Category Archives: On Cooking

Life is Serious. Life is Feast. And The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

When I was 19 years old my friend Matt Workman committed suicide.

We were best friends since the day we met in kindergarten.

Please keep reading. Because the reason that I wrote those last two sentences was not to bum you out. I wrote them to remind you, me, everyone, that, in a time of great fear and potential upheaval, this life – you know, the thing that ALL of us are doing? This life: that is ALL that it is – and it is only just that.

It’s only life.

This guy lived both seriously, fully and fearlessly

This guy lived seriously, fully & fearlessly

To err is human and MAN am I human! So I try my best not to render judgments, either on people I know, or on the homeless dude asking for change, or on people in positions of power, or celebrities, or people in completely different cultures, because I’ll never know why/how they’re in the position they are in. I’m a 42 year old man now. I know who I am and what I’ve done. One could make an argument that these are the only two things that I do KNOW.

I value my time, I do not suffer fools, I love my friends and family with all my heart, and I try to do the best I can with my art and my career.

Do I have opinions? Damn right. Do I make judgments? Of course. I already told you, I’m human as fuck. Do I sometimes indulge, either in myself, or in the illicit, or in the taboo? Yup – I’m not just human as fuck, I’m a writer! A writer with a chip on his shoulder and an almost animalistic type of determination to confront the reality of experience, to do things before the bell is rung, compelling the great scorekeeper in the sky to make a tally on the sum of the life of Jefferson Rich.

A German friend once told me: “Ernst ist das leben.” Translated: life is serious. Very German, yes? I misunderstood him at first, I’d thought he said, “Ernst ist das laben.” Translated: life is feast. Very American, yes? This launched us into a great philosophical debate on the banks of the Spree in Berlin.

It was at this exact place where I came to a profound realization: it's only life.

It was at this exact place where I came to a realization: it’s only life.

My friend made the case for “leben”, or serious. I think his argument was rooted in the newest German generation’s unbound feeling of remorse, guilt, anger, and sadness about the Holocaust. Life is all about what you are doing, he argued – you must see something for what it is, and if it is wrong, you must stand up against it. You must, because if you just passively observe, if you just live only for yourself, terrible, unthinkable things can happen.

I couldn’t dismiss what he’d just said. I thought on my friend Matt Workman, and how, he’d ascended from 15 year old high school partier in Santa Cruz to 19 year old major promoter in the rave/underground party scene with massive celebrity connections and making constant trips to LA, traveling all around the world. But he was only 19. And I saw my boy slipping. I’d ask, “are you okay?” He’d answer, “Yeah.” And then I’d let it go. I didn’t want to be his dad, or judge him, but inside, I knew he was dying and today, I do wish I’d just called him on out on his shit, and told him that he was lying to himself. But I knew it was his life to live… and, even though he never slept, he was seriously struggling with his drug use (back then, we called it X) and one day, he cracked, I knew deep inside, that there was nothing I could’ve done to prevent it.

So life is “laben”, or feast, I argued. And judgment is the enemy of enlightenment. Here I am, thousands of miles from my home, in a city that is an artist’s lucid dream, having a beer and a conversation that is incredible – a conversation that would not be happening if I didn’t believe life is feast, I said. It’s when people become purist, with their uninformed notions of good and evil, right and wrong, I continued, THIS is when life starts to become devalued. It is the puritanical, very serious people I said, that hold life in very low regard, unless it’s life that they can agree with. Look at our countries, I said.

But you just made my point for me! he countered, because people are so flighty with their sense of morality and are so passive, assholes like the Nazis could slaughter millions in the past. And, he said, ominously, something new will assuredly come in the future, most likely in America, because America’s sense of culture and morality was going into the toilet.

My friend warned me that if our moral center is destroyed, and the American public is passive about it, the vacuum could be filled by something unthinkably evil.

My friend warns that if our moral center is destroyed, and the American public is passive about it, the vacuum could be filled by something unthinkably evil.

WHOA! I said, that’s just plain looney, I countered. In a place where liberty reigns, where everyone’s ideas are considered, where self-determination and freedom of expression are held in high regard, yeah, you get your reality show garbage but you also get stuff like Space X, or Obama, and-

-Yeah that’s all naive bullshit, he interrupted. You really think you have liberty? You really think people in your country know how to think critically? Show self-determination? If you have no control over what you want – if you are unable or unwilling to discern what you value – you are a slave to someone else’s passions and you can’t act freely! You think you have any privacy at all? Even with what you think? (Important contextual note: this conversation took place pre-Snowden.) Wake up man. A war is being waged on the American people, and if you, a person who I consider to be one of the greatest, smartest artists in America, if you of all people can’t see it, then we’re ALL in real trouble. Seriously.

