Haibun: Things I learned in the CIA

Posted for Mish’s prompt at dVerse Poets Pub – finding beauty in the ugly.

Haibun: Things I learned in the CIA
“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.” Anthony Bourdain
Many years ago, I attended and graduated from the CIA – The Culinary Institute of America that is. I was paired up with a tall lanky homely young man with curly hair and large deft hands. Unlike the rest of us, he always had a piece of rotting fruit or vegetable on his work station. Out of reach of the knives and other items, but always there. I remember once one of the instructors yelling at him to get rid of that damned piece of rotten fruit. He would but the next day, another one took its place. I think the others felt sorry for me because I was paired with him but I liked him a lot. He was dryly funny and open to everything. We became lovers after a fashion and finally I asked him the question: Why the rotting fruit? He smiled and said, “in its own way, it is so beautiful. And we all come to this you know.” I would sometimes see him lift a pear, an orange, a bell pepper and look at it from all angles before carefully replacing it on the table. After graduation and working under some excellent chefs, he went his way and I mine. I never forgot him. And no, it was not Tony Bourdain.
rotting fruit
in its season –
so must we all

You Don’t Know Me

I will be posting this on Real Toads Tuesday Platform.

You don’t know me
As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”Anthony Bourdain

You don’t know me.
I have listened to men making crude comments
about women in the kitchens I have cooked.
I have been beaten, stabbed, raped and robbed.
I have lost people I love due to
Illness, murder, and suicide.
I have been in the depths of despair,
I have danced on rainbows of joy.
I have loved deeply and been loved in return.
I have eaten the food from a James Beard Award winner,
I have eaten beans and beans,
I have starved.
I watched my mother dying
and identified the body of a friend dead by suicide.
I walked out on being a chef after having won an award
and almost hung myself that same day
but was saved by my little needy cat.
A year later I watched that cat being stomped to death
after my home was invaded and she hissed at the invaders.
I have seen lonely days and nights
And I have been alone by choice
And I have chosen my few friends wisely.
I learned the languages of water, trees and stones
and the language of the French and Japanese kitchens,
the language of the heart,
the language of cicadas at night.
I have dwelt in darkness of spirit
and darkness of the sweet night.
I have scars on my body and soul.
I have wept and laughed.
You don’t know me.

copyright kanzensakura
Kanzen in the snow 1957

Chef to the Stars

For Rommy’s Prompt at Real Toads – write a job description. I retired three years ago but find myself working again, for free.

Chef to the Stars
I used to be a chef but burned out.
I used to be an engineer but I retired.
Now I am a chef again
cooking for free in the kitchen
of our local Food Bank.
I cook for those I love:
My husband
My friends
The kids with one meal a day
The homeless with their belongings
in a black plastic garbage bag
The elderly, the almost forgotten.
I share my homegrown produce with them
I put together meals of whatever is on hand
I think of myself as Chef to the Stars.
These folks shine in the darkest
of their night.
Like the stars
they look at me and smile.
Potato soup and hamburger macaroni surprise.
The stuff of which dreams are made.

Stairway to heaven – 1983

For Susie’s prompt at Real Toads – stairs

public domain image

Stairway to Heaven – 1983

sweltering day in Philadelphia –
the air downtown smells of rotting vegetables
exhaust and pretzels.
I climb the two steps up into
the trolley –
exhausted from a day of cooking
and glad there are not more than
two steps –
the air from the open windows
is sweltering is hot as the air
blasting out of a 500 degree oven.
I get off at my stop and begin
the slow slog up the rickety
apartment stairs to my
third floor apartment –
I open the door and step inside
and…
alone at last – the overhead fan
and the fan in the window cool the apartment.
I sit in the rocker by the window
and look down on the street below.
I fall into a short nap –
My bare feet are up on the coffee table.
Heaven.
A cold glass of lemonade.
Heaven.
I hear footsteps coming up the stairs –
I ignore the knocks.
I am in heaven and nobody else is allowed.

wiki image

Haibun: Nyuk nyuk y’all

As a child of the 50’s, I spent many hours in front of the TV. When I got home from school I would plop in front of it with a snack on the floor in front of me. Often an apple or an orange, sometimes a dumdum sucker or a an oatmeal snack cake. The consistent part was always the Three Stooges. I loved them. Or at least I loved Curly. He was always being poked in the eyes, bonked on the head, or catching his suspenders in the door and being dragged backwards to his original starting point. I’d imitate his bark, the way he would twist his hips and do the Curly shuffle – he’d put his head down and pump his feet making the Curly sound: whoopwhoop! Ruff ruff! Nahhhhhh. As he once told bully Moe, don’t hit me in the head. I ain’t normal. Nope. Curly wasn’t normal and neither was I. I’m still not normal. I hated dolls and loved dogs and cats instead. I began reading Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot at the age of 11. I began writing haiku when I was six. I stood on a chair so I could make pancakes for the family when I was four. I hated school but loved studying. And I would bark at people I didn’t like. I still do. Not.Normal. Nyuk nyuk. Ruff ruff. Y’all.

