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Tue, Jan. 11th, 2011 08:53 pm

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

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Mon, Jan. 10th, 2011 07:21 pm

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

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Mon, Jan. 10th, 2011 01:35 am

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

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Tue, Jan. 4th, 2011 10:57 pm

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

I’m sure Ben will read this and have commentary to share, but in any case this post is dedicated to Ben and the motivational tidbit he shared with me yesterday.

Jerry Seinfeld has been reported (by Ben) to say that the idea of “don’t break the chain” is a powerful and effective tool for a) productivity and b) habit forming. My real life example is running – I’m resuming my running habit after six months off, and my focus inland performance yet – it’s simply logging miles. I will tick off every day that I’ve run, and try not to miss a day.

(Obviously when incinerate to focus on performance I won’t run every day, but I will work in some kind of low impact fitness on the running rest days. Recovery exercise. This messes with my example, so don’t focus on this.)

Day two, so far so good. I know it’s working because I thought about not working out tomorrow and then immediately rewrote my day so that a run is feasible. I WILL NOT BREAK THE CHAIN!

How many days does it have to be before I can consider the habit formed? I think even time alone cannot tell. Time and my inclinations will tell. However, I’ll add a photography chain after the running chain is built. One task at a time.

Benjamin Katz: Lifehacker article about it is here: http://lifehacker.com/281626/jerry-seinfelds-productivity-secret

Cheryl Brummer Katz: Oh and here, Lifehacker says it’ll take 21 days. Reiterating some of my habit forming thoughts! http://lifehacker.com/5724234/how-to-form-good-habits-this-year?skyline=true&s=i

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Mon, Jan. 3rd, 2011 12:51 pm

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

New year, new normal… new post.

As usual, we’ll start with some catch-up. I spent June through mid-August in London, on my culinary internship. I spent August through early November in San Francisco, on my “second internship:” the one I should have chosen not to do but was too awesome so I did it anyway.

I came back to San Diego just in time to be job seeking before the Holidays, and into a nearly completely unstructured universe where our daily schedules were completely upended. It was safe to assume I might be working non-traditional hours, Ben had recently quit his job, beating the path back to entrepreneurship, and the only “constant” thing was Sami’s school schedule, which naturally had been jacked by the trip to London and then shuttling between me and her grandparents in San Francisco, and home, Ben and school in San Diego.

Whew. We made it through all that stress and confusion, and emerged a better cook, a fresh entrepreneur, and a kid in a happy, regular routine, respectively.

Needless to say, we are still in the process of writing “the new normal.” I can’t even begin to describe how difficult it is to establish a baseline of normal life, but what I can say is that it feels *absolutely critical.* I feel like a big kid in search of that routine structure – all those things we worked really hard to establish and maintain for Sami – and the epitome of the stiff upper lip of adulthood is learning to live some kind of normal existence without the establishment of that adult routine!

It’s a new year, now. Welcome, 2011! I learned a few hard lessons last year that I hope to benefit from, and never repeat. Mostly, though, I see this new year as a vehicle for adding to my life, and hopefully not spending too much time on my previous regimen of self-flagellation. Here are a few things I hope to write into my new normal:

+ More photography. I left my DSLR at home when I went to London and almost never picked it back up. Here’s to more art in 2010.
+ More singing. Even if it is just in the car or shower, but especially if it involves karaoke, other musicians, or making music on my own!
+ More entertaining. We have a lovely house, and I can cook. Here’s to more people enjoying good food and company at my house this year.
+ More writing! THis blog post, I hope, will be a regular feature of the New Normal. Setting the tone today.

Essentially: + More things that make me happy. Positive additions to life that serve the added benefit of making myself and my life better. If my life is better, our life will be better. That’s the perfect goal, right?

What are you adding for the new year? What do you hope for your New Normal to be?

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Wed, Aug. 25th, 2010 12:37 am

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

In a situation not entirely foreign to my particular perspective, I found myself reeling with a case of deja-vu.  Can Art Culinaire Magazine, issue #96 with a focus on London, have been written as a working epistle to YOURS TRULY as a primer on the next steps in my career?

I’ve decided that it’s in my best interests to read these that way.  In another recent read, I was advised to always be grateful to those from whom I learn, no matter what shape the learning takes.  So here are some bites I’ve taken away from the issue on London, which I received in San Diego while I was already working in London.