I held tight to the crux of my argument. Look, when people get so damn pure, so damn righteous, THAT is when people start rendering judgments about how other people live. And when that happens, what’s next? I mean, what’s so enlightened about that? For example, the white man came to America, used slaves to build up the country, slaughtered Native Americans, because of Manifest Destiny. America has never even started to deal with our addiction to our idea of our own purity, and you see it as we expand our empire. Hell, American soldiers have been in the Middle East for two decades (it was 2010 when we had our conversation) and will remain for God knows how long, all based on this myth of America knows best because America is right and you Muslims, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing and we can’t leave you to your own devices, because you’re just going to come kill us. So before talking to you, you ALL must submit, you must bow, and surrender everything you are to us. (Another important contextual note: Isis did not exist when this conversation took place.) America had turned the entire world into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because of our pure, just, American way.

Why wouldn't the entire world want to be as American as a bikini clad babe at a bbq scarfing down a juicy, thick, long... hot dog?

Why wouldn’t the entire world want to be as American  as a bikini clad babe at a bbq opening wide…for that juicy… thick… long… American dream?

Fuck that, we need to live as if life is feast I said, because we never know when it’s going to end. We need to embrace each other, and each others ideas, and refrain from judgment, because as I said, judgment is the enemy of enlightenment. We need to love each other. We need to talk to each other and we need to listen to each other, no matter who you are and DO NOT JUDGE IT!!

My friend laughed at me. Discernment, judgment, THAT IS THE WAY to enlightenment my friend, he countered. If you don’t have discernment, you know what you get? Velveeta instead of Petit Basque, Night Train instead of Burgundy, Ghost Dad instead of Ghost, Real Housewives of Wherever instead of The Wire, ugly, stupid, brutal porn instead of stimulating, sexy eroticism.

Okay, that’s a provocative point, but the world goes round based on both sides of the coin. And you NEED both, otherwise, you get that damn purist thing I’m talking about.

Check this out – when we were boys, my friend Matt and I, we would steal copies of his dad’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues, his Playboy and Penthouse magazines, and we stashed them in the woods, where no one else was around. We would look at the pictures (and NEVER read the articles) and we would talk about how we’d make love to each of the women contained inside. What moves we’d do. Which women looked like they were great lovers, compared with which looked like they were just okay. We both knew that we wanted to be great lovers when we reached manhood, and we knew we’d need practice in order to become great. But we were young and didn’t have girlfriends yet, you know? So we would eventually go home, with the vision of whichever woman we’d either seen in the photographs, or girls at school, or teachers, or whoever, we’d use those old Casio digital wrist watches, and we’d use the timer to find out how long we could masterbate before we’d ejaculate, and how long it would take us (if at all) to regain our erections, and sometimes we’d make a competition of who could ejaculate the most times in a night. Then, the next time we’d meet up, we’d report back our results. We kept pushing each other to go longer, to go more times. I even made a game for myself, to see how close to a certain time I could get, like 20 minutes, because I wanted to have the ability to control EXACTLY when I would ejaculate. And our drive in doing this was all in the name of the dream that when the day came, and we were with a woman, she would remember regard us as the greatest lover she ever had, every time.

Without discernment, artistic eros becomes unsexy porn.

Sans discernment, artistic eros becomes unsexy porn.

So, I said to my friend, was what we did wrong? Was it perverted? Was it evil? Because there are a lot of people who would think that if I told them what we did. Should I have been feeling shame for what we were doing? I didn’t. Why didn’t other people do what we did? Because they judged. And if I’d judged it, I would not have done what I did. Would I have become a great lover? It’s the people who listen to those people who say masturbating is a sin, that say that homosexuality is an abomination, that marriage is only a man and a woman… they’re the ones who are all fucked up, make other people fucked up, and have depraved senses of what’s sexy and erotic… because… why?

Because my friend was right – the big, huge, serious, very serious crimes against humanity keep popping up here, in America, and our moral decay is for real.

AND because I was right – we are more and more convinced of our pure, American ideals.

And it’s this purism that is sweeping the American body politic, our policy decisions, and our voting public that has me so deeply concerned. Whether it’s supporters of Delusional Donald, or Crazy Bernie, or Crooked Hillary, America is forging it’s way into a more pure, extremist, shaky land, ruled by fear, of either the candyass narcissistic billionaire who’d rather live in a gold tower with a Napoleonic complex and authoritarian aspirations, or the well-meaning septuagenarian socialist or a duplicitous, dishonest, equivocating, smart, but entitled pragmatist who shuns accountability and rarely demonstrates empathy.

I am concerned because the noise around our country is sending off vibrations of tumultuous conflict…a great disturbance in The Force…so much fear… so many stories of Mexican people getting shipped away… so many stories of a harsher and harsher American dogma… so much fear… a fear that I’ve not felt….since…

Days after Matt had died. I had a lucid dream, and to this day I think he was responsible. I think he pulled me into Nirvana, or heaven, or whatever. I was Neo before The Matrix existed, flying over greenery as far as the eye could see, being told by angelic types that I would be okay, that the pain of living through the loss of my friend would eventually subside, and the dream ended with a reminder of those old digital Casio wristwatches, and how, when we were little kids, we’d used those watches for a far more innocent use – we’d compete as to who could press the stopwatch buttons the fastest – DEE-DEET… .11 of a second… DE-DEET… .08 of a second…

DE-DEET… That would be my lifetime on Earth compared to the age of my soul. And my fear, ever since, has been pretty easy to check.

