Good evening, friends and neighbors!
It's been a while since I've done a simple, less-guided entry, hasn't it? Ever since the move out to the Pacific Northwest, I've had to re-establish a few things that I generally took for granted in my daily (and writing) life: favorite dives, favorite restaurants, local bars that I'm pretty comfortable walking home from when I've had too many. With Portland's fairly-excellent public transport, "stumbling distance" can mean a few miles- provided you can keep straight enough to hop the right bus/train combination.
In general, my favorite places tend to have a couple characteristics-
Back at home, it was no accident that I regularly sang the praises of The Iron Room, Howell's Pub, and The Avenue. These were places where I could count on not only good food, drink, and service- but warm companionship when I wanted it, and quiet attention from friends when it was time to work. There are times when I'm out and about, and I'd give just about anything to enjoy the work and company of Chefs Kevin Cronin, Jim Howell, and Joe Muldoon again. I try to keep in touch as best I can, but seeing all the great things they do is a far-cry from tasting it.
All things change, and we change with them- and I am in Portland now.
Time to explore and find new haunts in my new home.
Earlier, I found myself ensconced at Mother's Bar and Bistro. It was happy hour (a good time to be thirsty in Portland), and the young and busy were buzzing in and out on their way home. Chef Lisa Schroeder, the chef-owner of the place, did a certain young baker quite a solid when he had just shown up in Portland a few months back- flying blind in a strange place and begging for work.
Like so many places, all the chefs in Portland talk to each other- and while Chef Lisa didn't have a spot for me, she gave me a laundry list of places that I might ask, and even put in a few calls on my behalf. With that kind of person in charge (a Jewish Philly transplant, no less), and a great staff in front and back, it was a good place to sit, reflect, and enjoy some REALLY good lox.
They have really good salmon here- who'd-a-thunk it?
While I was sitting at Mother's bar, noshing on my tasty smoked fish and sipping a spicy margarita, I realized what I was REALLY missing in the whole move out here.
Some months ago, back in New Jersey, I was hanging out with a couple other chefs right after we'd finished up a Chaine dinner. A couple things had come a little close to the knuckle- there was miscommunication about the menu, facilities, friggin' PLATING AND FLATWARE, who was in charge of what. It got a little hair-raising and tempers flared. Everyone was bouncing around the kitchen, but in the end- we did what we were meant to do. The dinner was a huge success. From first to last, the courses came out like magic, and our diners were ecstatic. Now came the quiet after the storm- we all sat and breathed in the wet, warm air of the late summer rainy night. After a while, we wound up at a local bar. We toasted a job well-done, and I sat back and listened as the older hands shared stories and ideas.
Moments like that are one of my favorite things about doing what I do.
It's easy to find a good bar in Portland, and one of my favorite things to do is seek out all the bars where the professionals go- line cooks, chefs, food runners, and all other manner of- as Tom Waits says- "brawlers, bawlers, and bastards."
It's a very esoteric, insular sort of life we live, and the only people who truly understand it are those who live it, or have lived it. Since moving here, I've craved evenings like that one in Jersey, and conversations like the ones I'd have with Joe, Jim, and Kevin.
You'd think that a city with as many restaurants and as much of a food culture as Portland has, you could find a bar that's open past midnight? What's more, with all the food carts and tiny little snackeries in this city, you might find one that's open after 6 PM?
Where do the post-shift drinks happen? Or the booze-mop munchies when you've had too many? As a baker, I know that I'll probably be fine- my hours are from 6am to 2pm. My post-shift drink would be LUNCH. All the same, sometimes I whomp up the energy to join at least some of the culinary throng and enjoy an evening out.
As I write this, I'm sitting in Paddy's- a pretty solid little Irish pub in Portland's Old Town, down by the Willamette River. They advertise being open till 2am- the first bar I have found to be open past midnight.
Maybe I'm being immature or foolish- hell, I'm probably both. I might well also just really be homesick.
Either way, at the moment, I have beer, whiskey, and a tasty Scotch egg with a chantilly-light deviled yolk.
It's not home, but it's not bad. Not bad at all.
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
I preached a bit about culinary education, obesity in America, and why teaching children about cooking and food when they are young can help save the country.
