A Rolling Chef Gathers No Moss

Another busy week is complete. I am definitely living like a rolling stone, gathering no moss. What I am gathering is good times, a little bit of money and experience, to name a few.

Papi Tino’s New Chef Competition

I’m participating in a cooking competition for new chefs at Papi Tino’s on September 5. We had a preliminary meeting at the restaurant with a tasting of Wahaka mezcal. For more info on tickets for the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/199666736830125/

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Below: A bit rough looking, but my competition dish in the testing phase.

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Other Stuff

I went to a launch party for a new cooking app called Cooking Planit. It helps people plan and cook meals using step by step instructions.

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I’ve also been doing some marketing for Green Island Catering meals to-go. Here I am at Central Market.

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Below: Testing vegetarian paella for a personal chef gig.

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Below: Cat bonding time.

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Yesterday I helped Green Island Catering host an awesome party barge float on Lake Travis. We hosted 100 vegans and veg-curious people for a delicious plant-based buffet. I met some awesome people and we had a great time.

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Monday’s personal chef gig went exceptionally well and I’m planning for next week. I think I’m going to need to start planning a couple of weeks in advance to stay ahead of the deadlines. Also, I want to figure out how to label the food I store in the fridge. The masking tape method was effective, but not very elegant.

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The Pain of Not Knowing

I’ve had some internal struggles during my externship at Uchiko and I think I realized today why that is. It’s because I hate to not know stuff.

Boot Camp

Working in a restaurant with very exacting standards and processes — one that is owned by James Beard award winning chef Tyson Cole and formerly led by James Beard award winning chef and Top Chef winner Paul Qui — requires one to do things a certain way. So not only is it really useful to have restaurant experience, but anyone – pro or beginner – is going to have a huge learning curve. You’ll need to learn their systems, their methods, their menu, and their people. And I am a newbie on all of those things. I am a novice in commercial kitchens, and I’ve certainly never worked in a restaurant of this caliber.

I am continually shown how to do things for the first time. And how to do things better. And how the onion rings should look like THIS not like THAT. And by the way, even though I told you how to cut cucumbers last week, here’s new information about how the cucumbers should look to make them really perfect for the customers. And why don’t you seem to understand how the dehydrators work? And let’s not forget about the mistakes I make which have nothing to do with being new, like forgetting to separate the eggs even though the recipe says “yolks only.”

Having new information come at you so often and frequently being shown how you’re doing it wrong is a test for the ego. In some ways I feel like I’m in boot camp where I need to set aside my pride and buy into the mission. The demands for speed make it tough, as well. My cooking style is pretty intuitive and conscious. Working at high speed requires almost a tunnel vision focus that makes me feel a bit detached. However, I can step back and notice that the end result is amazingly high quality.

What We All Want

It’s frustrating when you think you know what’s expected of you and then you get contrary or new information. It makes you feel incompetent. And we all like to feel competent. At this point I am craving a sense of confidence that I am being useful and that my work is going OK. And I occasionally get that feedback, but as a new member of the team, it’s simply not something I can expect much of for now.

Persistence

I have a tendency to consider giving up when the tough gets going. I remember when I was a kid and my first day of swim practice felt too hard to finish. I went to my mom crying that I wanted to quit. But I got the encouragement to stick with it and the next year I won an award for being the most improved swimmer. And I swam lots of races, did just fine, and had a lot of fun.

Yes I’ve had a few unhappy looks thrown my way at the restaurant when I didn’t understand how to do a certain process the right way. But mostly everyone has been really supportive and patient. And we all just want to get the job done and produce food at an exceptionally high level.

Anyone embarking on a career change is going to encounter this type of struggle. So, fellow life-changer, let’s soldier on together and stay focused on our ultimate goals to learn and to do good work.

Externship Update

I’m plugging along on my externship at Uchiko. I wish I could get some photos there, but the environment is not really conducive to the kind of photography I like to do. What I can say is that it’s a meticulously clean environment. There is no down time and very little conversation or activity that doesn’t relate to producing food. This doesn’t bother me, in fact it’s pretty cool that people are so focused. And the focus helps the time pass really fast.

