A world within a world

Welcome to Culinary Concepts. You are about to enter a world within a world. School like you have never known it before. For the past 10 years or so, you have been groomed and programmed to become a cog in the great American machine. You have been told that if you buy the right gadget, or car, or clothes, that you would be considered cool, desirable or successful. That happiness is something that you can purchase. You have been told, that if you sit in the right seat, check the right box and recite the correct passage, doors will open for you and you can get rich. You have been shown by our politicians,  celebrities and athletes that if something bad happens, if you make a mistake, you can blame other people and avoid taking responsibility. You have been told that if you know the right people, say the right things, buy the right products, color within the lines, and don’t rock the boat, that the world is your oyster, because you are a valuable pearl. What if I told you that almost all of that is hogwash. Almost all. You ARE a pearl. The world IS your oyster, but the rest of that is, well, debatable. More on that later.

I am going to assume that you signed up for this class because you like to cook. Or because you thought the chef life is a glamorous one. Or maybe you signed up because someone told you it would be good for you, maybe you didn’t really sign up- someone signed you up. Maybe you are here because your girlfriend/ boyfriend/ buddy, BFF, signed up and you just want to be where they are. Perhaps you are here because you figured there would be a fair amount of eating, and who doesn’t like to eat, right? Regardless of how you got here, you are here now. I want to make sure that you know how to make the most of it. How to turn lemons into lemonade, so-to-speak. Thats’ if this was a back up plan. If you are here on purpose, because you have a passion for cooking and the food life, and you like lemons and lemonade already, you won’t need any convincing. None-the-less, this is not going to be like any class you have had before. I guarantee the methods of learning and proving your knowledge, here, is not like anything you have done in the past. I want you to get as much out of it as you can. Therefore, here are some tips, some rules, some expectations, some basic information that will help you negotiate through this school year.

Stay engaged. I would have to say, that is number 1! If you are engaged in what we are doing, you will learn. Show up with an open mind, a pencil or pen and a notebook. Listen to the Chef, the film, the guest. Take notes on the lecture, or the demonstration, or the chapter, or the film. Ask questions that are pertinent to the topic and keep the conversation moving forward. You are here 2 hours of each day, for 2 years. That is roughly 360 hours of instruction and experience you can bank on, which you can draw from and use when you move into that wider universe of employment and self support and exploration of your destiny.

“My destiny? Really?” I know, that may sound dramatic. Maybe a little overblown and exaggerated.  Cooking as ‘my destiny?’. No. Not cooking, exactly. You’re school career has been about laying the groundwork for you to grow into the person you are to become. To be able to be engaged in your own life, like I am asking you to be engaged in this class. In a year or 2 you will be graduating high school. To some that means getting a diploma to prove you have completed a course of study. You will get one of those, and those do open doors, but, I am using a different definition. To graduate is to change by degrees, from something to something else. I am saying you are about to change from a person who is on the learning and receiving end of things, to a person who produces and shares out to others.  From being a kid in the house being provided for, to being the provider, at least for yourself, perhaps eventually for others. This class is not only going to help you be a good cook and restaurant worker, it will help you be a stand up person, who can look the world in the face and say, bring it. The tools you will learn in here will serve you the rest of your life, and they are not all about cooking. They are skills learned by practice. Attributes. It is engagement, perseverance, diligence, hard work, disappointment, resilience. Showing up when you really don’t feel like it. Selflessly helping others. Asking for help. Doing your best. There are no written tests for these ‘attributes’. You cannot check a box saying ‘yes, I am a team player”.  I mean, you can, but the proof is on the field, in the kitchen, in the classroom when you reach out and help a classmate. When you produce something with other people that you could not have done on your own. Some of our focus in here is on the skills that are tested in the real world, not on paper. Sure, we have tests. Menu costing, sanitation, and we do some writing, but all of that is to support your performance in the field, on the job.

Speaking of ‘on the job’, many of you have not had your first employment experience yet. Some may have always worked, paid or not. I used to drag a lawn mower around my neighborhood when I was a kid, mowing lawns for 5 bucks. I have had students who had to miss class in order to help their parents with the cows, or the crops, kids who have worked since they could walk. And I have had students in my class who have claimed to never have worked. Never helped to stack wood, or rake the yard. Never helped wash the family car or even do the dishes. Thats ok. We will learn how to work in here. Because, like it or not, you are going to have to do something to provide for yourself. Remember, earlier when I mentioned you were being groomed to become a wheel in the cog of the American system? Well, this is kinda that. But not entirely. People have had to offer something in exchange for what they don’t have since we were cave dwellers. Some people were better at making arrow tips than others, some tanned skins for clothes or shelter, but EVERYBODY contributed something. Being engaged in this class will help you build a skill set to offer others either for pay or for passage or as exchange for room and board (that means shelter and food).

