March 17, 2017

Headlines this week:

This is the End

I know I’m like ten years late to the party, but I started listening to podcasts this week—food podcasts, of course. I’ve been listening to the Eater Upsell. I’m a big fan of Eater, a site for all serious food news, and usually a place I check up on once or twice a day, so their podcast was a natural place for me to start. Interestingly, it felt like everything I listened to this week directly reflected my life, or rather, my food life.

On an episode featuring Mario Batali, he talks about working for Marco Pierre White (notorious angry-guy and best chef of his time, who infamously made other notorious angry-guy, Gordon Ramsay, cry). He says, “So I withstood six months of abuse from this guy, because I knew that I could take something away. It’s almost illegal, now, to be that abusive, and I think it actually is abusive. It is illegal to be abusive, but there was a time when you’re learning from someone and you realize, I must give myself to this, so I can take away something away from it, and then I can reinterpret it.”

I’m not here saying I’ve been through an abusive time at 1O8. It definitely hasn’t been easy, though. I’ve gone through a lot, and I’d like to think I’ve changed and become better for it. But I had to give myself to it, and I had to let it, it being the restaurant and the people, take from me. It took a lot. It took a lot more than I was willing to give, but I think that’s the important part. Now I know how much more I have inside me. Now I know there’s another level to food, and not just food in general, my food, as well.

Hoy Creative, the good people who have been filming the progress documentary, came to Copenhagen this week. We walked around the city, met up with some fellow chefs on their days off, filmed prep and service at 1O8, and sat down for an interview to recap how progress has evolved over the past year. It was really nice to see a familiar face. It was also nice to have a platform to air out some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve been sitting on for the past several months.

On another Eater Upsell episode, featuring Anthony Bourdain, he talks about the power of television and film. He talks about filming these moments and cutaways, that might be staged or less candid than they could be, but in the end, help to convey a very true and honest message. So even though we might have shot me walking down the street a couple different times, or answered a question a couple different ways, it doesn’t take away from the fact that I did walk down that street every day for three months, and I really do feel that way about a topic. It’s still an honest moment in the documentary.

To that extent (and I promise this will be my last podcast comparison) Flynn McGarry discussed how, “counter dining,” which is the sort of seat-at-the-chef’s-table feel that progress aims to incorporate, can feel very much like acting. He talks about telling the same jokes to guests, night after night, and the pressure of being in the spotlight all through dinner. And yes, even though, at progress, I might have similar conversations with guests throughout the night, it’s not me on autopilot or saying something scripted. Progress and all its moving parts are genuine extensions of each of us. That’s why we love it so much.

We had some actually warm weather this week. It even reached 60 one day. But now we’re back to more typical Danish weather, with gusty, overcast, rainy days.

Here are a few of the people I’ve spent my days next to. From left to right: Brazil, Linguine, Medium (there was also a Small and a Large), Jay-Jay (because we already had one Jay), Mia, The Great Dane, intern 6, intern 7, (we didn't bother to learn their names until they'd been there two weeks), the cat. 

 

And you know what’s interesting about this picture? You can’t tell who the most badass chef is. That’s something else I’ve learned here, is not to assume anything about a person because each of us have a very unique and very different story. For the record, the most badass chef in this photo is the girl holding the tray of cookies, Mia.

The service which Hoy Creative filmed was a pretty exceptional evening. It was the type of service any chef would be happy to have. The sections were communicating with each other, working in sync, and sending out beautiful, consistent food at a fast pace. It was fun. The energy was humming. The kitchen was buzzing. It’s hard to put into words if you haven’t worked in a kitchen. But it was a special kind of night. It was then that I looked around and realized, shit, I’m going to miss this.

I’m not going to miss the long days, the frustrating mise en place, or the fact that I’ve been exhausted for three months. I’m not going to miss the poor services or when people run out of patience with each other. But I definitely will miss that kitchen. I’ll miss the multiculturalism, the comradery, the dry brand of sarcasm, the teamwork, the service, and the people. I’ll miss some of the awkward parts too, like having to lean in too close and yell to a table about what they’ll be having, because the elderly diners are just a bit hard of hearing. I’ll miss the expeditor telling me, “Table 24. In Chinese,” as I walk food out to the dining room, even though they know I don’t speak Chinese. I’ll miss the banter and the energy. I’ll miss the push.

My last service wasn’t a particularly good one. It actually was a pretty bad service. But we debuted a new dish that night:  braised pork with truffles (we actually put four new dishes on the menu that night, which could be why service didn’t run so smoothly). I spent the night shaving black truffles onto croquettes and nibbling leftover scraps. Doing that, shaving piles of truffle onto braised pork, dressed with fermented mushroom and truffle emulsion, that was the sexy, Chef’s Table moment that other people think about when they think about being a chef. It was a rare moment, and it was beautiful in its own way.

As a side note, the pork and truffle dish is essentially French rillette, battered in a Chinese breading, topped with fermented mushrooms and Italian black truffles, and served in a Nordic kitchen. However, even with all those cultural aspects, that dish is in no way, “fusion.” I think that’s the best part.

On my last night, after service, I went to ask the sommelier if he could make a coffee for the sous chef. He didn’t give me an answer, but instead poured me something like 10 oz. of snaps (Danish infused spirits), had me drink it all at once, and sent me back to the kitchen. It made for an interesting clean-down. I made what I hope to be a gracious and eloquent toast at the end of the night, stayed late drinking with the waiters until we all went down the street and begged a kebab stand to stay open for us, and returned to the restaurant around 6 a.m. where I hassled the bakers until they gently pushed me out the door and told me to go home and sleep. I woke up, somewhere on the north side of Copenhagen, about an hour later, on me feet, on a bus. It didn’t take me too long to get a grip on where I was and get home, but it was definitely an interesting feeling to wake up, on your feet, somewhere unknown.

In my gracious and eloquent toast, I told everyone that 1O8 was the only thing I knew in Copenhagen. It really is. I’m not much of a tour guide, and can’t really tell you how to spend time in the city because, unless it was on my commute to work or happened at the restaurant, I didn’t know about it. Someone compared it to getting out of the military or prison, you just don’t know what to do with yourself anymore. And I don’t. That’s why I’m going to go back later this week, and spend my mornings fermenting, baking, and writing recipes.

But first, I’m going to celebrate. Tonight, I have reservations at Kadeau, somewhere that’s been on my list for a long time. I’m very excited.

I’m glad I came here. It’s been a tough three months that have gone by in a blur. I’ve seen people break down and have full blown breaks with reality over food. I’ve seen people care more about food than anything else I’ve encountered. I’ve tasted things I had absolutely no context for (like fermented grasshoppers) but were delicious nonetheless. I’ve met new people and made connections I truly care about. I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about people. I’ve worked hard, slept little, eaten enough kelp and koji to last me a year, and cleaned more watercress than I care to talk about. I’ll be spending the next few weeks here decompressing and spending time with my family who arrive in nine days. Then, it’s full steam ahead on progress.

Don’t forget, tickets for Urban Roots go on sale Monday the 22 at 6 p.m. central time.

Again, thank you for following my journey here and for the kind words many of you expressed.

See you at the farm.

DE