I am definitely getting exposed to some unique ideas and recipes but the pressure to perform quickly is so great I’m not sure I notice what I’m learning. So, let me take a quick stock of a few things I’ve learned

  • Having high standards for food prep (e.g., size of knife cuts, quality of produce, customer expectations in a fine dining establishment)
  • Maintaining an efficient food storage system
  • Various recipes
  • A general sense of urgency in performance
  • Exposure to new ingredients and items (e.g., nasturtium, piperade, masago)

Below: Owner/Executive Chef Tyson Cole shows off some onion chips, which were made in a dehydrator. I have made these things, so I figured this was a good photo. By the way, I did not take this photo. There are so many photos available on the internet of Uchiko it’s amazing. Photo: madbetty.com

Meanwhile I am working for Green Island Catering, which is a vegan catering company. We are now producing meals to-go that we sell out of a couple of local store fronts (Daily Juice on 45th and The Wet Whistle on MLK near Chicon).

I am also preparing to compete in a cooking competition on September 5th at Papi Tino’s, a local Mexican restaurant. The idea is that recent culinary school graduates will develop a recipe, prepare it with the Papi Tino’s chef, and have it judged by some local luminaries. The winner on September 5 will compete in a final event at the end of the month. Wish me luck!

 

Business Skills Classes

In our last weeks of class, we had a parade of business instructors teach us about branding, marketing, web presence, accounting, writing resumes, and more. We also got to choose to to spend four days in a smaller group  with either a personal chef, a restaurateur/food product developer, or a food media expert learning the things that would set us up for success in our chosen career goals.

I chose to work with Amanda Love, a personal chef, and she had many great pieces of information which are going to help me get my personal chef business going. It was great to be in a small group with Amanda because we were all focused on doing personal chef work and got to ask her questions which were on our minds.

That time was really valuable and I appreciate her knowledge and encouragement. In some ways it was my favorite part of the whole school curriculum because it was the timing was so right based on what I needed at that time. It’s really helpful to have connections and mentors in life, especially when embarking on career change.

Below: John Moore of BrandAutopsy talking about developing a brand.

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Below: Scott Price of SRP Consulting talks about consumer product marketing. 

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Below: This guy, Justin Follin, blew me away with his perspective. He came in to talk about public speaking but what he shared with us was useful far beyond communication. This guy is a straight up life guru. He touched on confidence, emotions, duality of self, meditation, and presence. Half the class was in tears by the end, and I mean that in a good way.

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Makin’ Stuff Happen

So, I set the intention that this was a week that good stuff was going to happen for me. It seemed to have worked.

I’ve been out this week beating the streets in the Chefmobile, trying to make some connections to promote my personal chef business. I just spoke to a dietitian today who plans to refer me to one of her clients who eats really bad restaurant food for every meal.

Below: Marketing myself like a champ. Next – urinal cakes. I am also trying to see if UT will rename the football arena currently known as Darrell K. Royal Field to Austin Healthy Chef Stadium. I have connections in high places.

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This week I went to a meeting for entrepreneurs called the Holistic Chamber of Commerce. Good people and good connections.

I heard back from my externship site this week I’m starting that work Sunday. Not excited about not getting paid for 160 hours of work. But I’ve had a charmed life so far so maybe this evens things out. And it’s kind of how things go in the food industry.

In really great news, I have a personal chef client! I’m going to begin cooking for him at the end of the month. I met him at the school’s culinary showcase we did a few weeks back. I know he’s going to love it, but I need to do well do keep it going. I suppose that’s true of any work you do.

In other news this week, I got word totally out of the blue about participating in a cooking competition with some fun exposure. I’ll say more once it gets firmed up but let’s just say

Last week, I provided a simple fruit parfait with cashew cream for a corporate function. I made a couple of connections that could turn into paid work for me, which is nice.

