It occurs to me my last post was maybe not the most food related. I guess that’s bound to happen from time to time. Lets get back to the heart and the reason for this blog!
As the final weeks of my kitchen life in Bangkok were coming to a close, I was feeling more than a bit lost. I had my tickets booked to Tokyo and back to the states but, I had no real destination in mind. I decided I would take the time to travel around and look within and see what I really wanted. I knew I wanted to be in a higher caliber kitchen and wanted to work with more seafood. I wanted to distance myself from the pastry section of the kitchen and build towards a future for myself. I also wasn’t having a very big draw to be back in my motherland.
Then as life is often strange in it’s timing, a tall man from Spain darkened the pass at Quince. (Mind you he’s not actually tall, but to me, having lived in Thailand for as long as I had, he seemed like a giant.) Chef Blair had mentioned that we were going to have a guest chef from Spain for a week in the kitchen. I had mixed feelings regarding this. For one, more than one chef in the kitchen could create a bit of chaos but, I was also excited to see and taste someone else’s food. “MH” poked his head in and said his swadee kap with the glittery eyes of a child. I was wary of a western man in Thailand, as many of them seem to have one main agenda and as usual I was an item of curiosity, who is this American girl working in a kitchen in Thailand?
MH and I clicked fairly quickly. It had been so long since I had someone to smoke and drink the night away with, I forgot how good it felt. We talked politics and Thailand and love. Chef Blair, MH and I, all having been very recent sufferers of broken hearts, we bonded over beers in back alleys and ate probably the best street food I had my entire time in BKK. In the Kitchen we laughed, expressed our frustrations and talked about food. I was really starting to see that my time there was coming to an end and I was gonna miss Chef and my kitchen family more than I had realized.
One night after having gone out with the Chefs I came into Quince ready to work my first shift as expeditor. Chef Blair had asked me the day before and I was nervous and excited. It made me feel great that he had the confidence in me to run his kitchen while he took the night off. Just before service MH approached me. During our foray the night before I had asked him what it would be like to come and work at his restaurant in Spain. “Is that something you would want to do?”, he asked. I replied, “Yes”, I wasn’t particularly eager to head back to the states and had seen myself living abroad for at least a year. A season in Spain cooking in a restaurant of the caliber his restaurant seemed to be sounded pretty great. That day he came at me with a proposal that rocked me. He mentioned he had just signed a lease on a new restaurant and that he would like me to be Chef there. I almost threw up. I responded with, “Are you still drunk? ” He laughed and said no, he was very serious and we should take a beer after work and talk more. I tried to refocus my mind on the service and push the crazy notion of being “chef” out of my head.
It’s probably every cooks fantasy to get out of culinary school and 6 months later, be offered a head chef position. I heard my Chef instructor’s advice ricocheting around my head, “Step by step. Don’t jump ahead of your learning process.” The meaning of the word “Chef” also bounced around my head a lot. I had barely worked the hot line, I knew Garde Manger and pastry. I had assisted in every aspect of the kitchen. My age is a huge factor in the kitchen. Keeping up with people in there 20’s who have been cooking since they were in their teens is exhausting at times. Trying to put that stupid ego voice out of my head and look at it from a truly real perspective.
Service ended, I had made it through the night with no more turbulence than normal and felt a little rush from calling orders, plating and dealing with the on going headache of explaining western dishes to our lovely thai servers who had never eaten aioli so couldn’t find a way to explain it our guests. Sigh. Then MH and I went off in search of beers and cigarettes and to talk about this insane proposition. He explained his concept; back to the roots cooking, small rotational menu serving fresh and seasonal. A market kitchen doing 40 people very well instead of 60 people very bad. We’d make our own breads and pastas and make it a place people wanted to be. It was right up my alley in so many ways. I told him I wasn’t sure I was ready for this, that I had so much to learn and think about. He said, “Take your holiday and think about it, and then say yes.”
I emailed my ladies. I was in a twist about this proposition. Was I ready for this? This man who had been cooking over 20 years had such confidence and belief in me, I thought, he must know something I don’t. What should I do? They all responded in the same way. If you don’t do this you will always regret that you never tried. Whether you succeed or fail at least you will know. This is the way your life is, take the leap. Take the leap, take the leap, take the leap.
I talked to Waew about it the next day. She was shocked! But, as usual, supportive and encouraging. She was sad I was leaving Quince and wanted good things for me. She was in deep flux about her own career, and what she wanted to learn. I had started encouraging her to travel abroad to cook, that if she really wanted to cook western food she needed to go to the west and work in a western kitchen. I told her I was going to work for MH no matter what, whether it was going to be as Head Chef or as a line cook for the season. I had a feeling this was the place for me to go. Fly or fall, I want to try it all.
MH’s time in our kitchen came to an end. I was sad to see him go and he had left me in such a strange state; questioning what my next move would be. He set off on his own holiday and his own soul searching.
I finally told Chef Blair about the proposition and he asked me, “You think you’re ready for this?”
I said, “I have no fucking idea. But, why the hell not?”
He said, “Yea, why the hell not?”
He’s flown in the face of adventure and cooked around the world and led a crazy life, so he gets me. He knows the importance of experience and travel and getting your crazy on. He had been so supportive in my time at Quince and was more than a bit sour with my decision to leave for a guy. He had, in his own brand of chivalry, offered to dick punch my ex. Gotta love that. I felt a bit guilty in my own thinking about leaving my Chef for another chef. I do have some sense of loyalty, even if my ex-husband doesn’t think I do.
I knew before my days at Quince were over that I would take the job as Chef and move to Spain, but I didn’t give my answer just yet. I still very much believed that the offer would be rescinded in a moment of clarity on MH’s part. But the offer stood firm, and I started to look at it as a reality and that this is what was next for me. This is what was next for me. This is what was next for me. I had nothing to lose. Right?