Life is serious. But it’s only life. DE-DEET.

Life is feast. But it’s only life. DE-DEET.

And the only thing we have to fear…

is losing our connection to what it means to be alive.

We have one world, and if there is but one way, and one right...

We’ve one world & if there is but one way & one right… is that we must all love each other, despite the spite, with all of our might.

…it is that we all have the right to love each other, despite the fights and the spite… with all of our might.

Order: 1 Hokey, 1 Cringe Inducing, Mistake of a Movie. And 1 Cooking Mafia Echo Chamber Ass Kiss Fest On the Fly! Yes, CHEF.

WARNING: This is just one man’s opinion. That is all that this is.

A few nights ago, Hope and I watched the movie, CHEF, on demand. Both of us are cooks. We’ve worked decades in pro kitchens and restaurants, and been FOH and BOH. We’ve worked every single job, from dishwasher, busser, waiter, host, prep cook, line cook, expediter, caterer, sandwich maker, manager, owner, menu maker, recipe creator, even accountant, etc and so on and so forth. We’d been looking forward to seeing a movie that all the talking heads of the cooking entertainment world said got the details right.

Finally. The movie that gets it right. We’d been stoked to see this for awhile.

Hope and I, five minutes in, were like, holy shit, this is fucking terrible.

I will say this: I give Jon Favreau credit for wanting to get some things right – like how he held his knife, or how to execute a grilled cheese or a Cubano properly, or how some restaurant owners are obtuse dickheads who make no sense, or how Food PR people / Managers / Agents can be just so totally lame.

And pretty much everything else in the movie? Wrong, wronger, WRONGEST. Like the writing. The story. The characters. The dialogue. The acting. And the plethora of cooking details that were so incorrect that literally every single scene in the movie was a train wreck.

I feel like Pete Wells must have felt when he went into Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Times Square.

This movie does not deserve to call itself CHEF. Instead, I’d propose, “Jon Favreau’s Chef Fantasy Fulfillment” Written by, Directed by and Starring, you guessed it, Jon Favreau.

The movie did provide a great deal of laughter. Unintentional laughter. On Bill Simmons’ Unintentional Comedy Ratings Scale, I’d rate this movie a 96 out of 100.

96: The scene from MTV’s “25 Lamest Videos of All-Time” when Vanilla Ice destroyed the set (as Janeane Garofalo and Jon Stewart cowered and Chris Kattan shrieked “No, Vanilla!”) … Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in “Pumping Iron” … Andrew Shue’s performance on “Melrose Place” … Mike Tyson saying, “I guess I’ll fade into Bolivian” after the Lewis fight … Michael Irvin defending himself at the “Shaq Roast 2” with, “They can talk about me like they want to, but, um, I got my money… so matter what you all say, Mike black, but Mike rich!”

CHEF is at that level of a disaster. From the opening minute.

Let us begin with something that figures prominently in this catastrophe… a tweet:

“‏@Bourdain Apr 30 Trying to think of another Western film that got the pro-cooking details as right as @ChefTheMovie . Can’t. Filled with Inside Baseball.”


Notice that he does not make any mention of whether the movie is actually any good or not. Be attentive to the detail that he says “Western” film. I guess this implies there was an “Eastern” film that gets the pro-cooking details right. Which reminds us that he is worldly. He is. We all know this. And yet this is irrelevant. What IS relevant is that this is a clear example of how the cooking mafia sticks together, even when something is totally dogshit and horrendously unbelievable.

See, his buddy, business partner, and heir apparent Roy Choi put his name on the movie. So, let the ass kissing commence! Would Bourdain say anything different? Would Roy Choi ever be critical of anything Bourdain might say? Who cares if people get the wrong idea? The dopes will still buy the product, right? Because Anthony Bourdain’s opinion has cred. Roy Choi’s opinion has cred. Among lay people. Among cooks. Among cultures far and wide.

But I ain’t buyin it any more guys.

I’ve met Roy Choi a few times. One time was at the LA premiere of the movie SUPERMENSCH, the story of Shep Gordon, who is one of the guys responsible for driving this taste making / celebrity chef creating train that’s steaming it’s way through American culture. I want anyone reading this to know that Roy Choi struck me as a genuinely nice and humble dude, maybe a little bit shy (though maybe everyone seems a little shy next to Shep Gordon.)

Anyway, the SUPERMENSCH movie took a back seat to Shep constantly talking about how Roy’s empire is growing, how Roy’s brand is exploding, how Roy’s the biggest thing in cooking these days, how Roy’s bringing food to the people, how Roy’s got a new book coming out and blah blah blah. Roy, to his credit, was trying to stay humble throughout Shep’s gushing.

So I asked Shep, what about HIS food? What does the culinary luminary Shep Gordon like to cook? What’s his best dish, or signature? Shep seemed a little taken aback. Because, um, who cares? Which led me to remember something…

Everyone in the US, we’re all brands now. Not just entertainers. ALL OF US.