Are you beginning to see where I am going with this? You are not just going to learn how to cook. You are going to learn how to be on time, how to present yourself, how to be prepared. More of those things that cannot be tested on paper, checking boxes. You don’t want to be a ‘worker bee’? Get creative and come up with a plan to produce your own line of product or service to sell or to share. To contribute to the richness of the community in which you live. It is not about becoming just another cog in the wheel, it is about helping to define what the cog and the wheel look like.

You might be sour on school because that has been your experience. You have been taught material with no relevance other than how to pass the test and frankly, you don’t see any value in learning stuff you think you will never use. I get it. But here is the thing, in this class, and in your life after this class, you will actually use this stuff you get tested on. As you will use much of what you learned before and didn’t think you would.

Which brings us to trust. Trust. The act of feeling safe and being able to rely on others, namely, me, as your instructor. Trust has a number of meanings-1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, of a person or thing; confidence. 2.the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed. I have been in the restaurant business for 40 years! WOW! Really? Yes, I am that old.  It began when I was 15 years old as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant. At 19 I was helping to run a family owned Mexican restaurant, then I moved 3000 miles across the country and found a job the next day. I entered a world very foreign to my upbringing when I attended the best culinary school in the world, The Culinary Institute of America, complete with marble steps.  I have worked for a number of very talented and internationally acclaimed  chefs  and I have owned my own cafe for 13 years, where I lived with my family upstairs and raised my 3 sons. I have had a few other jobs along the way. I planted trees in the northwest, and I have helped build stonewalls and houses here in New England, but I have always gone back to cooking and serving food. I have much to share with you about this industry, how to get into it and how to be successful once there. I will not try to fill your heads with useless information just for the sake of it. Everything we cover, you may eventually need if you stay in this business. Because you are only here 2 years, and only here 2 hours each day, we wont cover all of it. I am a life long learner and still being exposed to new techniques, new ingredients and combinations of flavors.  It never ends. Working with me and making the most of this class will definitely provide you the base you need for confident entry into the field, or going on to a culinary college for further learning and refinement. I ask you to trust me in the fact that I will do my best to present the material so that you are prepared. If I don’t know the answer to something, I probably know someone who does, and we will discover the answer together. 

What you will learn, if you allow yourself, is how you can find happiness through work. As the saying goes, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life” is true. It might be work to get to that job. Getting up early is hard for some people. The environment is often hot, fast paced, and seems chaotic but isn’t. It is pressurized, and demanding and can be frustrating and exasperating at times, but, if you dig food, if you really like exploring flavor and sharing that with others, if the aroma of a soup, or wood smoke brings a smile to your face, you are not going to worry about how tough your shift was because you know what comes next. It is a gratification like no other, to know you have brought a  salubrious quality dining experience to others. People celebrate events in their life with food. Weddings, graduations, births, birthdays, memorials, picnics, special religious and national holidays, all can be made more memorable with the right combination of dishes, or confections. YOU can be that person who makes that day so much better for everyone by the expertise you share through your skills which you are about to begin building.

I applaud you for electing to take this class. It is, after all, an elective.  And it is a tough one. But, as mentioned, it is also fun and if all goes as planned, we eat well. There will be hiccups and challenges, but hang in there and work with me. Keep communication open. Put effort first. We are here to learn. All of us. Mistakes are expected. Failures even, Cakes that don’t rise, or muffins that are tough, over cooked roasts or burnt bacon. It happens. The key is intention and engagement. Learning from our mistakes and moving on. Building courage and resilience. Those attributes that will make you a nice person to work with, to work for, to be. Welcome to Culinary Concepts.

Chef Mark Hannibal CEC

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Lock Down Drill.

Today I experienced my first lock-down drill at the Career and Technical High School where I teach. Weeks prior, we had prepared for it as a staff, visiting each others classes to be shown where each teacher would be ‘taking shelter’ with their students, if we had the misfortune of having a shooter on our campus.  It gave me the creeps.

The day before the drill, I had been scrolling endless Facebook posts that promoted propaganda for both sides of the Syrian refugee/ access to America, debate. I call it propaganda since most of it is not actual facts, but just some made up shit to make what ever stance the person is taking, look like the most logical. Which in itself is completely illogical. Be that as it may, my mind was full of images of huddled families, clearly bedraggled by their plight, middle-eastern young men I was supposed to believe were actually terrorists, Christians with guns I was supposed to believe were actually Christians, flags of various counties and political affiliation, beheaded corpses; crying children, cheering soldiers, each picture a story of its own,  all together though; endless flotsam. But the picture that stayed with me, the one that haunted my thoughts for the next couple of days was the picture of a 4 year old Syrian girl, on a dirt road, with her hands up over her head, looking pensive, scared, compliant. She thought the photographer pointing a camera at her was actually point a gun, not a camera. So instinctively, considering her life experience so far, she raised her hands. I stared at the picture and even went back to it the next day to look at it again. I have a 4 year old daughter at home.

