rage

cooking is rage, and it is everything inside of me.

I think about the days where I first started to learn,
and when I first started to learn her.

I hear that album by The National and it makes my stomach knot up.
Music in the kitchen was always something that was woven in between searing and braising; almost always with doing the dishes.

Romance. There’s romance there too. I’m mostly in love with every one, which means they all have the ability to break my heart with a reaction and with their spoons, digging into my side.

cooking is rage.

adult rage. love and doubt and sometimes divorce.

it is salty and fatty and exactly what you want after too many.

too many drinks or days or kids banging on your bathroom door when you just want to be alone for a moment.

More often than not it is given, and I give it all. I give my world and my peace of mind and stability so that you can have it.

I often wish I could dance. In fact I would give up a lot of my talent as a cook to have the energy and the attitude and the courage to dance in front of people.

But I suppose, if I’m being true to myself, whatever it is I do is its own little dance of time and heat and pressure. It goes straight into your belly and into your bones, and the bones of your children.

I am often alone. I crave a late night, at my table with a small plate of food and a person across from me that cooked it, and warmed it up for me because I was late to everything — to her — to our life — to bed, even when it’s been longer than we want to touch and breathe in deep and rest ourselves.

this is the rage.
the deep, fiery furnace-like thing in my belly that wants to have it all and wants you to have it all and in reality,

I have a day, and a day’s toils.

I clean my knives. I finish up the dishes.

There’s a few songs and a sweet picture of my nephew who’s growing up faster than I fall asleep…

after a long day, cooking and moaning, of drinking the salty broth,

I fall in love all over again.

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eating last.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.

During my last post and this, a lot has happened y’all!
I moved (into quite possibly the coolest cottage in south Mississippi).

I got an award.
And I got nominated for another award.

In the midst of all of this, we’ve had three monstrous catering events and our little shop is getting busier by the week, it would seem at times. Certainly at times more hectic, at least.

Now, these are all great things. Growing pains and things, perhaps. Things I thought wouldn’t happen for at least another year. Certainly not now. I saw my name mentioned with a few other local chefs who basically run entire restaurant groups and thought to myself,

“Damn. All we have are two hot plates, a sandwich press and an oven that functions well about 70% of the time…”

I feel really proud about that. I feel proud for my crew, as I don’t believe they asked for any of the attention or what becoming busier imposes. Higher expectations. Different crowds. More pressure to perform consistently.

How do you ask that of people? How do I ask that of myself?

I think the answer is why.

Maybe why is the question, as well.

I’ve been reading this book on leadership. Not because it is something I’ve pursued, but somehow something that has always been given to me — and something that I feel proud to take. I walk around knowing that I’m a decently educated, tall, white male — which means I am probably given better opportunities – historically and well, presently.

I say all this because I always want to recognize that privilege before anything else.

Also, I work hard. And work hard to remain kind when I can. And fair. I will also eat last.

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Why is eating last important? I have no idea. But I always find myself, even when I cook for people, the last person in line. Generally by request.

Simon Sinek has a book called, “Start With Why” — and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I eat this stuff up. He interviewed military generals and corporals and came away with a profound truth: Officers eat last.

People feel safe with good leadership. This is something I’m learning. Especially in kitchens where every one is giving it their best for not much reward — they are doing so because they know they are important, and will be cared for in some way. At least that’s the way it should be. Once that is compromised, things begin to fall apart.

It’s also important for people to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. That can be hard.

I’m less likely to give my money to someone who has no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. But if you can show me why — I’m all yours. That in itself makes me feel safe.

In the same way you buy food from us because you know we give a shit about what things look and taste like, you are willing to come back again and again.

When I get days like this, where I am allowed to settle into myself, I feel a lot of things. Definitely being tired is one of them. I haven’t had a real day off in about a month and a half. Therefore, I get to catch up on writing. On purpose. On being better.

I will sit and listen.

Moan and stretch from the weeks toils.

I like being here. I’m still learning how to do this, and I have hopes that we are still working towards something better. That means hustling so my co-workers have jobs and that we continually work to make this city better.

I am happy to be eating last. And as it turns out, it’s made all the difference in the world.

steps.

Lately I’ve been getting asked the same kind of question.

“How are things working out for you now?”

I sort of fumble around with words and tell people that I am busy and it all feels sort of wild. It is true. I can’t think of my last full day off where I wasn’t doing something for the restaurant. Whether that’s writing menus or picking up ingredients from out of town. It’s okay, though.

I am okay.

My first year back in Hattiesburg was very hard. I was a different shade of Josh than the last time I had lived here. So I always explaining to people that I was different, that I felt different about things, but that I was glad to be home. I still am. I love being back in Mississippi.

It was hard dropping down from being a sous chef in a big food city, to a barista/sandwich maker for $7.25 an hour. That is restaurant work, for the most part. Working one’s way up the ladder. So, I started my own side thing and made some money to pay bills and eat with. I had ridiculously generous friends who would feed me all the time and toss me side gigs to make a little extra. I was hustling. I’m still hustling, but in a different way.

I find a lot of pride with my work. What I do, I put my name on. I put my heart into it. As cheesy as that sounds, it works for me. So now that I have the title, and a little more financial room to breathe, I am home every night so very thankful for my hurting legs and back. The fact that I smell like onions and oil 90% of the time might not be okay with everyone else, but to me, it smells like my craft and my world.

