Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Polymath Approach

Vault 29 owns this photo of my work.
One of the things I like most in life is the development of skills. I hesitate to say I am an expert in anything - whenever I become convinced I have attained some level of mastery in this hobby or that ability, the universe conspires to forcibly remind me that I'm going to likely be a student forever.

My current sous-chef (that is to say, under whom I work, not who works under me), actually, has a favoured saying in the family regarding such things, namely, "if you are the smartest person in a room, you are in the wrong room". Granted, he usually says this while actively being the smartest person in the room - but tales from the workplace are past-tense now that Anthony Bourdain wrote his Kitchen Confidential.

Something I fail to capitalize on, however, is the idea that all the numerous individual skills and talents I daily hone can be taken together. While this is somewhat obvious in the fusion of my business and culinary training in the rekindled desire to open a restaurant of my own one day, being as I am a mad man in a hurry to grow grey.

However, it's taken until relatively recently to realize that sometimes the lessons from one profession, or indeed one hobby, can be taken together with the goals and lessons of another. For some time, the Katherine has been expounding upon the virtues of her powerful design systems and extensive training, while I sit here in my obstinate refusal to admit that Word is not perfectly adequate for all tasks.

This comes in a number of forms - it's basically an extension of the idea that no man is an island, only applied to skills - but I think the true inventiveness is in the overlap. The visual arts impact the culinary in more ways than cute menu photography. Colour theory works as well on the plate as on canvas. A good understanding of growing conditions and labour involvement leads to a better understanding of the true value of food. Spreadsheets are remarkably useful in the kitchen both at home and at work. And so on.

Mostly, though, the whole concept is good for filling a page or two, while I wait to make a much larger announcement tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Take-Noko!

--- 1 ---
Urban Exploration Phototime
The fact that I'm doing a link-up of any sort pretty well tells you I'm not very good at coming up with ideas on the fly anymore. Truth be told I spent most of my mental energy on retaining a number of things I promised myself (and have been told by wiser folk than I) not to hold on to anymore. While I'm pleased to learn my memory is much more voluminous than I give it credit for, I'd really rather use it for other things. I suppose the only thing for that would be to finally offload some of the memory-kruft into other formats. Speaking as someone equipped with a reasonably broad pallet of paper-based and digital storage media, you'd think I'd be able to get a handle on all this junk... but no, not so much.

--- 2 ---
Over a year ago now, I had a particularly bad week at the old Pet Store, where i used to work at the time, as many of you will remember. There was a spree of bad luck involving a number of digital devices - my phone and my iPod Classic among them. Screens were broken, nasty words spoken to nobody in particular, and the up and down of it is that I wound up with no real motivation to replace them.

It wasn't that I wasn't replacing broken things. I have replaced, since then, several pairs of headphones (including a very expensive computer headset I use for doing audio-video work and gaming, the five minutes a week I have to myself). But the thing is, I have always been bad with my electronics, since I was very young. I suppose a factor in that might have been my generation (I had a freakin' palm pilot in 1999. When I would have been in the fourth or fifth grade. That's messed up), but the factors don't mitigate the problem.

I figured if I could go a year, limping along with equipment that was in less-than-perfect condition, I could make do. The iPod was a relatively easy fix - set single playlists of a manageable length and change them out when they get boring. The phone itself was a non-issue. I can't always see the screen as well, but the touch functionalities still worked fine, and I could still bank, hammer out a text message, or dial as I saw fit. It wasn't until recently, when dust and moisture started being able to get their way into the phone, that the broken glass really became an issue. If it wasn't for that, honestly I would have waited another year, until my contract expires and I can get a new phone at reduced cost.

Now, I'll probably do an early upgrade - renewing my contract on new terms - or buy a used phone of a similar model. The iPod itself as simply stopped working altogether. The four or five days I went without it were so torturous that I'm borrowing a spare one of The Lady's until I can replace it, or at least ween myself off of having total audio control.