First, timely advice from Fergus Henderson:

Don’t sort of sleep under your stone.  Try to breathe fresh air.  Eat other people’s food.  See your loved ones.  Go to movies.  That’s all-important.  You can stay in the kitchen, but that insistence to stay and train with your master and not live a life is not the best thing for inspiration.  I think it’s good to breathe fresh air.  Inspiration is everywhere.  It’s slightly strange advice because I think people think they need to work five doubles in a row and that way you’ll learn, which we do learn in this way, but there’s so much more to it than that.

This is timely in a somewhat misdirected way because at the time that this issue landed on my doorstep, I was busy pulling voluntary doubles in the kitchen in London, exercising the very lack of balance that Mr. Henderson is recommending against. But beyond addressing my improbable tendency to workaholism, it speaks directly to a largely unsubstantiated fear that I am a creative failure.  (It’ll be substantiated if and when I have years of experience and no creative successes; and was thus far disproven by things I tried in and out of school, in my own kitchen at home, and in discussions with many chefs I know.)

And in the opposite corner is Claude Bosi, chef proprietor of Hibiscus in London, who relates this message to his own staff:

Understand that when you start this job you’ve left your family on the side.  You sacrifice everything.  I remember when I started, one of the chefs told me, “You know, your best friend is going to be out on a Saturday night and you will be working.  When they are having Christmas, you will be working.  It’s a tough life.  You have to love it.”

In one fell quote, my fears and what I know to be reality about my commitment to this work.

One of my favorites, probably the most controversial in this time of celebrity chefs and TV-reality-cooking-competition circuses, from Marcus Wareing of The Berkeley in London:

I see these young cooks on television in America and it’s amazing that they ever get anywhere.  It’s hype.  My message is to shut your mouth, get on with your job and let your cooking do the talking for you.  Food isn’t about how big your mouth is, it’s about the food you put on the plate.  I think sometimes people talk too much and it should be about being a solid, well grounded, well educated cook whose [sic] took the advice, grown a very broad pair of shoulders and become strong but loyal to the person that they’re working for.

I think as a recent culinary graduate, the number one question I hear is, “So, am I going to see you on [Top Chef/Iron Chef/Food Network/etc]?”

I always answer no, because I know that I am not competitive in that way.  I also don’t think that performance is ability, and the hoopla is what I regard as a waste of my effort and focus.  I want to keep my head down, do my job and never stop absorbing every drop of knowledge that surrounds me.  When I reach success, I hope that I’ll always be able to find one more goal to reach for. But the flash and fleeting fame of television isn’t it, as far as I can see, for me. I found an open expression of this viewpoint bracing.

Nic Watt, of ROKA in London, on hirability:

I hire someone based off their character.  We can take the most junior person – who has zero skills – and train them up if they’ve got the attitude, the character and the willingness – they can go miles, absolutely miles.  The foundation of culinary school is really good but it doesn’t control whether you employ someone or not.  It probably gives you a head start, but it’s up to each individual to eventually make it in this industry.  You’ve got to love this industry.  You can’t work day and night for something that you don’t love.

I’m an educated cook, if not an experienced one.  In fact, it stands to reason that I’m an over-educated cook, but I aim to use my academic background as a path within, rather than an obstacle to, my career in food.  Something I have going for me is that I never have to be trained in how to behave professionally. I’m willing to be trained and I’m not insulted to learn to do things “someone else’s way.” Methods can be integral to a culinary philosophy and to the final product, and I never imagine that I am more important then the goals of the chef I support.  This is an idea that was repeated by every chef-instructor who taught me and the few working chefs I’ve had the privilege to work for.

I will, however, hold on to the things that I think work best for me, and when it’s my turn to lead a kitchen, I’ll remember the things I’ve been culling into my personal arsenal.  That (not to mention at home) is when my preferences will be freely expressed.

Jennifer Yee, Executive Pastry Chef at Aureole, calmed some of my anxiety when she used M-words!

Don’t let mistakes and mishaps get to you because it will happen. Don’t let that stop you. There were plenty of times when I had to throw out a lot of chocolates because they broke or it wasn’t tempered right. You’re always going to have problems with chocolate, but keep moving forward.

I think her advice about chocolate applies to nearly anything, and it’s frankly a relief to me to hear a successful chef acknowledge that they have made mistakes in the past. “It will happen,” did you hear the certain comfort in those words? It’s easy for me, as a new chef, to get stumbled and frustrated when I make a mistake.  So far I haven’t let any mistake tank an entire day, and most mistakes, I’ve learned, are either opportunities to turn theory into practical knowledge or salvageable in some way.

