Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sorry I've Been Gone - Now Back to the Show

So it's been a while since I posted. Right after getting started with the new direction of the blog I was distracted by my rather strong obsession with the Occupy movement, and then a new job in a commercial kitchen. Since taking that position I've been working 50-55 hour weeks, which has left me with far less time for blogging. I'm trying to pair everything back down so I can complete some of the projects that are really important to me. Turns out I can't do absolutely everything, but this project really is important to me. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I want to get back to working on my pondering about the connection between food, magick, and us as human beings.

So the most profound activity I've been a part of in the past couple months related to food is working at Big Jones. Let me just say that it's been an eye opening experience. I'm working there part time, while maintaining somewhat reduced hours still telecommuting for Indiana University. I sought out the position at Big Jones because I have wanted to become more involved in cooking from a professional standpoint for quite a while. What I have discovered from the experience is . . . well not what I expected.

First let me talk about my history with food and why I have such a borderline obsession with what we put in our bodies. I started baking with my mother at the ripe young age of . . . I don't know. I actually have no idea what age I was because I have no solid memories of a time before my mother would put me in front of a bowl with a spoon and have me at least stir the dough. She did this because baking with my sister and I was important not because it helped her make cookies during the holidays, we in fact were a huge production liability until we were around 10 years old, but because it made us love the food we were making and appreciate what was going into it. There was no time of the year I looked forward to more than baking for the holidays, and to be honest that includes Christmas morning. Gifts are awesome, baking is better. That's just how I remember it.

So that's really the foundation of my views of food. It's about love and enrichment and connection and nurturing. Now let me talk about Big Jones. The Big Jones kitchen during a major service is a special slice of hell warmed up and served with delicate garnish right here in the real world. Now I don't want anyone reading this to think that I mean this as a criticism of Big Jones. I "knew" that's what I was walking into when I asked for a position at Big Jones. I put knew in quotation marks because I had seen many many people talk about commercial kitchens. I have read about what they are like, I have seen the TV shows, I met with and spoke with the chef multiple times before I was hired, and I have talked with other people who have worked in commercial kitchens. All of that is unquestionably true, but I put knew in quotation marks because none of that actually prepared me for being in a high end commercial kitchen.

The attention put into the food at Big Jones is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. They make their own jams, all their own pickles, their own charcuterie including Andouille, Tasso, Blood Sausage, Pate and other items as the chef decides to offer them. The staff at Big Jones even makes the Worcestershire sauce they use on the burgers. There is no product that is not elevated above what is available on the open market. I thought that this was exactly what I was looking for, and what I discovered was that while in many ways it fulfilled me in many ways it did not. What I found was that I was removed from people who had always been an integral part of the food equation for me. I live for that moment when I see someone experience something new while eating something I've created. Perhaps it's just the novelty of simple turbinado ginger syrup (which while I was already making ginger syrup the turbinado touch is straight from Big Jones), or eating an all vegan cous cous that has no recipe and being floored by the amount of flavor that I have achieved with no meat. I know in that moment that the world is better by the iota of one persons experience in a way it would not have been if I weren't here.

Even more important than that experience is teaching someone else to cook, to make and create for themselves. I have been teaching cooking workshops on and off since I was in college. In a restaurant kitchen, especially one like Big Jones where you are creating food that the customer cannot reasonably reproduce for themselves the separation we have from our food is strengthened. Almost everyone I know is dependent on restaurants, not just for the occasional indulgence in ethnic food outside their culinary skills, but for basic meals. Every time we consume food at a restaurant and think to ourselves that we could not possible do that at home that divide grows. Every dollar we give someone else to do for us what we could have done for ourselves is a dollar of power over our own existence we have given away. Ultimately I wanted to make a world that was less vulnerable to this phenomenon, not more vulnerable.

It is my hope that I can move towards culinary pursuits that do not provide for people, but inspire people to provide for themselves. In that vein I am going to be teaching two workshops at Edible Alchemy in March. One is on yeast doughs, and the other is on making your own liqueurs. Magick isn't just in what we make, but what we make the world. I haven't completely figured out what I'm going to be able to make the world, but I'll figure it out eventually.

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