We’re stocks. Some days we’re sold short. Other days we’re bought up like there’s no tomorrow. And brutally, this is how most people in business management see the rest of us. Are we on the rise? Are we marketable? Do we have value?

Shep is as shrewd of a business manager as they make.

Shep’s SUPERMENSCH balance sheet includes training with an uberfamous chef in France. Which I thought was cool. But then, when I ask Shep what he really enjoys cooking, what he’s passionate about creating, he can’t give me an answer? I guarantee that everyone in that theater wanted to know. But, since it wasn’t part of his agenda, because it didn’t fit in the echo chamber of kiss assery that’s going on, no answer would be given.

And that’s when I called bullshit on him in my own mind, and now I call it out on the page. Funny enough, somewhere in the midst of the Q and A, Roy blurted out that Shep makes a mean BBQ Shrimp. I think he knew the question needed to be answered. But it needed to be answered by Shep.

I mean, you’re not passionate enough about cooking that you can’t think on it and say, I really like making a fucking badass roast chicken? Or a badass SOMETHING?

And you’re the guy who’s managing this whole American Food Culture craze?

Anyway, the SUPERMENSCH movie, the ass kiss fest that it is, and the subsequent Q&A love fest that Roy moderated, it all left me thinking, Jesus, has this cooking entertainment industry gotten to the point that everyone is out there just kissing everyone else’s ass, and that’s like, a lot of what they do? Either kissing someone’s ass or getting their ass kissed? Is this part of a chef’s purpose?

Listen, these guys put in hours and hours and hours on the line. They had to. And that alone gets my respect. But what the hell? After that do we just sell out because I guess we all gotta sell out all the way, right?

My friends Rick and Jack knew Shep back in the day. Their nickname for him was Shemp, as in the 3 stooges character. They said he was a sneaky sleeze just like all the music managers back then, and that when the drug shit got too hectic, Shemp was the first guy to run for the hills.

That Shemp couldn’t even tell me what he liked cooking bugged me. That no one else was bothered by this drives me nuts and still burns me up.

I mean, when will the emperor wears no clothes moment come for these guys?

So, Roy Choi approved so much that was so wrong in this movie CHEF. And he not only gets a pass but he gets congratulated? Now that totally pisses me off.

I think something's burning...

Something’s burning guys… It’s your cred.

“Roy said ‘I’ll do it but you have to get the kitchen right. Movies always get it wrong. I’ll do everything you need. I’ll train you, do the menus, look over your scripts, help you in the editing room. Whatever you want. But you have to promise you’ll get the details right.’ I said that’s all I ever want to do. That’s the way I work. That’s exactly what I had in mind as well.” – Jon Favreau

Either Jon Favreau is embellishing, or Roy Choi phoned it in. Either way, I don’t trust anything that any of these people say anymore after this movie. And you shouldn’t either. And this ain’t about begrudging some other guy for his success.

It’s about calling out these “luminaries” as the cash grabber stashers they are. And they’re all in league. And they’re trying to get you to buy their brand. Period.

First scene in the movie: “Chef” Carl Caspar, the executive chef of Hatfield’s, or, whatever they called the restaurant (it was shot in Hatfield’s.) He’s doin a little something I like to call, meezing off a shit ton of shit. And did I mention he’s holding the knife correctly and his knife skills look legit? Great. So far so good?

Two problems here in the first minute! First, how many times have I seen the Executive Chef of a place doing all the prep, by himself, in the early off hours? Never. Not once. As in NEVER. Second problem, he goes outside, to leave for the farmer’s market (which is like an um… okayyyyy… kind of decision on the day of your place’s most important service. Still, I was willing to give it a pass if he was going to his truffle guy or his boar guy or his rabbit guy or his shark fin guy or something like that… but no, it’s for ramps or radishes or some shit that he could easily order!)  then he knocks on his sous’ car window to wake him.

See, his sous crashed in the restaurant’s lot and passed out there after he drank too much the night before. How responsible. Sort of believable even. Then I thought, how many restaurants in LA have their own parking lots? Not many. Hm. Okay. Let that go Jefferson. It’s a detail that doesn’t matter. But then, I’m thinking of my Big Nights, the pressure packed day and night that came along with some critic coming in, or some VIPs who might be coming in, or a camera crew might be shooting a segment or whatever as it were, and, in this movie, it’s the morning of the most important service his restaurant has ever done, and his sous is so hungover that he looks like he might barf in the food?

Maybe my cooking family tree was uptight. I’ll admit that. But I know if I’d done this kind of shit, it might get my ass fired, or, at the very least, I’d piss off the chef. How’s his sous going to taste anything for the next few hours? Dunno. But none of this bothers “Chef” Carl even a little. Doesn’t make him anxious. Nothing. I pause the movie.

I ask Hope a bunch of questions. I decide it’s okay it’s just a movie. BUT WAIT! They said they were gonna get it right. So, no, it’s not okay.

Do they think this part of the script works because he and his sous have gone to war before? Alright. I guess.

I take the movie off of pause.

