Did you know that the leaves on an artichoke have a natural breaking point? (I just figured this out yesterday) If you know how to bend the leaf correctly, you’ll know that when you bend it ¾ of the way backwards then straight down, the leaf will naturally break where it is meant to, keeping the artichoke heart intact. The leaves, on their own accord, know when they have been bent enough and know that they cannot take it any longer, therefore breaking when they are ready.
Why not just pull the leaves out vigorously: —because you’ll damage the heart of the artichoke. The artichoke’s heart is its prized possession. Protected by thorny fibrous leaves, it takes careful work to get to it’s heart…if you’re not careful, the heart could become damaged or you yourself might be inflicted by thorny little pin-pricks.
Saturday while at Patina, this was my first job of the day…carefully breaking the leaves of artichokes to get to their hearts. While I’m working, I notice that the kitchen is full of people, yet no one is speaking. Everyone is in their zone and focused on their tasks at hand. All that is heard is the symphony of the kitchen: chopping, peeling, sounds of sautéing, the low rumble of water boiling, whisking, etc, etc. Anyone that knows me knows that I am a talker, however everyday I have enjoyed the silence and solitude of prepping in a kitchen… I guess it’s the calm before the storm.
During this calm, artichokes in hand, I begin to think. I start with my life and my state of mind from this past December/January reflecting on the months behind. I am always the one to throw on a smile, so this may be a shocker to some of you reading this…I was unhappy. Unhappy with a few things, (such as my overall health, work, where I was living, etc) but a large part of it was that I felt like I was not leading a life that was true to who I am as an individual. It seemed as though at one point, I decided to get on the high speed train, and at some point, forgot where I needed to get off. By the time I realize this, I am WAY beyond the point of my destination and become saddened knowing I’ve dropped the ball. All in all, while trying to get to the heart of the artichoke, I got deeper into mine.
Since February my life has underwent a major renovation. I had the opportunity to partake in a life changing experience. The experience, the people, my love for cooking…It brought me back to who I am and what it is I want in life. It was crystal clear. It was through this clarity that I have been able to find happiness again.
So after losing my job in corporate America, I decided that heading into the world of tough kitchens (Patina, Graham Elliott, Del Posto) would help expose me to a world that I love. Really for better or worse, I knew it would open my eyes and help me figure out my destination, a destination that speaks to my heart. I know I love to cook, but really, where is it that I want to be? And most importantly…how the hell do I get there? These are just my daily thoughts….
Something to keep in mind if you’re not already aware of it: being a chef/cook in a kitchen is far from being a glamorous job. The days (which seem to vary from 5-6 per week at 12 hour increments) are long, the job is highly physical, there is a need for perfection that inevitability leads to verbal abuse of the staff for their mistakes, at times the kitchen is perfectly calm and controlled, other times it is complete and utter chaos…It really takes strength, adaptability, and talent to successfully turn out a product that is consistent and delicious. My advice to those of you who are considering a career change, get in a great professional kitchen, see how it works, works hard while you are there, and then ponder if this is your life’s path. When you can, make sure to talk to the line cooks, the sous chefs, the executive chef…if they invite you out for drinks—GO! While you’re there ask a ton of questions.
I’ve been lucky enough to be able to spend this time figuring out my life…I know I am blessed beyond words and everyday I feel grateful that my situation is what it is. I am blown away with gratitude and feel thankful for my special loved ones… my family and friends who are utterly supportive of my endeavors.
So I head in today, another week at Patina, and I ‘m still excited to see what’s in store… So far I have been able to help in a few stations…Seeing as I am a visitor without a particular area of expertise, I have helped prep and execute the amuse (for most evenings), as well as the hot and cold appetizers. This week I hope to spend time observing the true “line”: the entremetier (veg/soup/starch cook) poissonier (fish cook) and rotisseur (meat cook). What I have seen so far is mind blowing…the dynamics are incredible: the communication, timing, speed, execution, etc. It has given me a greater understanding of how hard it is to put the perfect plate together… Once you see it for yourself, I guarantee you would have a greater appreciation for the dish you’ve ordered.
In the meantime, I leave these questions out there for everyone to ponder…How happy have you been in your life? When was the last time you followed your heart? …When was the last time you pursued a dream? When was the last time you took a risk for the good, not knowing what the outcome will be? How long will you wait until you may something happen………..?