--- 3 ---
Fredericton, where I now live and have for several months, was recently struck by the tail-end of Tropical Storm Arthur. This is not an unusual occurence in this part of Canada, and in fact, living closer to the ocean as I used to, I became rather used to the odd bit of high winds and heavy rains that such storms represented. That's why I was surprised to not only lose power on the day of the storm (a Saturday), but to not get it back until Tuesday of the following week. While I freely admit that nothing in my fridge was quite so "correct" as I would have liked it to be, the loss of a few pounds of salmon, half a pork tenderline, a bit of leftover roast duck, and all told about another $80 worth of condiments, long-storage dairy, and other munchables was sort of an unexpected kick in the gut.

The part of the storm I can't stop laughing about, though: Literally two nights before, I threw out my best-and-only piezoelectric flashlight because some impact or another had cracked the casing in a way that rendered it inoperable. They say it never rains...

--- 4 ---
Beautiful work patio often leads to late nights after-hours.
I just can't get enough of this new game I've been playing. It's supremely irritating when my brain does this sort of thing, in some ways, though there is a great and satisfying itch in the childlike enthusiasm for the latest whateverthehell has my attention now.

I suppose in large part I have been overly luxurious. I was rather showered in books at my birthday, but the lucky chance of cheaply acquiring the recent Bravely Default (Nintendo 3DS by SquareEnix) was surprisingly welcome. The game is very good and I recommend it to fans of classic RPGs. It turns away from Square's millenial fascination with ATB-style systems to take a trip down memory lane to turn-based, but also includes some interesting new features to take advantage of the 3DS's sleep mode, passive wireless functionality, and Augmented Reality architecture. Very good title.

--- 5 ---
In one of those never-say-never moments, I've learned I actually have some level of skill in pastries - just so long as no actual pastry is involved. My day-to-day work, until very recently, was entirely concerned in the perparation of small, bite-sized desserts. Vault 29 has me, after consulting with a few highly-qualified chefs, making their desserts-in-miniature. So I've acquired some real chops when it comes to no-bake cheesecake, fresh lemon curd, vegan desserts, chocolate mousse, panna cotta, and, of late, Key Lime Pie.

It's almost a shame that I won't be doing pastries much longer, though I never really intended to be a pastry cook forever. Still, having a section of my own to run independently and with a minimum of supervision, and rather a lot of lattitude as far as creative control, has been really, really good for the ol' mental health.

--- 6 ---
I've taken to eating breakfast again! Neat trick - if you eat breakfasts that are good cold, there's absolutely no reason not to make it the day before. Lately: Lemon Greek-Style Yogurt, Grapefruit, mini-doughnut and water.

Also, gigantic fan of random beverages - today I had the juices from a somewhat-too-juicy berry compote cut with soda water.

--- 7 ---
Apart from bravely default - of which I've played about an hour this week, I really haven't had much time for any other gaming. Any other free time has been eaten with plans for a big move that's upcoming, or recouperating from being alive with beer and books.

Lately: The Lord of the Rings, and a lovely little HP Lovecraft anthology.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Intersection of Negative Time and Negative Inspiration

Key Lime Pie Again
Truth be told, I shouldn't be writing this article.

It started with a sort of a stream-of-consciousness-type event where I was thinking to myself of ways to improve my handle times in the kitchen.

Then it morphed into political musings on some various Canadian situations that don't have much appeal outside of the fourty or so people that I know who can actually name a senator (tip: I don't know mine).

Then it sort of tapered off, and I realized I had nothing to say. I still don't have much to say, but I think that's because, by and large, I don't have much to think about.

As a general rule, whether they followed the original theme and purpose of this blog at all or not, the posts here have been about, well, something. Mostly that's because it's easier to write about something rather than nothing. Partly, it was out of a misguided attempt to brand myself as an essayist of some amateur stripe. That's not to say that the essay isn't a format that I, as a writer, have in my toolbelt. It's just not one I often use.