“Chef” Carl then goes to the farmer’s market with his son. The kid who plays his son was the best actor in the movie, and with that terrible script, the kid still managed to be sort of believable, even if the relationship he has with his father is not. The kid wants kettle corn. The “chef” dad wants him to have fruit. Awkward and weird moments ensue from there. The kid says something about wanting to go to New Orleans. This reminds me of my first trip there, when I was 13. I tell Hope that this movie is definitely going to take these guys to New Orleans, and the kid will definitely eat a beignet (which happened of course.) Then, “Chef” Carl ends up getting a sausage hoagie and walking around with the kid for awhile like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Good thing he did all that prep in the morning. By himself. Anyway.

Back to the restaurant we go. Sous chef dude Bobby Cannavale is now totally fine. Maybe someone “brought him water.” Jon Leguizamo looks and acts the part of a line cook, reminds me a lot of my buddy Adriano, who I worked on the line with a few years back. The movie should’ve had Adriano starring. Or Leguizamo. It might have given the movie a chance.

Uh oh. Wait a minute. Where are the Mexicans? There’s not one Mexican person in the back of the house? Seriously, you wanted to get the details of a kitchen (in LA!) right, and there are no Mexicans in the kitchen?

What was that stuff about getting the details right?

Oh yeah, I forgot, you were bullshitting us.

Where are the nicknames?! COME ON! Someone calls him Jefe? Jefecito?

Are you fucking kidding me? My name is Jeff and NO ONE in any kitchen I’ve worked in would EVER call me, or any white guy, Jefe.

Joto? Absolutely. Pelon? That was my nickname in 2 kitchens. Way? Way. Puta? Limpio? Culo? Ano? Uno?

I mean, the list goes on and on and on and on.

Si Mon!

Oh man. Where are you Roy? It’s getting worse: supposedly, this chef made his name in Miami, but it’s made abundantly clear he doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. RIGHT! Try speaking no Spanish in a kitchen in Miami or LA and see what happens. Imposible! Pinche toro! Mierda de caballo! Hijo de puuuuuta!

Scarlett Johansson is the hot hostess. This character is like that decorative garnish that you can’t eat. Totally unnecessary. And the moment when he cooks her pasta. Embarrassing for everyone involved. By everyone, I mean, all of humanity. She seriously seems like she’s going to orgasm as she watches him make PASTA. As she eats PASTA. It’s laugh out loud funny that it’s sooo forced and bad! 100 out of 100 on the Unintentional Comedy Rating scale.

If only we could all cook pasta like "Chef" Carl Caspar...

If only we all cooked pasta like “Chef” Carl Caspar…

Sofia Vergara’s character does what exactly? She’s his ex, she’s a socialite? Their relationship makes no sense whatsoever.

Apparently the “chef” and the restaurant owner haven’t really talked over the menu for the night. Huh? Hold on a second. It’s the most important service in the restaurant’s history and the menu has not been discussed? Until the day of service? Dude! Where are you Roy? How could this be missed?

A famous food blogger, like Oliver Pratt, has as much power as this guy supposedly does? Really? I can’t even give you the name of more than 3 food bloggers who matter.

Oh my God. “Chef” Carl has never even heard of Twitter? Twitter is the whole reason that the Kogi Truck blew up. I guess this guy is the anti-Roy Choi?

Now it’s just getting looney. “Chef” Carl decides the day after the bad review that he’s going to make the menu he really wanted to make the day the famous food blogger came to town. Restaurant owner be damned. And wouldn’t you know it, after a wholly unbelievable twitter flame war misunderstanding, the famous food blogger agrees to re-review the restaurant. Nice of him. BUT of course the mean restaurant owner won’t budge because the clientele expects the menu to be exactly the same. Every day. Ad infinitum. So, the bad review, by the most famous food blogger in food, who says the restaurant’s food was boring, this means nothing to the restaurant owner. And I’ve seen this kind of argument a thousand times. Never have I seen it happen in front of an entire crew.

“Chef” Carl couldn’t make new menu items that sound like the old stuff?

“Chef” Carl couldn’t negotiate even one new menu item with this owner?

All of this leads “Chef” Carl to do something that I have never seen an Executive Chef do. He quits minutes before a service. He quits. Yes, line cooks do it all the time. I think I’ve even seen a Sous do it. Have I seen Chef’s quit during a service? Totally. But an Executive Chef quitting minutes BEFORE? I guess it could happen, but I’ve never seen it, just like I have never seen a car explode, though I suppose one could.

So “Chef” Carl goes home and he makes the menu he really wanted to make anyway, in a mad fit. I’m actually back on board. I’m thinking, cool, this guy’s going to go out on the floor and bring this reviewer guy the food he really wanted to make him. Or he’ll send the reviewer guy pictures of it. This movie has hope.

But no! He makes the food, and then? Who knows what happened to the actual food! Did he throw it away? Who knows? What we do know is “Chef” Carl goes back to the restaurant, he doesn’t bring the food, he goes on a rant about how to make a molten cake, how the bad review hurts, and blah blah blah.

