May 8, 2017

Headlines:

Progress Announces Summer Pop-Up

What I learned in Copenhagen

First, we would like to take a few moments to announce a few details about our next pop-up. The dinner will take place at Urban Roots Farm on two nights:  June 23 and 24. The theme of the dinner will be Midwest Summer | Nordic Influence. The theme, obviously, has been derived from the abundance of incredible, local, summer produce which will be available, and will be influenced by some of the techniques, styles, and approaches to food which I have been exposed to during my time in Denmark. This dinner will be the biggest dinner we have done, serving eleven courses with beverage pairings. We will have approximately 30 tickets available per night. Also, the menu will change from night one to night two. The second night’s menu will not be a complete overhaul, but will feature three to four different courses. Why? Because we want to challenge ourselves, create a unique experience and atmosphere for our guests on each night, as well as give ourselves a chance to explore as many amazing ingredients and techniques as possible. Tickets will go on sale on May 22. We cannot express how incredibly excited we are to cook for you again.

Now, back to Copenhagen.

We have a lot of new interns. We have several Americans (one from Kansas City, actually), and Canadians. To me, it’s very bizarre to hear these North American accents in the kitchen after so many months of Italian and Spanish being spoken around me. The interns aren’t necessarily bad. I have to remember that I, myself, was rather worthless for the first several weeks of my internship, so try to be patient when things need to be explained over and over. However, I realized that, to some degree, I do resent the new interns. I overheard one of the sous chefs tell someone, “Say please and thank you. They’re interns.” This blew me away. My first six weeks or so were a bit of a nightmare. I was thrown to the wolves, tossed in the deep end with bricks tied to my feet, and it felt like no one cared weather I sank or swam. It was incredibly tough for me and the chefs were very, very hard on me. Last night, one of the chefs told me, “You came at the worst time possible.” It should be noted that the kitchen has gotten much more friendly and there is much less anger, stress, and aggression in our daily lives. Still, I see the new interns having such a cushy introduction to the kitchen, and it makes me resent them for not having to learn the hard way. I’m glad I learned the hard way, though, because I learned a lot about myself through it.

Between the four or five new hires, as well as the seven or eight new interns, we have a lot of new names and faces in the kitchen, and a lot of people are unsure about who does what or who is who. A lot of the new faces assume(d) I am a chef de partie, which I take as a great compliment. I had one new guy tell me, “You never smile. You never show emotion. But [another new guy] told me, ‘I know he doesn’t show emotion, but he’s really smart.’” Last night, one of the sous chefs told the kitchen, “Remember, this guy (me) is an intern, but you can learn a lot from him.” I say these things not to toot my own horn, or to fluff my ego, but to take a moment to appreciate how far I’ve come, because I felt like absolute dirt, and like I knew next to nothing when I began here. It feels nice to hear nice things said about yourself.

That being said, I had the worst service of my life last night. My station completely sunk in the middle of service. I was prepared, just like every other day, and didn’t do anything differently than I have been for the past several weeks I’ve been working the station. But somehow, everything came unglued and came crashing down in the middle of a big push. It was devastating. It was the type of service that makes you feel like you brought shame on your family and like you should consider a career change. A lot of people had to jump in to bail me out. But, at the end of the night, one of the chefs told me, these days happen. And they do. I’ve seen better, more organized chefs than myself sink on that station. I know things can unravel quickly, but in those moments, it can be very hard not to take it personally. I say I had a terrible service, to juxtapose the fact that, for the first time, at the end of the night, I had a moment where I thought to myself, what if I stayed? To me, it’s a sign that I’ve gotten truly comfortable in this kitchen and this city. Will I stay? No. I’ll be home in early June and will be hard at work putting together progress. Still, it’s interesting to see how far my thought process has come, from being raked over the coals, to not wanting to leave.

So what have I learned here? Aside from little things like, what a grasshopper tastes like and how to locate the asshole on a mussel, I’ve learned a lot of more conceptual things. In no specific order, here are some of them:

1)      I can do hard things.

2)      I can take it. If you want to yell at me, tell me my food is shit, say I’m doing a terrible job, that’s fine. I can take it.

3)      Danish weather is never actually warm. Ever.

4)      When you are plating food, don’t lean in too close, because you’ll knock heads with the person on the other side of the pass, leaning in to do the same.

5)      In an open kitchen, you have to always seem busy, even if you’re not. It’s very weird for a guest to look into a kitchen and see a chef just standing around.

6)      There is always something to be done. So, you don’t have to just look busy, you can pick elderberry capers, or lemon thyme, or pickled elderflower. You can always be productive.

7)      I can work very long hours on very little sleep, day, after day, after day.

8)      Riding a bike in the rain to work isn’t always as bad as it sounds.

9)      I know how to call people a lot of nasty things in a lot of languages, now.

10)   I understand fermentation just a little more than I used to. And I understand that fermentation is a massive subject, of which I’ll never fully get to the bottom.

11)   Making new friends is hard, but rewarding.

12)   Being vulnerable is hard, but rewarding.

13)   Between 42-46 degrees is the perfect biking weather.

14)   When you’re on your bike, the wind is always blowing the wrong way.

15)   I really, really don’t like techno music.

16)   Writing is a very effective way of processing your thoughts.

17)   Doing long, mind-numbing tasks, like picking case after case of watercress, every day, is actually the perfect way to open your mind up to creative thoughts.

18)   I’ve learned to sit with my emotions. If I feel happy, I’ve learned to be happy. If I’m sad, I’ve learned to just be sad, and know it won’t last forever.

19)   I’ve learned that not everyone will understand your food or your vision, but that’s okay.

20)   I don’t like running into other Americans while I’m abroad.

21)   I’ve become a better teacher than I knew I could be.

22)   I’ve learned I can be pushed far, far beyond what is comfortable or “possible.”

23)   I’ve learned how hard you can push people.

24)   I’ve learned how to not treat people.

25)   I’ve learned how important it is to be truly grateful for the people who work hard to make a dream a reality.

26)   I’ve learned that, when you push people as hard as you can, you take them to the edge. Some people will go over the edge and will break. Others will fight to stay right on the edge, and right there, on the edge, on the brink of ripping off your clothes and running naked and crazy through the streets, that’s where you learn the most.

I’ll be in Europe for a few more weeks, working, eating, drinking, fermenting, and spending time with my family. I’m looking forward to having a few weeks that might be a bit less demanding.

DE