Below: The budget for serving ware was not very high, but the food was delicious!

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And my band, The Sticky Notes, have secured a few gigs through November and we’re having a lot of fun.

Below: Am I awesome? Yes I am. Having tons of fun playing with the band. Check out a promo video.

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Below: A stuffed zucchini I made during the week. The green sauce, a cillantro-lime dressing, was from Christy Morgan’s book, Blissful Bites.

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Time is Flying By

Time is flying by.

Rewind six months or so: I quit my job and started culinary school. Probably the boldest move of my life. Back then, I had not much of an idea what I wanted to do except work with food and support people in becoming healthier. I had no idea how to go about that.

If you read the blog, you know that we had a catering event about 1.5 weeks ago, which was a great success. The lead-up to the event was packed with planning. I learned a ton. Since then, I’ve done a few things… Continue reading

Herbivoracious’ Michael Natkin

One of the cool things about being a student at The Natural Epicurean is that we get access to really cool people who are doing cool things with food. One such person is a fellow blogger, foodie, and career-changer, Michael Natkin. Michael is the man behind Herbivoracious, a well-read blog featuring vegetarian food. Herbivoracious has been recognized by the New York Times and Saveur magazine for it’s outstanding writing and recipes. Michael said the blog gets about 6,000 hits per day, which blows my mind.

Michael has been blogging for a few years now and thanks to his hard work, he landed a book deal. He is now marketing his cookbook across the country, doing public events in several major cities. He just quit his job two months ago to support his change into full-time food work. We were lucky to have him do a cooking demonstration at The Natural Epicurean where he talked about blogging, cooking, and changing careers – all topics that I am quite interested in these days! There were a handful of Austin bloggers present, as well, from the Austin Food Blogger Alliance.

Michael cooked a bahn mi and a mango salad, both delicious!

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Healthy Cooking Class

I conducted a cooking class for some friends last week – my first class ever. I was very excited and had a great time. We cooked a quinoa salad and Thai spring rolls with a peanut sauce and I showed them some steel cut oats, as well. I also brought some raw almond-flax muffins with a lemon-blackberry icing.

This is something I would never have done had I not started culinary school, so it was kind of a milestone in my career journey. I really had a lot of fun and felt fairly comfortable. I wish I could have had my ingredients a bit more prepared, but otherwise it went very well and everyone seemed to learn and enjoy the presentation.

Below: Making spring rolls with lots of greens, herbs, and vegetables. Here I am dipping a rice paper wrapper in hot water to soften it for the rolling process.

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Dishing With… Amy Ramm (founder of Nada Moo!)

Amy Ramm is a graduate of my culinary school, The Natural Epicurean, and also the founder of Nada Moo!, a vegan ice cream company that she started here in Austin, TX, and that she has grown to multi-state distribution. She actually attended The Natural Epicurean way back when it was almost all macrobiotically based and — big news here — she recently sold her stake in Nada Moo! to focus on the next chapter in her career.

I sat down with Amy to talk about how she got Nada Moo! off the ground and into widespread distribution, what it took to keep it going, and where she’s headed next!

Below: Amy Ramm, holding a pint of Nada Moo!, the coconut-based ice cream product she developed over eight years ago.

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Tell me about the start of Nada Moo!

I was an aspiring artisan baker and pastry chef before I became a student at the Natural Epicurean. I was going down this path of learning how to put butter, flour, sugar, and eggs in everything and my sister was consulting with a nutritionist about her bad allergies that were getting worse. So she was going through an elimination diet and I was working with stuff that was very different. She came to me and asked me to change up some recipes so that she could eat them, but I wasn’t learning any of that in the training I was getting. So, I became more curious about how to do that. And I also realized that a lot of people were enjoying my baking work but who also may have had allergies without realizing it. So I decided to become a natural foods chef. At that time (ed., about 10 years ago), the Natural Epicurean was very much geared toward the home cook. I also studied Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford to learn more about healing foods.

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