I could go on about more things the movie got wrong. Like the fact that this guy’s food truck is making Cubanos from town to town. Yeah? So how is he sourcing his bread? I mean, if you’ve ever done sandwiches, you know that the bread is the biggest key. This movie doesn’t even bother with the question of the bread. People follow the truck everywhere, they’re totally slammed, the 10 year old kid has people waving money at him, his dad throws him on the line and he’s in the hopper but yet, the kid’s totally fine and they all have a dandy time! No sweat!

Such a load of bullshit. I’m over it. I’m over this whole make believe thing. The details weren’t right.

Roy didn’t give two shits about the details. Maybe he gave one shit. Maybe. Or maybe those guys just hung out and had a good time and made food together and he let Favreau play line cook for a day. But the details, that inside baseball that was better than any Western movie? They suffered so greatly that the superfamous food blogger guy is going to bankroll “Chef” Carl’s next restaurant at the end of the movie, cynically deciding that the derisiveness of their relationship will generate hundreds and hundreds of covers a night. Apparently foodblogging makes people millionaires these days.

“Throughout the cooks language and camaraderie is exactly right and should make anyone want to be a cook, because cooks are almost unfailingly the best people to hang with. Period. As Jon Leguizamo makes ebulliently clear in his great performance. Other great details the movie gets right. Cornstarch. Guy cooks know and it works. See the movie if you want more.” – Michael Ruhlman

So Ruhlman takes the piss out of all of it a little bit. Good for him. Who knows what he really thinks about the movie. He could be sarcastic the whole way or just for part of it. I have no idea. I do know Ruhlman’s cookbooks are awesome and helpful. I’m surprised that Favreau didn’t give him credit for The Elements of Cooking, which Favreau probably referenced. If he didn’t, he should’ve.

But anyway who gives a shit about cred? Who slaves over details? A chef does. A writer does. A filmmaker does.

But mostly, a chef does.

So I’m disappointed, I’m pissed off, and I’m still waiting for the movie that gets it right.

Pals, The Proteges, and The Socarrat

The text message I sent out yesterday was this:

“Hello everyone. The time has come to cook up something new, awesome, straight up badass & Spanish. Yeah kids. That’s right. Tonight we are going to cook Paella Valenciana, a dish that, try as Hope & I have tried, we can’t find anywhere in LA that makes it good. So we’re going to do it ourselves. The thing about this dish is that it takes careful preparation & more importantly, in Spanish tradition, this is the type of thing cooked for loved ones who you appreciate, which you all are!! We really would like to do this for ya tonight, prob be ready around 730-8p. We hope you can make it!”

Mike’s text back to me?

“I’ll fuckin eat it.”


Mike, Gillian, Kenji and Ellie made it over. Hope made a steamed mussels dish (which was totally delicious) as an appetizer, and I tackled paella for the first time. This is a dish that’s all about temperature, timing, steps, and prep. A lot of prep. Truly. At least an hour of prep. And if you do it on a grill, make sure you have a grill that distributes heat pretty evenly.

Also, cooking off some sausage, rendering the fat, sweating some onions, these things always seem to take longer than you think they will on a grill.

A moment comes when you are making this where you must let things go, where you can not stir again, where it’s going to be what it’s going to be, and that’s that. And you know, isn’t that like all creations? Or even a microcosm of life?

Anyway, my friends are fuckin awesome. I love them. Ellie is a manager at a post production house. She is the toughest person I’ve ever known. How tough? She jumped out of a plane, the chute didn’t open. She survived. That tough. You want more? Then, the hospital nearly killed her. She survived that too. She’s survived all kinds of crazy shit. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Ellie is extremely difficult to kill. She’s also positive, smart, thoughtful, and my holmie to the end.

Her boyfriend Kenji is an editor these days, on the path to directing films soon. He’s also an incredible guitar player who’s toured the world with the Long Beach Dub Allstars, English Beat and his own band, Rice Rokit. He’s pretty friggin talented is what I’m trying to say here. Like really friggin talented. And humble. And funny. And nice. And generous. And a bit of a hater on posers, but who isn’t? I suppose a poser isn’t. Kenji ain’t a poser. Not even close.

Two pretty badass peepz.

Two pretty badass peepz.

Mike works in the art department. What does that mean? It means the guy builds movie, tv and still photo sets. And when he’s not doing that, he’s playing drums for The Gods of Macho, or playing bass for a new music project, or building something for his house, or smoking a salmon, or hunting for boar or bear or deer. The dude is as reliable as they come, honest, adventurous, talented and is just a great friend.

His ladyfriend Gillian I admit, I don’t know her as well as I know everyone else — but I do know that she’s a hairstylist, she’s creative, she’s nice, she’s truly down to Earth, and she’s fun to hang out with. I’ve totally enjoyed our new friendship.

Two more pretty badass peepz.

Two more pretty badass peepz.

The wine was flowing (2011 Bogle Phantom, 2012 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, a 2013 Loire Valley Sancerre, and 2011 Las Rocas Grenache. All of it was very good!)  The food was being devoured. And then we all got into a conversation about our mentors. We remarked that it seems like a more common thing for men to list a person as a mentor, than women. Then, the idea of a “Tor” Mentor party was brought up.

