Updated: Jan 20
Hi, I’m Braden, and I’m a line cook. I had a bit of an epiphany today. Recently, while looking into side gigs, “food blogger” came up. I’ve worked in restaurants four years, watched hundreds of hours of cooking and food shows, and been told infrequently that I was a “good writer”. So that’s all the credentials needed, right? I wrote an introduction post, put it out there, and by a few days later, hated it. Never shared it with anyone, thankfully. Before leaving for a trip to New York, I deleted it and tried to restart. I was still struggling to get the right words out.
I'd like to introduce you to the sometimes annoying amped up ball of stress that is me when I'm cooking at home. Fuck the line, making a good meal for people you care about will always be more anxiety inducing for me.
Today, something in me changed a little. I’d been looking inwardly since the previous evening, following a tarot card reading I did when I purchased my own deck for the first time. Put simply, it said to shit or get off the pot. Go all in, 100%, and stay grounded, or potentially lose control of my emotions, likely engaging in some self destructive behavior. I took this to heart, at the time, to mean everything in my life. My relationship, my job, whatever writing this could turn into. This has been a reoccurring theme in my life recently, I’ve felt stagnant lately and have felt as though it was leading up to something.
Fast forward to this morning. For my birthday, my wonderful partner got us a Chinatown food tour with a contemporary chef. Very dope, food was fantastic, and I got to pick his brain a little bit about the difficult challenge of getting your work recognized, as well as rewarded, in the culinary industry. It definitely reinvigorated my passion for cooking again. On top of that, someone asked the best question possible, “So do you do this full time now?” His response of “Yes” immediately made me start doing the math in my head. Sara had told me the tickets were $70 each, and there’s 4 couples on one tour, minus costs for the food provided, he’s probably looking at about $450 for less than two hours of work.
This man had been sous chef, head chef, executive fucking chef of several French and American contemporary restaurants in New York City, and now he was living comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the world, essentially walking around his own neighborhood, talking about its history, and showing us his favorite snack spots. And I thought, “Holy fuck.” If this isn’t a sign I should stop overthinking things, and just give this food writing thing a try, I don’t know what is. Things had been leading up to something. The simple realization that nothing I did would actually lead up to anything if I didn’t do the work for it.
I’ve been told by those closest to me, that I’m constantly standing in my own way, I’m my own worst critic, and so on. Today, I finally made the decision to step aside. There it is. This is how I begin a new chapter in my life. It likely feels insignificant to the reader, but it’s been a long time since I’ve shared anything creative that was vulnerable. Cooking, in addition to being a utility, is an art, one that garners as many fanatics, critics, skeptics, and haters as any other sector of the modern art industry. And just like modern art, food can often have social, political, or personal energy behind it. The difference being, you don’t have a clearcut reflection of how people view your art on a scale of 1 to 5 stars when you post something on Instagram. I’d like to be a positive voice in a cutthroat industry. There’s a certain way of humanizing a restaurant and its qualities, that only those that have worked in one will understand.
“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” - Anthony Bourdain
Chinatown Food Tour
Place 1: these are considered, if I recall correctly, Cantonese style pork buns, which are baked rather than steamed. Holy shit. The egg wash gets the outside to a level where the bun reaches a perfect ratio of crunch to squish. Pork was nice, although mildly fatty, which is kinda to be expected with this: A relatively cheap, on the go snack. Still very, very good.
No photo of this food stop, so instead here's a photo of the iconic Nom Wah Tea Parlor.
Place 2: Can’t recall what region this style of dumpling is from, but it’s primary distinguishing element is it’s much thicker dough. They had a fantastic chew, reminiscent of hand pulled noodles. Pork and veggie filling had great texture, and the sauces added to them as well. One was diluted sriracha, and the other a mix of soy sauce and black vinegar. I only tried the latter, which added a little burst of acidity that became the final ingredient necessary to have all 4 primary elements of flavor in a single bite. Salt, fat, acid, and heat baby.
Place 3: the final stop came in clutch as the unexpected favorite of the day, Peking duck scallion and sesame pancakes. Essentially, a batter filled with scallions is made into a fried “pancake”, caked in sesame seeds, and wrapped around moist roasted duck. Absolutely fantastic. This was only my second time trying duck, and the first time liking it. Just goes to show that sometimes a certain ingredient just needs to be prepared a certain way for some people to learn to enjoy it.