As I sat in the storeroom, lights off, on top of the chest freezer full of meat and cheese, with my students sitting on insulated coolers or boxes of canned pumpkin, phones on silent, mouths on silent, brain on overdrive, I had time to reflect on why we were sitting in there and what we were ‘practicing’ for. I could not help but ponder it’s relation to the world that seems to be on fire right now with emotions of animosity, anger, and anonymity/ loneliness and helplessness. I felt like a sitting duck. A fish in a barrel. If there were a shooter here, I like my chances running across the field out behind the school, over sitting huddled in a ‘dead end’ storeroom, waiting. Actually, what I would prefer is to take a stand on either side of the doorway with a few students, armed and ready for that dumb bastard to just try to come down the hallway towards us. He wouldn’t stand a chance.

 

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Reading, Writing and Hike-matizing

The passing of the snow and a few warm days is all it takes to loosen thoughts of adventure and travel. Running by Rockland Harbor, multiple times each week, I see every day a different boat sheds its winter skin of white shrink wrap. My breathing is labored from jogging around town and the ghost in the back of my head driving me into fitness, says ‘keep going’, because in addition to dreaming of sailing, I see myself in the mountains, trekking under the weight of a pack over the course of multiple days or weeks. My head is filled with adventure and struggle, endurance and insecurity.

Our 28 ft Oday sailboat has yet to see her first day in the water. Preparations have begun though, to get her launched and begin our sailing summer adventures, on the rocky, convoluted coast of Maine. Uncovered last week, I folded up the tattered tarps, took down the frame structure Paul and I built to keep Stardust protected from the winter elements and reused the wood to build a cold frame on a raised bed in the garden. Tarps, I am proud to say, are folded and stashed away ready to use again next year, (they are not badly worn). Turns out the motor will need work, or replacing, which will require some wrenching and it may require a dab of fiberglass work, but that is ok. I can call a friend I have not seen in a few years, for help. It will give us an excuse to schedule some time together. It is super nice that Meg is excited about getting out on the water too. This element of adventure is about sharing time together, learning new skills and fun facts about ourselves. We will get to  see how little we actually know, and how resilient we can  be overcoming our lack of experience. It is a very exciting, spring sap rising, optimistic and enthusiastic vibe that runs through us and the house these days. Or maybe its our imminent but uncertain eventual move to Portland, but more on that topic later.

Summer is not just for sailing. It is also a perfect time to hit the trail and do some hiking. Like sailing, one carries everything one needs for the journey, with them. Unlike sailing, this time, its on ones own back. The concept of the rhythmic thumping of foot before foot, beat after beat, breath after breath, mile after mile, day after day, is one I have cherished and fought towards for many years. Since I was young I have dreamt of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I know people who have done the entire trail, and I know folks who have done portions of it. My father-in-law has hiked the Appalachian Trail, as well as other friends I know people who have done The Continental Divide Trail as well. I have a faint memory of hearing about the building of the CDT many years ago, and apparently it is still unfinished. Many mile of the ‘trail’ linked together by tote and fire roads. Being up there, on top of the world, so close to the sky, with all you need is in a bag on your back, it’s for me! I really need to do it.

This summer I will begin my quest for trail time by grabbing an overnight when I can, maybe a hike in, day one, hike out day two, getting myself ready to do “The Long Trail” in Vermont. Built in 1910, it is the oldest long distance hiking trail in the United States. Since it is the closest to where I live, and the original hiking challenge, (other than exploring itself, like Lewis and Clark), it seems only natural to start with ‘The Long Trail”.

Today was spent reading a few of my favorite hiking blogs,

https://tjamrog.wordpress.com/

http://carrotquinn.com/

A couple weeks ago I was immersed in Youtube sailing videos with a focus on passages between distant shores. As you can see, I have been feeding the beast, stoking the fires of restlessness and adventure and exploration. Look man, the clock is runnin and you only get so much time here, so ya best make the most of it. And that is just what I plan to do!

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Todays ‘when’ is now

I started this blog thinking it would help me to develop a more disciplined approach to writing. So far, not so much. I know its there, (this is here?) I know I want to write, and yet, I keep myself occupied with other things. Some things keeping me distracted are significant, like talking with my wife, or holding my daughter on my lap as she climbs up my face, and some activities are completely insignificant, in fact, a sort of limbo land, like scrolling the pabulum on Facebook, (but not all of it’s pabulum?) or cruising the latest Yahoo news blurp. Fed up is fed up, so I sit and write today, now, in the present, avoiding those distractions, and practicing this craft I have been trying to develop.