That idea made us all laugh. It makes me laugh now. In fact, that idea will definitely make me laugh for many years.

If we did it, I’d have to make paella again, because I think paella brings people together in a cool way – served from the pan it’s cooked in, it’s the perfect bringer-together-er of Proteges and Mentors. It helps the mood be good. We may yet do it.

In any event, last night was a great time. I believe that I navigated the rite of passage that is grilling paella with great success. I might tweak a thing or two of course, I always think that way, but overall, the flavors were awesome, everything was cooked perfectly, and the socarrat was crunchy, delicious, and memorable.

When I think of us as people: me, Hope, Kenji, Ellie, Mike and Gillian, I think that we’re the socarrat of society. We’ve taken the heat, we may have been a little burned, and yet we are that much better for it.

Delicioso. And the socarrat (the crunchy bomba rice stuck to the bottom & sides) made me proud.

Delicioso. And the socarrat (the crunchy bomba rice stuck to the bottom & sides) made me proud.

Entree the Dragon: Part 1 of 3

My girlfriend Hope made a comment last night that has me thinking. She said that she thinks there are dishes/eating experiences that you can enjoy so much that they’ll forever change your life, and perhaps even start you down a path of cooking. I likened her idea to Bruce Lee’s martial arts movies: there’s a major occurrence, and from that point on, it’s over, your path is set, you must train and subsequently slay all manner of obstacles before you can enter the dragon.

People who’ve gotten to know me over the years know a few things about me. They know I’m a big sports fan. They know I’m a lover of wine, art, culture and travel. They know I love movies, that I love writing tv and movies, and they know I’m an absolute sucker for inspirational, biographical movies, especially ones about musicians or sports heroes.

And if they know me even a little bit, then they know how I love to cook.

So Hope’s thesis got me thinking. What were my turning point entrees/dining experiences? What started me down this path of trial and error, this endless path of learning mixtures, ratios, alchemy, temperatures, ingredients, principles?

In chronological order, my top 10 from memory:

Entree #1: MY Mom’s Omelette (Santa Cruz, CA)

I believe that my desire to learn how to cook came from a pretty common source: my mom. Not because my mom was a gourmet chef. Far from it. She wasn’t a bad cook either. She was about economy. With so little time to prepare meals, my mom wanted to make the best thing she could in the shortest time span.

My favorite thing she makes is an omelette, with avocado, bacon, jack cheese. She can make the thing fluffy, almost airy. Absolutely no browning on the outside of the omelette whatsoever. You bite into that airy egg, you get the melty creamy fatty goodness of the cheese and avocado, combined with the crispy crunch of the bacon. I love the way she does this still today.

When  I was about 11 years old, I knew I wanted to make this. I wanted to make it myself, and I wanted to make it EXACTLY the same. My mom told me to have at it. I’d watched her make it several times, and I thought, okay, I can do this.

But as I went about the process it became clear to me that I was in way over my head. Oh no, I thought, the avocado isn’t scooped out and cut. Where’s the bacon? Where’s the cheese? The eggs are cooking too fast. What is going on?!

And as I ran around like my hair was on fire and everything felt as if it was coming apart, my mom asked if I wanted help. No, I said, I’ve got this… Wrong!

The omelette was an abject failure, a culinary catastrophe. My mom asked me why I’d refused her help. I told her that I wanted to do it, I’d seen her do it before, and I wanted to do it alone, exactly the same as her. But, she said, you didn’t prepare anything ahead of time. You didn’t have the cheese grated, you didn’t have the bacon made, you didn’t have avocado ready before you started cooking the eggs. You must not have been watching me, she said, because if you had, you’d have had all of those things ready to go.

It was true, my mom would’ve had these things ready.

I learned 2 huge lessons about cooking that day:

1. Mise En Place! Mise En Place! Mise En Place! My mom to this day is supremely organized and prepared before making anything. She has a plan, everything indeed is in it’s place, and she gives herself the best chance of executing the dish she wants to make, efficiently. Ask anyone who cooks with me, and they know that I definitely take after my mom in this regard.

2. If you need help, ask for it. Don’t waste time and food, or worse, burn the kitchen down, because of your pride.


Even today, for a lot of cooking jobs, a well executed omelette is the first test.

entree #2: Uni & Mackerel @ Pink Godzilla (Capitola, ca)

I grew up in Santa Cruz, California, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is a coastal town in central California, on the north end of the Monterey Bay. We’re famous for our skateboards, our surfing, our boardwalk, and the fact that it’s a natural, beautiful place, one of the most beautiful in all the world for my money.