Creativity, in my limited experience, largely comes to play in the arena of problem solving.  Yet it’s nice to read that mistakes are a native part of the landscape.

Finally, Missy Robbins of A Voce in New York told me to have:

Patience. You can never go back to those times when you are learning the positions.  You can never go back to being a line cook.  Enjoy it and learn all you can because when you become a sous chef, your responsibilities change and when you’re an executive chef, they change again.  Take the time to really learn the techniques and really focus on it.  At the end of the day, people find this very glamorous, but it’s not that glamorous.  It’s challenging and hard.  There are days when I think, “Man, I wish I could just sit back and roll pasta all day.  How great would that be?”  But I have different responsibilities now.

It reminds me of the way the conventional wisdom told me to hold on to those early days, weeks, months and years with Sami after she was born, and to really learn that kid inside and out, because they don’t last forever.  Being new to the industry also doesn’t last forever, and these may be the hours, weeks and months that count the most in building my abilities and my career.

Chef Robbins recommends “the slow road,” and that was the title of the article about her. This appeals to me because I have always loved to immerse in learning and soak it up.  It also appeals because I am old for this industry, and the fast track doesn’t necessarily apply.

All of this may seem self-effacing, or maybe self-aggrandizing, but I’d hate to let any undeserved ego get in the way of something I could learn.  I’m frequently admonished by friends to stop being so critical of myself, but I should point out that I feel I’m just being realistic. I also note that I don’t have a tremendous frame of reference for self-evaluation, and even as I become familiar with the landscape the familiarity changes my perception of things. I find it more useful to measure myself in glasses yet to be filled (against the next goal to be attained) rather than glasses already full (the things I’ve already mastered.)

I don’t think that my constant introspection gets in the way of any job I’m called upon to do; rather it allows me to categorize and neatly assemble all the knowledge I am acquiring.

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Tue, Aug. 17th, 2010 11:52 pm

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

There are a small mountain of topics I’d like to post about, but it seems tacky to launch right into new material without having acknowledged the gap.

Let’s get you up to speed, shall we? I’ve finished culinary school and completed my requisite externship (the mandatory 160 hours x 3!), and now have all but graduated. I lived in london for 2.5 months, and am home now in San Diego. I’m heading off next week (date TBA) to work in San Francisco for a few months. Sami is enormous – almost 4, and a real kid now with no trace left of the baby that was.

Have I left anything out? Tons, probably. That will have to come out with time.

Here endeth the icebreaker post. Here’s hoping it’s the beginning of a new, more frequently updated trend!


Sun, Apr. 18th, 2010 03:46 pm

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

I know Specialty Produce under the guise of my school’s produce and grocery suppliers, but I was very pleased to discover recently that they now have a consumer Farmers’ Market Bag program.

It’s along the same lines as other Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs I’ve mentioned before, but in this case Specialty Produce has created a weekly market bag sourced from various farms from whom they contract, all of which are local, organic and sustainable.  I should say, all of the products in the FMB program are sourced from the local, organic and sustainable farms.  Specialty, being a large distributor, naturally contracts with other produce suppliers as well.

The advantage to this program is that a) their price point is better and b) you don’t have to estimate weekly usage and subscribe for a whole quarter.  You can buy each week on Sunday to be picked up on Thursday, if that is your preference, though you are afforded the option of ordering up to 4 weeks at one time.

I consider this (and any CSA) program a viable alternative to weekly attendance at the Farmers’ Markets about town for a few reasons.  One, I can’t get to any of the markets without driving since Sami outgrew the bike seat on my old bike, and parking is a sketchy prospect.  Two, I’m terrible about deciding what to buy, and I kind of like the surprise element of a pre-selected array of products.  Three, it saves me time and effort.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the Farmers’ Market in Hillcrest as much as the next person, but not if I have to circle blocks on end and burn gas to get there and find a spot.  I’m a little overcommitted and I like to cook at home or have brunch with my family on Sundays.

The best part of Specialty’s offering is that they also offer selected orders from Venissimo for California cheeses, Peerless for organic coffee, Bread on Market for baguettes and specialty bread, and other local vendors for a weekly fish, chocolate and pantry staple selections.  I think this is so cool, and I’ll put my money where my mouth is – I’ve placed an order to be picked up this Thursday and resolve to have cleared out extraneity and spoilage from my fridge by the time I bring that bag home.