One of the ways I have been practising writing is through letters. I have done it for years. Decades. It used to be on paper, with a pen and an envelope that had to be addressed, stamp affixed and dropped in a mail box. A much longer process than booting up, tap tap tap, there ya go. The older way provided me more time to think about what it was I had writen and if I really want  to send it. Now-a-days-computers are not always an alli. Thank god I have learned enough to not always send them, these brain bubbles, out into the world as soon as they have been born. Poor fledgling pissed off little rants, not nearly ready to run on their own, but here they go, sent off, out of the nest with a shove as easy as pressing ‘send’. I can get pretty fired up, rather quickly, depending on the topic. Well, it could depend more on the day than the topic, but I have gotten myself into more trouble than I care to admit by reacting to a comment, or implied slur, or, by being left out,or stood up, or cut off or… I can jump on the key board and light that sucker up, typing like a mad man, pummeling, insulting and dismembering  the offending person, company, website, product manufacturer, politician, who clearly is just waiting for my feedback so they can improve. I often am feebly armed for the battle I have chosen and only have my passion for justice to wear down  the unwary recipient with my scathing letters. Maybe I choose this form of communicating, writing letters, because it is like a discussion with another person, but without the other person. I can sit in a chair and write in a journal, or stream into a keyboard onto a screen, my side of the issue, from the solitariness of my cabin, or desk, or office floor, or library. As long as I am writing to someone, I have someone who is listening to me, I am not alone. And yet, I am even more alone as a result of the caustic and often acerbic tone I ‘share’. I can pontificate paragraph after paragraph, selling my side, as the only side that makes any sense, and how at the completion of reading this letter the reader is sure to offer a sincere and heartfelt apology, before expressing gratitude for how I have summed up the issue and the solution. It’s so basic, how could it have been missed? You’re welcome.

Of course I am exaggerating. But just a little. I do jump to conclusions, but I have learned to temper it with some patience to let things shake out. See what drifts down and lands at my feet as fact, to be determined if it is actionable or not. Some things I allow to continue swirling overhead,  as a tempestuous quagmire of skewed motivations. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Never miss an opportunity to keep ones mouth shut, is another favorite reminder of mine. I don’t have to fight every battle that comes along, especially if it’s not even my battle. Live and let live, letting things go. That works pretty well. Not only am I less angry, I don’t make other people angry, or at least I can take a break from making them turn away. I have been my own worst enemy, and I know it. I still do it and I don’t like that I do, but I do it anyway.

So, enter the Blog. An open letter of sorts. I can rant, or praise. I can share or ask. Or maybe I sit and try to do what I heard this morning, ‘write myself empty’. Maybe I gain some insight to myself. Maybe you gain some insight into me. ‘So that’s what goes on in that head. Well keep up the work, fella, cuz I’ve been a part of some of those emails and Facebook posts and frankly, not a fan. So write on.”

Okay then. Post #2 complete. Stay tuned.

 

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Finally, I’m gonna be a Sailor

Its going to take awhile to actually get myself and my family, out on the steely waters of the Penobscot Bay. Many hours of hard work lay ahead as you will see, when you look at the pictures of the Grampian 26 that arrived in our driveway last week. It is my intention to launch her next spring after doing all the work that ‘needs’ to be done between now, and then. One of the challenges is determining exactly what is essential and what is optional. Clearly, safety and security are at the top of the list. The boat has to be able to stay dry inside, remain afloat, and all sail functions must perform without fail.

Champagne taste on a beer budget is a concept I am intimately familiar with. I have already spent countless hours looking at pictures of boat interiors, and videos on youtube of refitting boats, Repairing Gel coat, painting hulls, grinding keels, filling and repairing holes in the fiberglass, new laminate on the counter, bookshelves made of teak and mahogany, navigation station, new cushions, compass, vhs radio, radar, projects enough to break a mans wallet and his spirit, I eventually will need to categorize which of these is essential, optional, realistic, achievable, and affordable. Funny how I place affordable at the end of the list. Warning sign! 

So, look over the photos. Offer ideas and advice if so inspired. And stay tuned. There are sure to be some laughs ahead.Image

 

You are not allowed to mention the obvious need for paint on the barn behind the boat. I know. I was it too. I will get to it, really, I will. The plan, as it stands now, is to get the boat in the water in the spring. Paint the barn and house next summer, taking breaks by spending time on the boat, either in the harbor on the mooring, or taking her out. Its all about balance.

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I think all the electronics are shot. So far, I have not tried to turn on the radio or anything else.

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There is only one direction we can go from here, and thats up. Seriously, It looks better already.

Cheers, y’all.

Mark

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Day 1

Day 1

The Grampian 26 arrives at the house.

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