It’s 5am in the morning. As I sit in the airport, awaiting my next adventure (Chicago), I can barely keep my eyes open. Last night I couldn’t sleep… I stayed awake until 3am, then, attempted to take a nap for at least an hour before heading off to LAX. The nap idea was a complete “no-go” as I literally stared at the ceiling and thought about the 2 ½ weeks I’ve spent in LA and the 2 weeks I’ve spent at Patina. Retrospect.
Truth be told, I’m really emotional leaving California. I’ll do my best to explain with the help of a few words: familiarity, comfort, and engaged. When I’m in LA or let’s just say southern California… I just feel as though I have always been here…it always seems familiar to me. Weird right? Even though most of the time I haven’t a clue as to where I am, it still feels familiar. While I’m here, the people that I know (and meet along the way) seem to provide an overwhelming sense of comfort. Californian’s, (at least the ones I know and love) are the least judgmental people I’ve ever met…knowing that I can be honest and open without a crowd of people cocking their head sideways and thinking that I’m bonkers, well, that’s comforting to me. Lastly, I am engaged beyond belief while I am in California. I feel as though there is something under every stone, and it’s my sole responsibility to lift every one of them. With all of this said, I will humbly admit …there were tears during my staring match with the ceiling. Through the tears I did find solace in knowing I was off to another fabulous city…Chicago!!!!
Going back to my stay and incredible learning experience at Patina…I had the opportunity to meet so many talented young chefs. At 33 I was the oldest person in the kitchen with the exception of the executive chef. Despite my age and lack of professional kitchen experience, they allowed me to bother them with questions, and took the time to train me on numerous stations. I learned the basics, as well as some great techniques I had never seen before. I learned how the line works and how it’s important for them to have constant communication. One funny thing I noticed, here in particular…you know how people sometimes look like their dogs? Well, I think some of these line guys look like their position. For instant the guy on the fish station is soft spoken and a bit delicate in stature; the guy on the meat station is tall, burly, and robust; the guy on hot apps, is slender and well put together just like the mosaic dishes he sends out. Coincidence? I think not! I wonder if this is the same in most places…we’ll see.
So what happened after my day of artichokes??? One day last week, the exec chef actually asked me to prepare the staff meal!!! The staff meal is the meal that is provided to the crew (usually for the wait-staff and kitchen staff) prior to dinner service. Basically the staff meal utilizes the leftovers or unused goods and creates a meal to feed everyone. Most of the time it is an annoyance for those you get dealt this task, therefor they throw together some awful concoction and call it a “meal”. For some reason…I was so nervous to make this meal…you would have thought I was feeding the food critics of the New York Times!!! I really had no idea what I could and could not utilize, I was nervous to cook for these chefs in a kitchen that has earned a Michelin star, and all of the guys in the kitchen were razzing me on my level of seriousness over this meal. Okay, I will say, I took this task very seriously…but let me ask you this, when the executive chef asks you to do something…wouldn’t you want to do it well??? Exactly…..so you ask “What did you make Tracy?” I made pasta with a tomato, Italian sausage, and basil cream sauce. The pasta was al dente and I thought the sauce was pretty good for what I had to work with. (I will say, had I known—yeah, I know I should have asked—I could utilize other ingredients, I would have made something lighter as it was 90 degrees that day and the meal was a bit heavy. The final feedback from the staff was that it really tasty. The pastry chef (who barely spoke to me the entire time at Patina) made it a point to thank me for a great staff meal.)
Let’s see, what else went on? Well, during my stage there was also another stage, a young Japanese man, who speaks little English and has the funniest laugh/cackle I have ever heard (haaaahaaaa hahhhhh yehhh!!!). He took a ton of notes and a ton of pictures and video. The exec chef adamantly tried to explain that photos were not allowed, however, my new Japanese friend pretended not to understand, nodding his head in agreement but continued his photo/video montage…he had a camera with him at all times (I swear I am not making this up). What is really mind blowing is that he is spending 6 months in the US just to learn techniques and skills to bring back to his restaurant in Japan. I think about how he must feel— out of his element in our foreign country— and despite the fact that I find him hilariously goofy, I cannot help but see is his bravery through everything.
Patina taught me the best practices in which I should begin my culinary career. It taught me that even if you think you’re doing a great job, you can always do better. It taught me not to expect a pat on the back for a job well done…that a job well done is expected of you. So now I’m heading to Graham Elliot in Chicago. I feel confident, more knowledgeable, and ready to step out of my box.
Here’s my last note regarding my LA stay…. On my way to the airport I drove by the Radisson in Culver City…the place that started this whole adventure…U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” came on the radio. Even though this is one of my all-time favorite songs, until this point I had never really heard it. I get the goose bumps at that moment as I couldn’t help but see some irony in the first couple of verses:
I want to run.
I want to hide.
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.
It’s off to Chicago.