stage at the great Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, I was blown away by the amount of care and effort and energy that goes in to every detail there--down to a walk-in freezer of cryovaced peak-of-season hand squeezed lime juice for drinks to the reach-in fridge explicitly for huitlacoche. The chef, yes, THAT chef, was there for each shift, tasting each sauce, making sure everything was just so for each service, and this drove home the point that sometimes, with great care and skill and desire, all these great things can be maintained in the food industry. All the care that a grandmother puts into that Sunday dinner can be translated for the masses. And there are examples of this all over Chicago, and all over the world.
But for yours truly, it can really be difficult to see the forest for the trees. Each day brings a conflict of the easy way, and the right way. Thankfully, I still choose the right way most of the time, or at least I think I do--otherwise these weeks wouldn't be 80 hours long. Taking time to think things through. To plan and prepare and use proper technique and do things like make sure the kitchen is clean at the end of each night, even if it is 2am and the sink is overflowing with an hour's worth of really nasty dishes and pots and pans and there are only two of us standing there looking at each other through bloodshot eyes just wanting to sit down, drink a beer and pass out. This little story is not designed to give me a pat on the back; instead, it confirms that I do love what I get to do on a daily basis. I keep getting kicked, and I keep coming back.
However, it is sometimes surprising to hear how poorly chefs--we who supposedly love food so much--actually eat in terms of quality. An article in the Wall Street Journal quoted Grant Achatz's fridge contents: "...sriracha sauce, Hellmann's mayonnaise, Heinz ketchup, French's yellow mustard. People think that because I'm a chef my refrigerator is filled with high-end stuff, but we're people. Good God, in my freezer I have crappy vanilla ice cream." My fridge here in Montana has, and has had statically for the past 3 months, plus or minus a bottle or two of ginger ale to mix with whiskey: a bottle of sriracha, a jar of mustard, a thing of fish sauce and some pickles. And definitely the obligatory Busch Light. And not much else. Of course, comparisons of me to Grant Achatz come to a crashing halt after refrigerator inventories, but you get the point.
And most of all, I need my kitchen back.
So, here's a big cheers to Bozeman, Montana, and all the great things you've shown me. Now, I'll be ruined in the city. I know I'll long for silence and space while standing on a packed, sweaty el train. Every new precious pie and cupcake store that opens will make me ache for the feet-on-the-solid-ground-of-simplicity I've found in Montana. When I pass someone on the street, smile, and am denied eye contact, I'll be hit with nostalgia for the open friendliness I've found out here. And when I am that person who refuses to make eye contact, which is certain to happen, I'll know it'll be time to spend a few days in the open air outside of the city. I suppose I'll forever be afflicted by this ebb and flow of alternating desire for the city and the country, but hey--memories, mixed with hope, have always made the best combinations in my book.