Sunday, January 04, 2009

2008 Year in Review

Only because I’ve done it the past 3 years, I’ll do it again, but I’d rather not re-hash the instances of the past year. While pocked with low spots and depressing imagery, there where some signs of life, some uplifting, hope filled times.

Nemo Grille has been good to me. It’s been somewhat of a roller coaster ride, at least my personal feelings have peaked and slumped over the past 10 months. Nemo’s is a very wholesome working environment. Rarely does anyone get very angry, and for the most part a little common sense is all that’s needed to get the job done right. This is the first restaurant I’ve worked at where the word ‘zen’ comes to mind. Things tend to get done, and for the most part timely and properly. There is a lack of bickering, badgering, yelling, fighting, jealous hate full people and moments. It took the better part of the past 10 months to realize this, and now, most likely my time at Nemo is limited. I hope I learned something, that elusive something that makes Nemo run without all the crap that accumulates in most places.

Little catering events makes me happy. I was lucky enough to be the Chef at two modest catered events for some friends. I was definitely the Chef, not the caterer because there was a lot of set-up and work done by the host that I didn’t have to worry about, and for this I’m very thankful. Early in the summer Forest and I worked a great little plated dinner for eight. Six beautiful, seasonal courses that peaked the interest of both the guest and myself. It’s really a great feeling to be appreciated for doing something your passionate about. It’s equally fulfilling to know that all the thought, passion, and craftsmanship you put into a dish is being appreciated at the table, and in a forum like this dinner party it’s a win-win situation for everyone. This little event was definitely the highlight of my year.

The second event was an awesome clam bake for the same hosts. The number of guests raised dramatically, but the quality of the food was still high, and I was given a little wiggle room for creativity. I’d never been to a clam bake, let alone cooked one before this, so I was very thankful for all the help I got on this particular day. Kristen was the best assistant on this night, as I got caught up in a passionate conversation just as the food started to be done. She didn’t miss a beat and took care of things better than if I was meddling around the kitchen myself. It was a brisk night, and everyone ate well. I actually ate! And the shiitake-panchetta cream corn was my personal favorite.

Everyone is effected by the economy. Of the two huge topics that gauged the year of 2008, politics and economics, I have little interest and/or understanding of either of them. These things are out of my hands, uncontrollable forces that as I’ve found recently can play huge roll in your daily existence. In February, I traded in my trusty yet tiny 2 door coup that lasted me 5 strong years for a good old Explorer, a man’s man vehicle, store things in it, or tow things, or just drive. It didn’t seem possible to me that 5 months down the road there would be stress in my life over the fact it cost $80 a week in gas just to get to and from work. This didn’t make sense to me, it was unreal. What had I done in purchasing this monstrous truck? Who is to blame for these mind boggling gas prices? Shoot, I still don’t really know.

The scope of the economic downturn reared it’s vengeful head last month when my very job was put on the chopping block. Saved only by drastic cut backs and restructed pay scale, I’m still going to work every day. For the past 8 years I’ve been a salary kitchen worker. This means when the times are slow, I had to send hourly workers home and I worked more, but now, all of a sudden I’m on the short arm of that symbiotic relationship, and hope for every day to be a busy one. Unfortunately this is not likely to be the case. I’ve been in contact with a vast majority of Chefs around town, and everyone is crying the same song. Business at Cleveland indie restaurants is down 20-40 percent across the board from my estimates. Everybody! Ten year old establishments to places where you can still smell the paint. Weather it’s steak and chops or fish and chips, beer or wine, tablecloth or sans, everyone is being effected. Personally the most frustrating thing about the situation is that neither I, nor the owner of Nemo, or any of these restaurants did anything wrong to be punished in such a way. Nobody violated health or building code, nobody made bad business decisions, nobody got caught doing anything illegal or immoral. Just a reared back, open handed slap in the face leaves you seeing stars and in the corner an old bearded man playing the fiddle over a shallow grave.

Breath of new life. This new life does not necessarily indicate a bettor or more prosperous life, just a new one. The facts are out there, there is no hiding it. Small businesses will be falling out of the sky like clay pigeons. High paying salary positions might be a thing of the past. So what are we gonna do? Kill the fiddler, steal his money and pawn the fiddle? Or trip into that lazy hole he calls a grave? I plan to keep working hard and on the look out for that rare and ever more elusive opportunity. I plan on widening my horizons as far as work opportunities. For 9 years I’ve been stubborn and steadfast in my desire to work in smaller, unique indie restaurants, perhaps this is a fault. There is a growing list of jobs that fall under the culinary category and one that is of interest to me is the farmers market, local food chain, sustainable agriculture realm. This is something I can be equally passionate about as cooking. At the other end of the spectrum, those 4 years at OWU with my nose in chemistry books might make my resume look appealing to someone more interested in molecular gastronomy, or the packaged food industry. We will have to live the life to see what happens.

On this happy blog I’ve been active enough to have 260 post over the past 3 years, and since I’ve installed the site meter, I’m working on roughly 20,000 hits this past year. I’m very gratefull for those of you who return, and are interested in what I do, and/or my few of the world. I want to take this occasion to open a forum with anyone willing to make suggestions, pose questions, or comment in a constructive manner. Thank you.


Scott Sebastian said...

Keep up the good work. Behind the stove and the keyboard. I know how hard both are.

I've always said when times are a little tough, "just keep doing what what I do and do it well and things will come around.

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to be at both of your catering events. All I can say is that both were superb. I was glad to be a part of those experiences. Thank you for being the chef that you are.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you had a chance to see what it's like to work in a kitchen and enjoy it without the badgering.

One of the hardest things is to try to teach (and learn) to work together minus the negative attitude. We're a small town trying to kick butt, we need to teach it to our own as well. Practice it, preach it and walk it.

Rachel said...

Has it really been three years already? Wow. And to think that I've been so lazy on my blog. Great work here, Mike!