smoked fish shacks, sushi/tapas bars, dessert lounges, bistros, fine dining, greasy spoons, wrinkletown dump- and-serves, fusion clusterbombs, the very empty and unfortunate, the very frenetic, the horrible, the bland, the inedible, the otherworldly. Occasionally I’ll stray into territory of dreams, realized or not, because sometimes I thought I was dreaming, and there are dishes I’ve dreamed of making, situations I wished I’d experienced. I’ll make room in this treasure chest for real and the imagined. From my kitchen to yours, bon a petit.
Recipes and such arriving shortly.