This time, I am going to talk about the tangential learning opportunities found in learning to cook. Initially, I started with this list of subjects that a culinary education offers:
Good evening, friends and neighbors! Happy New Year! I hope your New Year's Eve was spent with friends and loved ones, eating good food and giving 2015 a fond farewell- or maybe a swift kick on it's way out.
In a few previous entries, I wrote about education, but only as far as culinary school- that is, education for adults that want to make a career in the food industry. In my opinion, however, culinary education should start LONG before that.
As a kid, I was lucky enough to be raised in a family that loved cooking and eating. Both of my parents cooked regularly, but usually it was my mom. There wasn't an idea of cooking being "women's work-" my sisters and I were raised to know that cooking was something EVERYONE did if they wanted to eat and not get take out every night.
When I got to junior high, everyone had to take both woodshop and home economics, or "Home Ec." In Home Ec, we got a cursory introduction to nutrition and sanitation in a kitchen before going on to learn how to bake cookies and brownies. That was about it- though my older sister apparently go to make compound butter as well in her class.
Later on, in high school, there was a "Foods" class that one could take as an elective. Once again, a cursory look at nutrition and meal planning, followed by learning basic preparations- baking, broiling, learning how to make soups and salads. After that, that was IT. Any other education we got about cooking for ourselves, much less nutrition, came from home or health class- which had other, theoretically more important, things to tell the students of an city high school about.
"So what's the problem? Sounds pretty good!" I might hear you say.
The problem is that I WAS LUCKY. The education I got about cooking and nutrition from my family and schooling is not common in all parts of the country. Unfortunately, with the economy being what it is, many families are finding it easier and less time-consuming to buy processed foods, or go out for fast food, than make things at home.
We are increasingly at risk of our great-grandchildren being able to have a cake that actually IS "just like grandma used to make."
What's worse is that, because school systems are constantly on a lookout for ways to trim the budget, school lunch programs are being forced to choose between healthiness and "convenience."
Between crappy food at school and crappy food at home, the future is looking increasingly bleak for today's children. With obesity on the rise in America and diet-related illnesses our top-ranking killers, it seems that the great and terrible enemies of the American people are not the Liberals/Conservatives, or Daesh/ISIL, but the King, the Clown, and the Colonel.
I'm willing to bet you didn't click over to my blog (or Facebook page) to hear yet another screed about obesity in America. There are plenty of other people more qualified and informed than myself that can do that, and I recommend you give them a listen sometime. While making children more aware of their food and food choices IS a big benefit to teaching them about cooking, that's actually NOT my focus right now.
Instead, I want to offer a different angle on why we need culinary education in our schools.
As another unfortunate side effect of perpetual budget-slimming, school systems tend to put their arts programs on the chopping block first. Dance, music, art, and yes, cooking/Home Ec- these are considered "extraneous" or unnecessary expenditures. With how testing-happy our country has become, school boards tend to focus more on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, saying "Sure it's all very nice, but how is playing the violin and baking cookies going to help you score on the SATs?"
Emily and I talk about this frequently, and being a piano teacher, Em is very familiar with the scholastic benefits of being in a music program- improved mental flexibility, greater command of languages and numbers, improved emotiveness and empathy among them.
This got me thinking about all the reasons a culinary program could be useful to children, beyond the obvious skills that would help them look after themselves as adults and the nutritional education to help them make good choices.
It came down to the miracle of tangential learning.
Tangential learning is when people seek out information and education on a topic that was presented in a different, more enjoyable situation. For example, someone playing the video game "Brothers In Arms" might be inspired to look up the history and battles of World War II, or a kid playing Sim City might seek information on civil engineering and how cities are laid out.
With that in mind, I sat down the other night and started making a list of all the subjects and disciplines I had to at least be familiar with- if not have a mastery of- in order to be a professional cook and baker.
What Cooking REALLY Teaches
How's THAT for a curriculum?
Next week, I'll go a bit more in-depth on each of these, how they connect to cooking, and why a culinary education really is an education in... well, life itself!
About the Author
The Black Hat Baker, a.k.a. Matt Strenger, lives in SE Portland, Oregon as a professional baker. Here, Matt bakes, cooks, exercises, and explores, returning to his wife and their hobbit hole up Mt. Tabor to write about all of it.
Email the BHB at blackhatbakery(at)gmail(dot)com
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