Specialty Produce’s new FMB plan is an exciting option if you’re unsure of your future plans and don’t want to commit to a quarter at a time of a produce selection that may well be too big or too small for your needs.  It’s price-effective, and from a trusted San Diego vendor.  Sold!  I’ll be happy to report back on what I find on Thursday after pickup.

Where are you getting your produce?  Do you like it, and why/why not?


Mon, Mar. 29th, 2010 06:21 pm

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

Especially if they’re Peking Duck from your favorite authentic Chinese restaurant.

On a totally unexpected date night with Ben last week, we took ourselves for Peking Duck at the Golden City Restaurant in Kearny Mesa. (We also got soup, which was totally unnecessary given the two course duck presentation easily serves four people alone.)

Needless to say, we came home laden with crispy duck skin, plum sauce, rice buns and of course more than half our chopped duck and jicama lettuce wraps.

With Passover coming up and a lot of food shopping and preparation to do, on Thursday I was looking to empty out my refrigerator. Everyone ate something that needed minimal cooking from the refrigerator.

Shockingly, the duck skin was not gone by Saturday morning, which made it completely fair game for breakfast! I thought, and Sami and Grandma agreed, that crispy Peking Duck omelettes sounded like just the thing.

I placed the duck skin crispy side down in a hot pan and rendered out the fat, returning all the crisp that the refrigerator stole. Then I reserved the skins, allowing them to dry on a paper towel while I quickly poured the beaten, salted and peppered eggs into the pan and allowed them to cook. When the top of the eggs were still soft but starting to firm, I replaced the skins and folded the eggs into omelette shape. Another minute, and then I slid the eggy, ducky deliciousness onto a plate and shared it with my family.

Super delicious with the leftover plum sauce and toasted rice buns. And not a crumb to waste!

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Sun, Mar. 7th, 2010 04:47 pm

Originally published at Cheryl Katz. Please leave any comments there.

Michael Ruhlman has been addressing an important question on his blog (Ruhlman.com):  Why do we cook?

I’m cooking a lot now because I’m in culinary school, but what led me to finally make a real career choice and seek training in culinary arts was that after I stopped working, and left to my own devices, I failed to make any other choice, but found myself cooking on a daily basis.

What drove me to cook then, and the basis for choosing a life that will without question revolve around food, is a question with so many answers that I can hardly decide which one to describe first.

I started cooking after I left my job because I didn’t have any reason left not to.  I didn’t cook as much while I was working because I felt always rushed for time, and to satisfy the time vs. hunger balance I wound up making a lot of quick and easy meals  – from scratch as I was able.  Being a full time stay at home mom afforded me the time to plan and explore, which resulted in more elaborate food adventures and a constant expansion of my skills and knowledge.

I was motivated to cook once the time was available because I viewed it as my new job description – feeding my family well was part of what I understood to be my contribution to family life in lieu of money.  I wanted to eat well, and I wanted a kid who doesn’t throw a fit when you feed her something other than chicken tenders and PB&J.  While these are simple goals, they require a lot of food-focused effort.

My friend Elizabeth Willse recently posted a review of Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.  This book of reflections from writers and foodies about what they eat when they’re alone is now on my plan-to-read list.  Her review got me thinking about the things I like to cook, and the completely separate category of what I like to eat when I have only myself to think of and/or don’t feel like cooking.  I eat more bread and Camembert or triple creme cheeses than any one person probably ought to, but then even the cheeses I choose often have identities defined by where they come from or what they are made of.

If it were just about the food, I wouldn’t have pursued a structured culinary education, and I wouldn’t be writing this post today.  By now my constant search for patterns and meaning is no secret to anyone who would be reading this entry.  A fellow student once asked me, “Can’t you just be cooking food?”  I can’t.  I cook and I eat not for the love of food alone, but because I became aware of the experience of food, beyond the flavor to the story that starts in the ground and ends on my plate, through eating; I’m here learning what I learn, doing what I do and planning my future moves because I want to be an active author in that story.

When is a carrot just a carrot?  It never is.  It’s always a note in a chord in a song, no matter how simple or complex a song, and it’s a note with context and history and endless lifetimes of associated meaning that is viewed from different angles when used in different ways.

I cook because when I do, I feel connected to what I eat, to the environment that produced it, to who I am and who I will be as a result of the eating and the cooking.

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