Looking at this julienne on Wednesday morning, my first thought was, 'Joel Robuchon would kick my ass all the way back to Canada.' The idea made me smile. Remember Jamin? *sigh*
Probably in 2023, Joel Robuchon has a posh school in France that would charge me tens of thousands of dollars to learn to cut julienne his way. Wonder what it costs to do a stage in one of his restaurants?
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?”
When I worked in France, the executive chef said that when presented with anything below standard. The tone was incredulous, like he was being presented with a lunar rock. You could tell how far off course you were if you could see his tonsils. Humble pie is super tasty.
One of the joys of still standing in front of a cutting board is knowing I fell for the right profession. I still love chopping. Don't get me started on mis en place. Knife skills are the first and last lesson.
I'm writing a novel.
The process is interesting. I've had a lot of advice from writers and have a small group of readers.
One Canadian writer told me to write the first draft through to the end with little editing. That's Haruki Murakami's practice. The only problem is it doesn't suit me right now.
Another suggested I write a chapter as close to complete as possible. That's been golden. It got me thinking about character depth, the subtle ways it's expressed, the relationship between characters, and the world around them, including nature. The advice was freeing.
It's still a first draft. And it's also a fleshed-out chapter. There's a second chapter almost there and a third needing some work. It's barely a start. And it's real progress, given I work full-time.
The writing is still young and a bit stiff. I know from working with pro-editors that it will loosen up and become more of what it should be in time. I feel like I'm still finding my voice.
The way is full of surprises. I'll spend a two or three-hour period writing. And when I am away, things surface. I add highlighted notes to Scrivener, put them in my Notes app on my phone or record voice memos if I'm on the move or at work. The story is always with me. And time away is productive.
I've also been laying the foundation simultaneously. The structure is evolving — there are character sketches, chapter outlines, and a couple of years' worth of research starting during the pandemic. It needs more underpainting.
I learn new things about the process all the time. This week, I began tracking food for continuity's sake. There's a fair bit of cooking, which must make chronological sense.
I sometimes fantasize about having 12 to 24 months to devote to this in an MFA program. When I studied at the Humber School for Writers, most of my peers had novels in progress. I studied creative writing purposefully. This feels natural. I'm here for a reason.
I also fantasize about hiring a coach to help with organization, tracking progress, setting goals, and projecting milestones. But none of that is possible right now. And for many writers and artists since time immemorial, it's not a prerequisite for creating.
What I do have is a circle of support. The work is simultaneously engaging and unnerving. Making something from scratch is nourishing. It's a cocktail of hope and insecurity. I have dreams. Are they outrageous? Would a man ask that?
What becomes of it is not my concern today. Pressing on is.
I saw two stories this week about artists and their creative process that spoke to me. This on printmaker Jacob Samuel (watch the video). And this short reel of the late painter, Pierre Soulages.
I went to a wedding last night. Barely took a photo. I had a good time. Caught up with people, including a few from my years at Rundles.
Musically I had something lined up and then I heard this Greg Allman song and it fit the day and the mood. A musician of tremendous depth.
I went for a walk last night with a friend. We processed some of the global events of the week. She said to me, ‘what is obvious, again, is that humanity is a thin veneer.’
The next morning, on the subway train to work at 6:15 a.m., two men were arguing at the other end of the car. I couldn’t get the gist of it from a distance, but it sounded crazy. It was distressing to hear and made me tense. I was on alert for signs of escalation.
Then, a young mother and her little boy got on at a stop and sat down opposite me. He was six or seven and flashing a big toothless grin — all his top front teeth were missing. His legs were dangling just above the floor. He was happy. They both were.
They got off at Spadina station. I imagined them going to the Jewish Community Centre for a morning swim in the saltwater pool. Maybe she was passing along the habit of caring for the physical body to her son.
Humanity was right in front of me. What I focus on is a choice. And a privilege.
If you’ve worked in restaurant kitchens for any time, you know people who have fled war.
In Toronto, brilliant career dishwashers came to the city from Sri Lanka in the mid to late eighties as part of a great wave. Generations of people — mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, grandfathers, daughters, sons — fleeing a brutal civil war at home. I work with two men who came during that period. They are the backbone of the team.
In many restaurant kitchens right now, there’s a person who knows war first-hand or has family living in a warring country — Ukraine leaps to mind.
I’ve heard stories of war. A few told by children.
Many people live through unthinkable hardship. Our privilege is being sheltered from those horrors.
Walking and talking about life’s important stuff with a friend is good for my spirit.
A perfect French croissant and a cortado are too.
I looked for music to calm my anxious heart.
I made the first poppyseed babka of the season, today. It's to share at work tomorrow. I make the filling and it is so good.
Here's a bit of perspective. I asked someone at work if they were doing thanksgiving, and they looked amused and gave me a forthright 'no.' I live and work in a city where people from many cultures don't do this holiday. Who can blame them? The company has to be fantastic for me to enjoy turkey. (Roast a chicken, and I'm all yours.) It's a day that finishes with pie and a big pile of dishes. That could be a Thursday at my place.
I can get with the idea of an agrarian holiday — the harvest. And I need to avoid gross nostalgia. Because getting goods from farms to markets and tables is difficult from a labour perspective. There are abuses.
Any story involving the celebration of white settlers is disturbing. What we stole from First Nations is devastating to consider in fullness. I can't even imagine what that last word means. Many people can't look yet. And it needs immediate repair in a way that will challenge us. First Nations are clear about the debt. What we owe. Will this be an age of reparations? I hope so.
This is some of what I'm grateful for right now:
This image of cultural and political leadership from the other day.
The kids are alright. Here's a group of elementary school students playing Led Zeppelin's Kashmir on xylophones. I want to hug their music teacher.
I'm working with a good kitchen team. They're making me a better cook and human. A small group of women and men lead in a way I respect and admire. Thirty or more years separate most of us in age. But I'm still teachable. That's attractive. If this is my last kitchen stop, I'm leaving the industry the same way I came in, as an apprentice.
Allan Jenkins posts fabulous minestrone photos. I've been faithful about following Marcella Hazan's Minestrone di Romagna recipe because of the pleasure of sitting in front of a bowl. She was careful — a scientist. I like her lead. But Jenkin's minestrone has an independent spirit — a classic vegetable soup made by a free and mature cook. I would expect nothing less, given minestrone is an expression of the garden at that moment. It’s hard to codify. He's helped me consider the way I make mine.
My mom eats two Thanksgiving dinners. One is from her friend Janet on Saturday. The second is from Elaine on Monday. It comforts me to know she's cared for. Feeding others is the spirit of hospitality. It’s a good human practice.
It should be clear by now I'm a night person. But the colour of the eastern morning sky is a wonder. I'm no convert, though. The middle of the night is too fine.
I got a haircut yesterday that needs more work. The shape is good, but it needs finessing. Online, I shared dismay at the cost and results. I don't feel all that way today because the foundation is good. At any rate, a young woman I know sent me this DM: "I'm sorry you don't like your hair, but I'm sure you're just as vibrant as ever." Exactly what I needed to hear. Good medicine.
I live in safety. Many people around the globe this weekend don't because of war, famine, and persecution.
I hope your knees are under a dinner table at home or in a restaurant with the people you love. That might include family.
This song reminds me of the Aretha Franklin song I shared a few weeks back. It's a modern spiritual. I can't stop listening to it. I briefly heard a podcaster talk about Cleo Sol and went looking for her new album. It is good.
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