But what most people, even some locals, don’t know is that it is a great, GREAT seafood town. It’s not like a New England seafood town (lobster, crab, lobster, lobster, cod, clams, lobster, oysters, and did I mention lobster?) or down to the Chesapeake (crab!!!) or the South (shrimp, crawfish). Seasonally, the Monterey Bay will have salmon, halibut, steelhead, squid, shark, flounder, abalone, tuna, mackerel, swordfish, clams, shrimp, and I could go on. As a child, I can remember  just how delicious I thought grilled abalone was, that first time I had it…

You would think that being exposed to this cavalcade of crustaceans, mollusks and fish would have naturally led me to sushi and/or sashimi, but it did not. Grilled or fried or poached. This was the way seafood was to be prepared, and anything else was just weird. Raw? That just sounded nuts to me.

My girlfriend when I was 19 years old was a Japanese girl. She would constantly try to get me to eat sushi, or any sort of Japanese cuisine.  Being young and closed minded, I thought to myself, well, I’ll do it for the girl this one time, and then after I yack up the raw fish all over our table, we certainly won’t have to go through this exercise again.

I looked at the slice of mackerel on a slab of rice, with a piece of seaweed wrapped around it and I thought, dear God help me. I remembered that the first fish I’d ever caught off of the Capitola Wharf was a mackerel, and that it wasn’t really that great for cooking… Then I bit in… No green pasty wasabi, no soy, no ginger, just straight up mackerel, rice and seaweed. And I loved it.

It was like I’d just eaten the freshest fish in the world, and that this was light, savory, had just the right amount of salt – I felt like I was tasting the ocean, in a good way, and I never looked back. I tried them all: unagi, yellowtail, salmon, bring em on! Octopus? I ain’t no octopussy! Smelt? Another notch on my belt.

Though nothing quite matched the mackerel experience for me, each was excellent nonetheless. Then, I tried uni. I remembered the one time I’d stepped on an urchin quill. Pain. Numbness. Then pain like I’d never experienced. I remember rolling around on the beach and everyone around me saying I had to pee on the impact point to neutralize the sting.

The uni was nutty, salty, refreshing, incredible. Revenge was mine.

Then, I tried a caramelized scallop that was stuffed with flying fish eggs.

My world was changed. My mind was blown. I was hooked. Japanese cuisine was a new galaxy to explore. Don Buri. Katsu. Udon. Ramen. Yakatori. Yaki soba. Meat is the accent, not the star.

Perfectly executed sashimi? Nothing beats it.

The lesson I learned here was simple and profound: when it comes to food and drink, have an open mind!


Never, in my wildest dreams, did I expect to love sashimi as I do.

ENTREE #3: VegetariaN messob & injera @ Meskerem (Washington, DC)

Still just a kid in my late teens, I had a college buddy who was a pretty adventurous guy. His name was Keenan. Keenan had no qualms with trying things that others might think was weird. He introduced me to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington DC, where the Ethiopian restaurant Meskerem has existed for years and years. The place is an institution, and definitely a rite of passage for any self-respecting citizen of Washington DC.

So I knew at this point that I could never dismiss a cuisine of the world based on my own preconceived notions of what might or might not taste good. I also knew that Washington DC has a pretty sizable Ethiopian population, so I figured, we’ll probably get the good stuff if we go to the most well known place in town. Keenan assured me that Meskerem was awesome even if the surrounding neighborhood was, at that time, kind of dicey.

I remember telling a classmate that we were going out for Ethiopian food that night. The classmate tersely replied, “What’s that going to be? Do you eat one grain of rice?” I thought that was a classless and racist thing to say. But it did make me apprehensive too. What would Ethiopian food be? Would the portion size be agonizingly small? Would the meat be something I couldn’t conceive of trying, like cat or dog or monkey?

God was I ignorant. Up until this point I’d eaten the classic American fare, some Italian, some Chinese, some Mexican food, and of course I’d just started my new love affair with Japanese food, but beyond these things I was in the dark. Totally, hopelessly clueless. Japan was one thing, but Ethiopia? As this was still pre-Internet days, I couldn’t reference anything to tell me what Ethiopian cuisine was. Oh well I thought, at least this adventure will give me some kind of story.

After briskly walking past some of the shady characters around 18th & Columbia in those days, we make it inside and we sit on these seats that are like wicker djembes, and a table that looks like a huge basket of some kind. We order – half meat, half vegetarian.

The food comes and immediately I’m intrigued by the bread. What is this spongy, almost sour tasting awesomeness? It’s called injera. It’s allowing me to make these little sponge tortillas and fill them with Gomen Watt (collard greens) Yemisir Watt (pureed lentils) Shurro Watt (chick peas) and oh man! The spices, the flavor explosions I’m having in my mouth are unlike anything I’ve experienced. Keenan tells me it’s sort of like Indian food, which I can recall meant nothing to me, because I’d never had Indian food before.

I just knew I loved the flavors and tastes I was experiencing. Even more amazing to me, I was enjoying the vegetable portion of the meal more than the meat part. Not that the meat wasn’t great too, but the vegetables just seemed to soak in this thing that they called “berbere sauce.” I loved it so much I asked the waitress, what is in a “berbere sauce?” She smiled and said it was a secret.

I had no idea what asking such a question meant.

More than anything, I think the question meant that one day, I’d love to cook.


My buddy Keenan and the Adams Morgan staple called Meskerem opened up a new culinary universe for me.