For the first time in my life, I can say that I am a professional cook.
Let’s not confuse my work with that of a professional chef. No, I am far from the geniuses you see on Top Chef or the millions you never see in the kitchens of your favorite restaurants. (At this moment, I am trying to rescue a pot of black bean chili that has been in the slow cooker all day, and yet the beans are still hard as pebbles. This, my friends, would not happen to a chef.)
When we moved to Portland, I wanted an apartment close to downtown, in a cool neighborhood, and a job working in the kitchen of a restaurant close enough to home that I could easily walk there. I had literally no experience working in a commercial kitchen (except for volunteering at one of the popular places back in Akhaltsikhe). Good luck.
Call it luck, call it will, call it whatever — but both of those things happened. We have a nice little apartment in a truly lovely neighborhood within walking distance of seemingly everything (although I know there is sooooo much more Portland to explore outside of this area). A couple of weeks ago, after putting out several resumes to CraigsAbyss — I mean Craigslist — I got a call for an interview. A couple of hours later, I was sitting in the owner’s office. He was looking for an experienced line cook. That was not me. But by the end of our brief meeting, I had somehow convinced him to give me a shot anyway.
The next day I started.
Over the last two weeks I’ve feverishly been getting up to speed in the kitchen at Kornblatt’s Deli, an old-school New York-style deli on the popular shopping and dining thoroughfare that is Northwest 23rd Avenue. It takes me five minutes to walk there.
We make lots and lots of reubens, hot pastrami, breakfast scrambles, french toast, bagels, lox plates, triple-decker sandwiches, knish, kugel, rugelach, whitefish salad… lots of stuff. And it is genuinely really, really tasty. Our pastrami and corned beef sandwiches are ridiculous. The place draws a huge breakfast and lunch crowd of regulars, tourists and shoppers.
I’m learning a lot and doing a bit of everything: prepping ginormous bowls of potato salad (after peeling 50 lbs of potatoes); making lots and lots of eggs, cooked every different way, and lots and lots of omelettes, and lots and lots and lots of sandwiches; slicing, dicing & chopping; taking orders; washing dishes; stocking the walk-in fridge; cleaning the stove; emptying the trash. Everything. Making countless mistakes, burning myself, cutting myself, spilling things, breaking things… And I’m totally digging it. The people I work with are unbelievably patient, supportive and good at what they do.
When I interviewed, the owner just didn’t understand what I was doing there. Why did I want a job like this, with my background in marketing, with my previous experience running a theater, with my MBA, with my Peace Corps service. Why did I want to shift gears at this point in my “career” and do something in the food business? Didn’t I know that it was a ton of work, that the hours sucked, that the pay sucked worse and that it was stressful? Why? Why?!?
Because I thought it would be fun, that’s why. And it’s experience I’ve always wanted to have.
And ya know what? It is fun.
I spend so many of my waking hours in a kitchen, either at work or at home. We’re making so much of our food from scratch these days. I cook something every day. The freezer is filling up with homemade stocks to use in soups and stews later in the year. The fridge’s “inventory control” is so precise that virtually nothing gets thrown out, nothing goes to waste. McKinze is baking all of our bread; we haven’t bought a loaf since we moved in. I dig it. I really, really dig it.
Life in Portland is great so far. So great, but so different from our lives a few months ago, camping across the country… or a few months before that, bouncing around Turkey… or the years before that, living in the country of Georgia…
Because of those differences, we wonder what sort of a role this blog will play in our lives in the weeks and months to come. We honestly don’t know.
When we were overseas, this was a great way to keep in touch with everyone at once, with limited internet access and so many “exotic” adventures and quirky cultural differences to share. Now that we’re back in the land that most of you readers are familiar with, surrounded by WiFi Everywhere All The Time, each of us with a new iPhone 5, we still have so much we want to say and share… but we find ourselves turning to things like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram more often than the blog. We don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
Where does that leave us? Well, the blog isn’t going anywhere; it’ll still be here. What direction it takes from here… well… give us time. We’ll figure it out. In the meantime, you can find us on Facebook (Sean / McKinze), Twitter (Sean / McKinze) and Instagram (Sean / McKinze).