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The Pottery Links

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Links for those who come here looking for raku pottery, kick wheel and functional pottery tortilla warmer information . . .

Pictures of The Husband's new kick wheel design are over on his blog, Illusions of Gravity.

This is the third wheel he has designed and built, and he is much happier with the design and is planning to build another for himself . . .

He has a few things in Tempting Fate, his Etsy store.

Xendragon Pottery is his primary gallery site, with links to the others. Feel free to email him regarding his tortilla warmer, shown here, which we use every single day in the microwave.

Drowning

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Tillman's Roadhouse of Dallas is opening a second location in Fort Worth in the Arts District, and I wandered over there today to try to get into the kitchen.

It was a mistake -- I haven't done a thing in the past 10 years of my life that would adequately contribute to my culinary resume to apply for a job at Tillman's.

And yes, it broke my heart. It was like standing in Valhalla and having someone pass you a note that says simply that you have taken the wrong stairs, please leave.

The experience has helped me focus on who I am as a chef, how I got here, and what I want to do with myself now that I have a map (the Tillman's application had essay questions). It may be upside down or sideways, but I've got it . . .

My favorite two questions:

Which chefs have taught you the most about cooking technique? How?

Which chef taught you the most about creativity within boundaries? How?

Years ago I worked for Chef Norbert Robespierre (maybe?) in Ft. Lauderdale, and he is the one who introduced me to French technique.

He was also the first person to label me cook crazy and throw me in a real kitchen.

He was a perfectionist, the type of chef who had to have everything just so.

Most people read about Chef Mario Batali's experiences working for UK Chef Marco Pierre White (Marco famously walked past a pot of sauce and demanded it be redone, without looking at it or tasting it) with disbelief. I smiled and nodded -- been there, done that, and yeah, the third pot was better.

Nobert's sous was Robert somebody, and he was Italian trained. He was a slob, and did sloppy, ugly food, and I once punched him in the face, locked him out the back door and took the window to a standing ovation from the rest of the line.

I likely would still work for Norbert if it weren't for him. Looking back, I should have stayed and taken his job.

Ironically, Robert taught me the most about creativity in cooking.

He was one of those chefs who threw together wildly disparate flavors not because they worked together, but because he had never seen them done.

Usually there was a reason for that . . . 'nuff said.

I like to think I am a creative chef, but I usually try to have a specific dish in mind and twist it.

I was doing my Texas pesto years before I saw it on Chef Dean Fearing's menu. Classic Pesto involves fresh basil, olive oil and pine nuts. I use cilantro, pecans, and a combination of jalapeno, serrano and habanero peppers to add a slow burn and serve it with grilled chicken.

I learned how to make pierogie dough reading Michael Ruhlman's book The Reach of a Chef, in the section about not yet-Iron Chef Michael Symon. It's not a recipe -- more of a list of ingredients and the instruction that you'll know when it feels right. I knew exactly what he meant.

Again I was after a Texas thing, so rather than stuffing my pierogies with mashed potatoes (even purple or sweet), I used a spiced ground buffalo mixture and topped them with a rustic pico de gallo and sour cream. Years later, when Symon became an Iron Chef, I hit his restaurant Lola's web site and discovered he used beef cheeks in his.

Polenta is another one . . . I tried making it from scratch after reading Bill Buford's Heat, about his experiences working for Mario Batali.

I tried adding peppers to give the polenta some heat, much like Mexican cornbread, and it didn't work for me. I use a more traditional, rustic-cut multi-color bell pepper and onion mix in the polenta, which gives it a mild sweetness, and add the burn to the sauce, usually paired with braised beef ribs.

You see the problem with answering the creativity question on the Tillman's application -- I've never been taught to be creative by an actual chef. It was more a process of knowing what I didn't like, and developing my own voice in food.

My strongest influence at the moment is my friend Chris, a chef in Atlanta. We get on Yahoo and talk food and chefs as often as we can, and watch TIVOed Hell's Kitchen episodes with running commentary on the phone. We become friends after I posted a story about one of the kids I work with who brought me an abortion on a plate he was calling a club sandwich, and I threw it at him and made him redo it three times (channeling Marco Pierre White that day).

