Hello, I’m your Conscience.

February 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

Jiminy Cricket is sitting on my shoulder this morning and boy does he have a lot to say today.

“Why are you eating a bagel? Bathing suit season will be here before you know it!”
“Did you really need to eat that brownie last night before you went to bed?” (To which I answered “Yes!” emphatically.)
“You really need to eat some low-fat, low-sodium soup for lunch today.”

Frankly that little guy is starting to get on my nerves. He always pops up when I’m really enjoying something wonderful and says, “You probably shouldn’t…” Yesterday I threatened him with a fly swatter. I know, it’s totally wrong, but he’s really bugging me. (No pun intended.)

I’m learning on my path to enlightenment that this whole self-discipline thing comes with a keen sense of guilt and I don’t know if I signed up for that.

Speaking of guilt I stayed home from work yesterday in an attempt to get better faster. I’ve been doing the tango with this stupid cold/flu/whatever the last three days and it’s been kicking my butt! Saturday I spent the entire day on the couch – I don’t think I got up more than once. Oh how I hate to be ill! Sunday it went from my throat and fever to a chest cold and then Monday it moved into my stomach (and we’ll just leave it at that).

I’m heading into work today with a case of the sniffles (which is incredibly annoying) and by the end of the day I’m sure I’ll have developed a hell of a cough. I’ve been taking almost 3 times the recommended dose of Vitamin C and I’m hoping that plus Alka Seltzer cold will kick this thing into submission.

All day yesterday I was thinking of the Inn. So I thought I’d share a bit of my culinary history with you. 

Back story: I used to work at this wonderful place called the Shelter Harbor Inn when I lived in Rhode Island.  It’s a wonderful little place to stay with its paddle tennis court, croquet and putting green and hot tub. It’s right near the beach and incredibly cozy. Not to mention that while you’re there you can get some pretty delicious food.

I worked for the Caterer there. His name is Jeff Houston and he is primarily responsible for pointing me in the right direction in the Culinary world. He taught me a lot of really great things about cooking. He’s a remarkable teacher. It’s funny when I think back to the very beginning of my cooking career. I remember my first meeting with Jeff and how he asked me how I got started cooking, what I was interested in doing with my life and if I could read a recipe. My answers were pretty simple: My grandmother got me started, I had no idea and yes I could read a recipe. It was cold and late (after school) and that was that. I had my first real job. I started working weekends and in the summer I was full time. I helped by doing a lot of prep at first and got my feet wet.

I’m sitting here laughing as the memories are flooding in. I remember the first time I was presented with an entire, unadulterated pineapple. I was supposed to “break it down”. I was terrified. (I’m going to say “I” a lot in this post I’m afraid because this is mostly about me.) I remember standing there in the catering “kitchen” with a very large chef’s knife in my hand, whole cutting pineapple on the cutting board and just staring at it. Fortunately Jordan,  a guy that worked in the restaurant upstairs, came downstairs and saw me standing there horrified. He saved me from that evil pineapple and taught me – very slowly and thoroughly – how to take the damn thing apart piece by piece, wasting nothing, until there was a pile of uniform chunks on the board. I doubt he’d remember it but to this day I can even smell the pineapple and see the look on his amused face. I doubt I’ll ever forget it.

In that kitchen I learned the importance of a kitchen-timer with an alarm. I learned how quickly pine nuts will burn when you toast them on the stove top or in the oven. I learned how to combat an oil-spill with a box of salt until you have time to clean it up and how much it hurts when you slip and fall down the stairs on your butt – step by step. (To this day I still have a stair-mark on my butt. No kidding.) I learned how expensive very aged Balsamic vinegar is and (to my horror) that you only need to use a drop. ((Oops!))

I learned that when you’re traveling by car you always carry a wedding cake in your lap because you’ll have a stroke by the time you get where you’re going if you don’t. I learned that you should always have matches, a rag, salt and pepper and toothpicks with you wherever you go. I learned the importance of checklists and that no matter how often you check it you will have always forgotten something. I learned that you should never wear open toed shoes, that it’s painful when you get stabbed in the ankle by a chef’s knife and need stitches and that burns – no matter how bad – should be taken care of immediately. I learned multi-tasking and time management. I learned about passion and the importance of taking care of your staff. I learned how to run the show – something I was thrown into pretty quickly as my first real “day” there Jeff was sick and I had to get it done alone. (Which to this day I still believe was a test to see if I could hack it.) I learned about my abilities. I learned about who I was and that what I loved was to cook good food and make people happy.

The wealth of knowledge I gained from working at that Inn is incredibly rich and deep. I don’t know how far I would have gotten in my career without that experience. I owe a lot to the chefs I had the pleasure of working with: Jeff, Brian, Becky, Ed, Tara, Ray, Rose, Taylor, Jordan, Mark and even the dish washer Al. They all taught me what it means to be great – how to cook well and how to present it to people as something I can be proud of. They helped me to develop not only my palate but my instincts in the kitchen.

I’ll always cherish my memories of the Inn and I look forward to a day when I can go home for a visit.  xo

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