The Dark Side

For Poets United mid-week motif – the food we eat. For dVerse Poets, Open Link Night. Sorry for the long ass poem. When it comes to cheffing and cooking, I have diarrhea of the mouth.  As an aside, I am 4’10” and weigh 95 lbs.  When I was cheffing, I weighed 80 pounds.  This is for Jeff, Tony, and Jose.  Wish you were here.

The Dark Side
“And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees” Paul Simon, American Tune

I walked out of the restaurant forever –
my knife roll in my hand.
I was burned out, drunk out, coked out.
I worked 14 – 16 hours a day, six days a week like many a chef.
My body was old before its time –
from standing long hours,
from lifting heavy stock pots, and sides of beef,
from putting up with bullshit from
a lot of male owners, waiters, lower chefs.
Every day in America at least one restaurant worker
commits suicide – I lost close three friends in three months
in 2018 to suicide – two by hanging,
one by purposeful drug overdose.
The food comes out to you all clean and arranged on a plate,
put down by a polite runner or waiter.
You don’t know the chef who prepared it.
You forget there is a human behind the food.
People who work in restaurants often do not
fit into Corporate America, Mid-America,
Family America.
Restaurants are like families – some
are totally dysfunctional, there is abuse, there is substance abuse.
Others are well organized and run like clocks,
some are supportive and kind.
I attempted suicide twice.
I finally bottomed out and got myself
to a 12 Step Meeting.
After being out of the industry for 25 years
I finally felt safe enough to volunteer
at a soup kitchen and food bank –
as one of their three cooks.
I am finally talking and writing about being a chef.
I am writing about my life as a chef –
before and after sobriety.
35 years drug free and sober.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Back in the Summer of Big Hair


Back in the Summer of Big Hair

“Your best days are ahead of you. The movie starts when the guy gets sober and puts his life back together; it doesn’t end there.” ― Bucky Sinister, Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos

Many years ago,
back in the summer of big hair
I was cheffing in a small restaurant in PTown.
I was turning out 500 covers a night
and sucking down cocaine like it was Vick’s vapo-rub.
I carried my addiction with me for years
along with alcohol.
I went in and out of lovers like I went through nightly covers –
an endless production of food.
One night sitting at the edge of the ocean,
feeling the water getting higher and higher and higher
I sat until I was almost covered.
It came to me –
stupid. You are killing yourself.
I stood up and slogged myself to the shore.
I bottomed out and went the way of 12 Steps.
I picked a good sponsor. I got sober.
I learned to live not high.
I went to Japan.
I learned to honor the seasons.
I learned to love myself.
I came back home to the South.
I learned how to really live.
It is now October,
October of the season and October of my years.
I sit up in my oak tree
and enjoy the peace of the woods,
the impossibly blue sky, the sound of animals.
I love October.
I love the autumn more than I ever
loved the burning hot summer of my youth.
I draw the bow across my violin and begin to play.

La Musica Notturna Delle Strade Madrid from my personal playlist, a short version from the movie at the end of Master and Commander

Why are all the sexy guys chefs and…geeky?

Anmol is hosting dVerse and asks us to write a profile of someone.  In the title, I am referring of course to Chef Alton Brown.  I love a knife wielding man with brains and humor.

 


Why are all the sexy guys chefs and…geeky?
“Everything in food is science. The only subjective part is when you eat it.”
“Laughing brains are more absorbent.” Alton Brown

He is a southern boy,
says po-lenta and grits are the same
and proves it.
He constructs a pepper grinder from
a grinder and a power drill.
Builds constructs of sugar crystals
and fat from Tinker Toys.
Interacts with puppets representing yeast
or bacteria.
He is the science guy.
He is the chef.
He is a member of a band
and does a mean two step.
He is witty and chops veggies
like he was on fire.
And he alive and loves life
and food and his rescue dogs.

Maladroit Chef

Maladroit Chef
“A kitchen without a knife is not a kitchen.” Chef Masaharu Morimoto

Stupide!
Imbecile!
Whack! with the big heavy wooden spoon
across my knuckles.
The instructor in culinary school
was determined to teach me how to
use a knife correctly.
I had been cooking since I was six and
had primo knife skills by the time I was seven.
But…
He was French and graduated from
le Cordon Bleu.
I used the knife correctly.
I shaved off the top portion
of the knuckles on my hand.
Blood everywhere of course.
dumb ass, I muttered to myself.
that is what you get for doing it right.

Enjoy the ride

For the 10th day of NAPOWRIMO and for Poet’s United Midweek motif

Enjoy the ride
“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it…” Oscar Wilde

so like, mid-way between obtaining my PhD
I was cooking in a local hotel to pay for my basics
in university. I had a full scholarship.
But I needed things. I needed dope
and food and a place to live so I decided
to drop out and go to culinary school.
I was totally dysfunctional and I fit in
like a hen in a pot of dumplings.
The few months became 20 years.
Seventeen hours a day, 6 days a week.
Sex in the cooler, smoking pot outside
among the trash bins, cussing like a chef –
throwing and juggling kitchen knives during the slow times, lifting food and
partial bottles of wine,
I had a love for rare steaks, stinky cheese,
and oven fresh bread with French butter.
I indulged all of this at the restaurant,
my true home. I learned the truth there.
Enjoy the ride.
And I did.

THE Job

For Poets United Poetry Pantry and Real Toads Tuesday Platform. I cooked through university balancing studying on an academic scholarship. I eventually obtained my MS and became an environmental engineer. But I missed cooking. A few years ago I retired and went back to cooking volunteering at the Food Bank and at church. I began cooking with my father when I was six. This is also why I don’t keep a handwritten notebook. I kept things in my head for years and still do and arthritis in my hands due to cooking professionally.

THE Job
“It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”Anthony Bourdain

My once dainty hands became ugly –
Scarred with burns from handling hell hot saute pans,
knife work and the vanity of not wearing
a protective chain mail glove.
I broke down my back,
my knees, my feet, my hands
from carrying heavy stock pots,
manhandling sides of beef,
emptying out bathsized mixers,
Developed arthritis from standing over hot fires
and going outside in the freezing cold to smoke a cigarette or a joint.
I sacrificed lovers on the altar
of cooking – separating them from myself with one long bloody slice.
My first love,
My best love,
My most faithful love –
Cooking.
The longest relationship I had –
Twenty years professionally.
Sixty years total from start to now.
I don’t regret one minute.

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

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