Truth be told, I've mostly been avoiding writing here because I don't know what to write about. I'm in a weird spot, where my ideas are all currently being picked-up, re-examined, and tested for conciseness and internal-consistancy. It's sort of like being in college all over again - in fact, it seems like every two years or so, I spend my time trying to reinvent myself, with mixed results. It leads to cool things like not wearing trenchcoats anymore or learning me some history and Latin. It also leads to a lot of stupid moments, bad hair, and experiences that leave you wondering whether you're glad you had them or not.

I think this page is going to take on a more personal tone in the weeks and months to come, since talking about such things is therapeutic whether anyone listens or not - and we all know someone who can use a little therapy.

Either way, watch this space.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thoughts on Turning 24

Gotta Bring Back This Hair
Those who know me fairly well that my usual response when asked for my age is "Uhh...", and a vacant expression while I haul off mentally and do the math. Sometime in the last little while, I aged up, and it seems like the higher that number gets up out the teens, the less I care.

While I am (for nifty mathmatical reasons) somewhat interested in what turning twenty-five is going to look like, I simply have no real inspiration to devote any mental energy to the idea. Or any other idea.

I've written about maturity and all that before, and I'm not going to go too deeply into that, either, since it's a whole lot of pontificating, ego-stroking and amusement solely to the author. I realize that I have a relatively low readership, but since I've mostly (half-heartedly) tried to make this a weeabu all-about-my-life blog, talking about the ways I do or don't fit my (largely arbitrary) definition of maturity seems to be a faux pas.

Mostly, I haven't really had time to put my thoughts in order on the matter of my age. I haven't had the time to put my thoughts in order on anything! We're so busy at the vault, working out our kinks in scheduling and just plugging along with what the industry calls New Restaurant Syndrome - that unhappy condition of having unanticipated voids in your production process concurrent with unusually high demand for your services. It's the sort of thing that makes the days long, the batteries low, but the wallets happy.

And given a few other issues I'm not going to get directly into, keeping the wallet happy is almost always a good thing. You just can't lose your sight along the way.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Farm-to-Table, Restaurant Setup, and Flaccid Asperagus

It don't get fresher!
 While it's post hoc ergo propter hoc to even suggest the correlation as causation, it just so happens that I now live in a city of which university students are a major demographic - and because they're such a driver on the market, we have a fairly well-settled farmer's market.

Now, I could go a long way out of my way and explain why that particular run-on sentence makes, well, sense, but that's out-of-the-way.

A major part of the awesomeness of the farmer's market isn't the ability to acquire things I can get at the supermarkets - it's the ability to acquire the things that I can't. Duck eggs, brioche, promises nobody intends to keep...

What I was surprised to find, though, were the butchers offering farm-to-table meats. Fresh produce I was expecting, as well as a weekly supply of the sort of greasy delights that qualify as carnival food... but supremely, ultimately fresh meats is a new one to me.

Now again, the main problem is that I simply don't have the time for the market. You need to get in very early to get the really good stuff, and that leaves me with getting about 4 hours sleep. Plus, let be honest, the costs aren't comparable. It's worthwhile for things like free-run Duck Eggs, Rabbit, or those peculiar fishes which, in spite of being in season, are not at the local Sobeys. But for everything else, the convenience of the supermarkets is just too much to bear.

Now, having said that, there very much is a quality differential, which ties into our next topic. For all its minor setbacks and waiting, the process of launching the Vault has actually been deeply inspiring insofar as tweaking my own restaurant designs. Obviously, I'm a few years away from my own launch. I've still got to go off and finish my Red Seal, never mind pulling down a few years of experience besides. In that respect, the plans I've been making for several years now are all highly tenative - mostly concerning themselves with matters of style, rather than outright figures.

That having all been said, the experience of having access to all this very good food has been a major motivating factor in my decision to build relationships as directly as possible with growers and producers themselves. Not out of any real hatred for the middle men, but more out of a desire to keep everything as local as possible. After all, restaurants as an industry have impressively large greenhouse gas footprints. It would be nice to minimize that, where possible.