times change – people change –
children discover strange heroes –
laughter and not tears

dVerse: Haibun Monday

Today is Haibun Monday over at dVerse. Frank is asking us to write about Pleasant Surprises. We are being inundated with #Me Too stories. Good! I published my #Me Too story for Real Toads last week. This week headlines caused me to write this haibun. Coming along in the 70’s was rough for women in the food business, unless you were wrote about society dinners, recipes, and that sort of thing. Working towards chefdom was hard and sexually grueling. It has gotten a lot better now. We will see how the culinary world reacts towards older women going after their chef recertification. I think the world is changing for the better in that respect. I’m going for my recertification in the spring. I am 66 years old and can still lug huge pots and weild sharp knives with the best of them!

Old School Chefs
Today I was perusing USA Today online. I was pleasantly surprised to see that chef Mario Batali was “stepping down” and stepping away from various functions as owner, CEO, host, and Food Network star due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Of course he apologized for all his badness. He will be back in a few months with his dignity intact and his money still flowing. The women he groped and made sexual innuendos towards will not be as lucky. Many of them lost jobs or quit due to his “misconduct”.  My first food related job (https://kanzensakura.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/me-too/) I walked away from due to the extreme misconduct of one of the owners.

As a woman, coming up in the kitchen business was hard, tough, and often times sexually insulting. I was groped, pushed into corners, comments made…the whole gamut while I was working for my culinary degree and ultimately, my reign as head chef in various restaurants. Eventually I walked away from all of it to finish my engineering degrees. I had comments made towards me then but not as badly as the male dominated food scene. While working on my engineering degrees, I did food styling work and food photography for one of the greatest newspapers in this country to pay for my education. I was not harassed or groped while working for that paper. I was treated with respect. A first pleasant surprise! But women still have to work three times as hard as men to prove themselves.

my knife chops quickly –
outside snow falls – another
man has fallen – I smile

dVerse Poets Pub: Me, myself, and I…..#2 Out of the kitchen

This prompt from Victoria today is so very good, I have to do another.  Victoria says ” write a poem using the first person–an apparent first person. Perhaps you will leave your reader wondering if you are actually the “person” of if this is a fictional character”….or not!  Come visit us for some excellent writing!  http://dversepoets.com/2016/02/25/me-myself-and-i-or-is-it-dverse-meeting-the-bar/

Out of the Kitchen, into the Fire….

When I went in, it was winter.
When I came out, it was spring.
Somehow the dayshoursnightsmonths
blurred together – a black and white film noir
fast-forwarded with parts cut out and thrown
somewhere in the confusion of the cutting room.

I worked as a bartender to pay for culinary school
and worked as a dishwasher, prepper, line cook, intern,
sous chef, chef, executive chef de cuisine….
hitting the markets before dawn
endlessly
sometimes sleeping on the floor being too tired
to drive home and staying there,
in my womb, in my life,
sans lovers, sans life, sans anything but food
and competition and trends –
hitting the markets before dawn…
butchering sides of beef,
breaking down exotic seafood.
A parrot fish from Hawaii made me cry
as I cut apart its beauty
to present before those
only interested in status and trendy.
That day I had enough.
That day I walked out and never looked back.

I met the owner in the chill dawn of March
him coming in, me going out.
He saw my knife roll neatly tied
my knife holster from around my waist
and over my shoulder
and said, So?
I just said…So.

The Kiritsuke knives
glinted with the danger of an ancient katana –
the kitchen Samurai was laying it down.
Out of the kitchen and into real life now.
Those who can – cook.
Those who can’t – cook for those they love.
I raised my fist to the sky that day and swore:
As God is my witness,
I’ll only cook for those I love –
and the Blue Kiritsuke knives
live well in my home kitchen
and dream of when they were kitchen katanas
and won many a battle of food and taste.

And silently laugh when I rant about
locavore, gastrigue, molecular gastronomy, sustainable,
gluten free….house crafted…blahblahblah

and grin in delight at the smell of fresh lemon zest
and white wine and saffron…
and shine with joy when those I love
eat my food and make happy sounds.

 

free public domain image Shun Blue Kiritsuke

free public domain image
Shun Blue Kiritsuke

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