Chris' style and mine are very distinctly different, but we recharge and temper each other, and I know I've gone in new directions and learned from the experience.

Not the answer Tillman's is looking for, I'm certain.

But somebody somewhere in the DFW Metroplex wants exactly a cook who reads and talks food constantly, likes to try new things, and wants to do and learn all the time.

I just need to find them.

Conversation

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Oilfield Catering Cook: Did I tell you I met Bobby Flay once, and he signed my cookbook and told me he really enjoyed meeting me?

Me: That's a Meet-and Greet. He is required to do that -- it's in his Food Network contract. If you had showed up barefoot with a skunk in your purse like a chihauhau and a pig on a leash, he would still have insisted it was wonderful to see you and signed your cookbook.

Oilfield Catering Cook: You are so negative . . .

Me: Nonsense. I believe that for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.

Other Line Cook: hehehe

Me: But every rose has it's thorn . . .

Oilfield Catering Cook: (mumbles) You are such a bitch . . .

Other Line Cook: Just like every dog has his day . . .

Me: Just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song . . .

Oilfield Catering Cook: (mumbles) I hate you . . .

Me and Other Line Cook: (singing) Every rose has it's thorn . . .

Oilfield Catering Cook: I just can't work with you. You make everyone around you evil. (stomps off)

Hmmmm . . .

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I could definitely use a Holy Hand Grenade . . .

True Story

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I had a job interview today, as an assistant pastry chef.

It was the shortest, most surreal interview ever in the history of the world, with a tiny Egyptian pastry chef who came skipping out of the back to meet me in the kitchen.

To appreciate the story, remember I am 6 feet tall. She might have been 4'9" -- it was hard to tell with all the hopping around.

She runs up to me, throws her arms around me, hugs me, cups my face in her hands, and takes my hand hands in hers and says, i heavily accented English, "I am so sorry . . . you're too hot to be a pastry chef. You should work with meat."

And skips away.

The line cooks, who were watching with interest, nearly died laughing.

For those who are puzzled, she meant my metabolism is too high . . . if you have a high metabolism, you have a higher core temperature, which means pastry dough will warm up too quickly as you work with it. 

Meanwhile, someone would have to die for me to get a job in that kitchen, but they strongly suggested I check back often.

Tortilla Madness

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This is The Husband's latest design in his functional pottery line . . . a tortilla holder.


To use it, you fold the tortilla into a cone, and place it inside the cup. You can stuff it with anything (chicken salad here), eat out of it, then lift out the tortilla to finish as a soft taco.

Words to Live By . . .

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"The restaurant business is the only business where you can make creativity pay," a retired restauranteur told me this evening.

"In every other industry, the people above you want to be the creative ones, and want you to do their thing," he said, "and they'll put up with you as long as they can use you. God help you when you reach a point where you want credit for your own ideas . . . "

He's right, of course.

I wouldn't be a fry cook at the moment if he wasn't.

I tried -- tried hard -- to do the corporate retail thing. I tried to stay inside the box, and when that failed, I tried to think outside the box.

My problem is that not only do I think outside the box, but I seem to have misplaced my box, and I am honestly not really sure if I had a box to begin with . . .

That's not such a good thing in corporate retail, where they are very sure that you did indeed have a box and you should be sitting quietly in it waiting for further instructions.

And yes, it ended badly.

Really badly.

That is why I am again a fry cook.

I actually love it, although I would rather be in a restaurant with a little more challenging menu. Working a line turns out to be the type of thing you can either do, or not do, and if you can do it you can drop right back into it as if you never left. It all depends on your nerve, and whether you are prepared to just jump in and go.

I now have some excellent advice, including a more refined timeline for moving along, and a list of restaurants locally to either avoid or apply to on a regular basis until they take me.

Like I said, things have changed. And they are still changing, so stay tuned.