Saturday, November 8, 2008

The un-EC Life

I could only hope for the best in everybody and I do hope that you are all having a great time. Everyday I wake up this week it seemed like my body is pierced with a thousand needles. And the funny thing is that at night I tend to wake up when an idea pops up and write it down lest I forget the following morning…the look of a perfect wagashi… What again is the proportion of butter to flour to milk for that great white sauce? How much again is that wine for the French onion soup? Every time I close my eyes the dreams are no longer of erotic things but drifting Japanese kanji. Before I knew it, it’s 4 am and I have to cook again.

So this is the EC life. I don’t know the PhD nor the MD life, but the EC life is far from being academic nor smart- it is swinging in different directions between science and romance and poetry and fine arts and humanities and anthropology, and the marketman’s and fisherman’s and the farmer’s- and the insane (or at least sometimes, I do have that little sentiment that some aspects of my job is driving me crazy.) I could not patch all the pieces altogether, but the EC life is like a mosaic of many professions. For now, we set aside the culinary trainings. You’re doing French? Ok, so by all means learn the language- therefore you need a stardust of the linguist; befriend a flirtatious French man – therefore you need the skills of public relations; watch Amelie- ah- humanities professor? You’re doing Chinese? Go back to the incense- smelling streets of Chinatown, travel to the land of Chairman Mao, sleep with a Chinese cookbook- learn feng shui! You’re doing Spanish? Ah, those Spanish lessons– and reward yourself with canonigo afterwards. You’re doing Japanese? Learn the hiragana, go to Little Tokyo, and don’t ignore those creepy horror flicks! (And most importantly, don’t forget the portrait of Takeshi Kaneshiro). It doesn’t matter if you become a little of a multi- lingual freak- it’s part of the job.

I could not imagine how I would go through this had my initiation been incubated in the four corners of the culinary school. The more I open another book and discover another dish, the more my paranoia kicks in and the more I start to doubt if I can really cook or not.

My cluttered desk is the portrait of this predicament. Since I have been working on things Japanese, my screensaver were all Zen Buddhists and geishas and mornings at the Tsukiji market downloaded from the National Geographic archives. And yes, live Japanese , speak Japanese. Start with the Japanese ABC’s if you want to read the labels next time you go to the Jap grocery.

My past time on an ordinary afternoon is leafing through some cookbooks for ideas and inspiration to create a hybrid of Japanese and European cuisine. I am a cookbook freak myself, but still, the rules that rule are the following: Rule number 1: Do not copy recipes. Rule number 2: Do not copy recipes. (By the way, is there such thing as ‘food plagiarism’ in the culinary world? You know, your restaurant makes money from a particular recipe you lifted from the book.)

Specially if you are working on a whole restaurant menu, unless you wanted to acknowledge the genius of the author who made the recipe, I wouldn’t think it’s fair to copy down to the last teaspoon of salt.

Why I call this un- EC (read: uneasy) life because of the many food tugs-of-war between me and my boss. He wants me to create dishes taken from snapshots that he got from his travels abroad. “Chef, I want you to do this.” My source is the picture and not the recipe. It is like creating a brassierie from a post World- War photo- no blue prints- just the picture. This is where that saying “Imagination is better than knowledge“ comes in. Ergo, it is helpful that you have, albeit it drives you to the brink of insanity, a little piece of each and every helpful profession. How can you translate on the plate the penchant for things European of the Japanese? And vice versa? Since there was no recipe on hand for the said dish, I had to resurrect the essence of a beautiful French woman wearing a kimono walking down the streets of New York with a white parasol… The creaminess of a French sauce smothering steamed Hokkaido scallops on pasta topped with a chiffonade of nori ? Any individual who can imagine would probably get the picture. But not anyone who can cook can paint the picture on the plate.

If I could remember well, there is Math 101 at every academic curriculum, but what I didn’t learn from the schools I’ve been to is one that one skill that constantly inspires and changes the world: Imagination.


Manggy said...

Hmm, I don't know what EC means, but you've given us a pretty vivid picture of what you do. I pray you are constantly inspired.
Although I think it's kind of tragic to lose your ability to dream erotically, lol :)

Anali said...

I'm not sure I know what EC means either, but this post is so beautifully written. It feels like an Introduction to a book. You've set the scene, and now we are ready to read more! : )

Anali said...
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foodhuntress79 said...

Hello, Manngy. Losing the ability to dream erotically is tragic, I know...hahaa.. but hey, there are more alternatives to that.

Anali, thank you. This is only a blog page, so saying like it is book-worthy Hahah. Thanks.

Manggy et Anali, in the kitchen brigade there's that "EC" somewhere. I'm sure you wll find out what it is. :)