Good evening, friends and neighbors!
Last week, I did a quick "Where Am I Now." Long story short: I live in Portland Oregon.
I've now been in the city for a little over a month. The small apartment that my girlfriend and I live in has started to feel less like a hotel room and more like home. We have met some of the local folks, found a local bar, local cafe, preferred local supermarket (or supermarkets)... all the things that come with joining a neighborhood.
Since I've been out here, my main goals have been:
1. Finding a new job, or working out the "how" of starting my own.
2. Making the apartment feel as homey and comfortable as possible.
3. Exploring and trying as much as time/money allows me.
The entire time, a part of me has been incredulous- wondering how long I can make this last. Asking every day, "How long until I wake up?"
"Why should you, Matt? Why not relax and enjoy the ride?"
I've dreamed of driving cross-country since I was in high school. It was painted out for me in the pages of Kerouac's "On the Road" and "Dharma Bums" and Steinbeck's "Travels With Charlie."
I figured I'd get some money together, buy an old bus, rip the seats out, through in some mattresses, and grab some friends to tour the country with- like rejected extras from "Hair."
What actually happened?Over the course of two weeks, my girlfriend and I sold/stored/gave away half of our junk, packed the rest in a trailer and the back of my Jeep, and drove a trucker route in a bee-line across the country. 15 hours on the road a day, stopping for food, gas, and sleep, and listening to Podcasts and books on tape the whole way.
(As an aside, if you were wondering, we are both huge fans of "Welcome to Night Vale" and "The Splendid Table," and we listened to "Skewed" by Anne McAneny. They are highly recommended.)
So now we find ourselves in Portland.
It is a food WONDERLAND. The sheer number of food outlets and variety of cuisines is absolutely mind-boggling. In the first week, I found places specializing in Szechuan, Manchurian, Mongolian, Vietnamese, Thai, Lebanese, North African, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian, Paleo, Pita Sandwiches, generic Indian, Sushi, Ramen, Izikaya, Karage, and more.
(Interestingly, the only thing that seems to be lacking is Jewish deli and bakery.)
It is a beer and spirit paradise as well- dozens of microbreweries in the Portland area alone, and all offering (from what I've been able to taste so far) libations of incredible quality and variety- Rogue, Deschutes, Ninkasi, Fat Head, not to mention beers brought in from Hawaii and Asia that don't normally make it to the East Coast. You will run out of liver before you run out of beer to try.
Culture-wise, the word of the day is PASSION. Everyone is a die-hard something or other. Artists, cooks, bakers, writers, thinkers, dreamers-everyone seems to have come to this city with the same goal: Go balls to the walls doing something they love, and either live doing it or die doing it. You can see it in the genuinely earnest faces on the bus and train (an excellent way of getting around if you lack a bike.)
Yes, the hipsters run wild out here- scenesters after the next hip thing, coming to the city to be seen and pretend not to see. The city is also not entirely a paradise- there are homeless camped in parks and stoops, and the most rampant crime is larceny (appropriately enough, bike theft.)
To be sure though, it's a strange and new breath of fresh air out here. The rule seems to be "have fun, but don't be stupid- at least not dangerously so." The locals seem to know and feel this rule by heart, and are very kind to a pair of uptight Jersey kids figuring it out.
What follows is, without exaggeration or sarcasm, honest-to-God advice I have received from locals here on how to get a job.
So You Want To Get A Culinary Job In Portland...
1. Be tattooed.
"Believe it or not, you are probably more likely to GET a job around here if you are tattooed, particularly in a service industry like you are. Most professional chefs around here have ink, and besides creating a link between you and helping you through the 'getting to know you' phase, it demonstrates passion and seriousness about your work." - Joe, tattoo artist with a varied professional clientele.
2. Do/ Be Something Strange.
"No lie, you want a job around here? Just show up and ask. Don't call ahead. People around here hate paperwork- you're more likely to get a call back if you show up, tell people you're a baker, bring samples, and just drop a resume. Culture around here moves so fast, you do what you can so people remember you." - Waiter at a nearby bistro.
3. No Drama.
"If you write a cover letter, don't bother kissing ass about the company or listing your achievements- hirers sniff out lip service, and that s*^&'s in your resume. Be blunt and honest- tell people you don't gossip, don't do drama, and are there to do your work and leave. Honesty is refreshing." - A local chef.
4. But Be Mannerly and Polite.
"I don't need anyone, but I'll tell you who might. Just show up like you did here- you look great, you sound great, and your resume is immaculate. You'll have no trouble finding a job." - A local chef that plugged me to her vast network of associates when I applied for a job.
That seems to be the big take-home lesson out here- Be honest, be weird, and be passionate. Do that for a month or so, and you're as good as family.
Till next week...
Stay Weird AND Classy,
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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