I also know that I am extremely lucky. I do think that I have some skills as a cook, and a decent palate to go with it, but I am silly to think that I achieved any of this all by myself. I had people who believed in me and that what I did and who I was, was in fact, good. That is a super hard thing in itself. I suppose we are doing that for each other, when we can. Sort of helping each other get where we need to be. At least I think we should.

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Last night, I was reading something I wrote a few months after my divorce. It was about my old job in Portland.

Memories came flooding back to me and I thought about my walk from where I lived to where I worked. That simple walk. From both houses I lived in. With Hannah and with my roommates. Sometimes it was very cold and wet. Other times warm and gorgeous. The same road I walked for a few years.

I read a line where I thank my chef and friend, Gretchen, for allowing me to cook and to struggle…and I completely lost it. I closed my computer and cried like I haven’t in a good while.

There has been so much struggle. So much of me trying to get to this place where I can be more free to create and explore and push forward. And I am so, so lucky to have that. I also know so many people are struggling to get there and have been for quite a while.

I am not the kind of person who takes these seasons lightly.

I always process my new year around this time. Fall always brings me in a little tighter, a little more snug.

I think often about the steps taken up or down to get me where I am at this moment.

Some things, super painful. While others, full of great accomplishment and pride.

Yeah, I am doing okay. And I feel good about who I am and where I am going.
Though, I’m not quite good at settling with this wild career of mine,

so I will keep my plow to the ground

and dig up the earth wherever it is I find myself.

saints and salt.

I’ve been watching this new series on Netflix called, “Chef’s Table”.

Of course, as a cook, I am drawn to things that shed a little light on my world and why we are driven to do what we do.
For one, the series is beautifully produced.
The music is dreamy.
The food is just. Humph.

I sit in my chair, squirmy and restless.

In the back of my mind, I say “Can I do that here??!!”

Can I become great?
To be honest, I don’t think that’s the right question.

In all of these stories, there are extraordinary highs and gut-wrenching lows. From physical exhaustion and breakdowns to having your biggest client tell you that your food was terrible. There are the empty dining rooms, and being booked solid for a year.

The ebb and flow of being a chef is like this: Response. No response. Doubt. Certainty. And I think that it changes daily.

Each chef has this desire to create and change the world they live in.
I am so drawn to their worlds. It makes sense to me. Deep deep down I will always have a need to create and change.

And I have been so challenged this past week.
Frustrated with the industry. Letting my tired and restless soul get the best of me on numerous occasions.

It is so hard to translate your life’s passion to someone who doesn’t care like you do. It feels a little like being a kid and having the grown ups discourage you from being wild. I think we lose so much of our wildness. We lose our ability to say what we need to say and to communicate it well.

I’ve found myself as a leader. I think maybe because I try not to be an asshole. I try to not set up my people to fail. I try to be good and I try to do good things. It is hard keeping your patience and to not blow up on the occasional (or frequent) slip up.

And I am so hard on myself. And I am so stubborn, even more so in a kitchen.

I am learning what kind of chef I want to be. This has been a season of learning what kind of chef I don’t want to be. At the cost of losing sleep and burning a bridge or two, I am learning still.

I am not here to feel justified.

I’ve been a jerk too many times for that.
But I have a lot in common with these people and the fires that reside in their bellies and their kitchens.

Their love of feeding people and doing it well.
Their passion for life in all its complexity.
Truly, they are the saints that salt the earth.

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Today I rest my legs and my back, getting ready for another week where I hope to make good decisions. I also hope that I have the courage to speak my mind when I feel something is right and to fight for and with the people I work for, and this way of life.

Because I’m not sure what cooking is without conviction and trials,

or the weight that I carry that comes with feeding people.

All I know is that there will be huge highs and lows, and the things I might sacrifice to get there.

I don’t know if I will ever arrive.

I don’t think it is about arriving. It is about the road and pit stops and randomly jumping into an ice cold river,

That is what makes this journey personal,

and I’m excited to see where and for how long the road takes me.

‘how wild it was, to let it be’

The infinite spirit of the human being.

I think maybe this has been some theme swirling around in my head for quite a while. Maybe a bit medicine-induced; a fever-like sort of haze.

I don’t quite know how we make it through the horrible shit.

Abuse and death and violence.
Divorce or moving or taxes.

And yet, here we are, being soft again.

And again.

I helped cater a wedding this weekend. It was a beautiful wedding.
I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in almost eight years.

My tiny corner of dessert prep was done in the back of a refrigerated rental truck. Slicing strawberries and bananas as thinly as I could with the motor vibrating against my shoulders and the condensation from the cooler dripping on my shirt every thirty seconds or so.

I jogged to my car, slipped off my chef’s coat into my nice shirt and adjusted my wrinkled tie. I was lucky enough to have a stunning wedding date this time around. She gave me a thumbs up, though I felt like a sausage packed into its casing. I’ve never been one to tuck in shirts, is all…

I drifted in and out of wedding land. Thinking about my desserts in the truck, hoping a server didn’t slip and crash into my 48 banana puddings and mini peanut butter pies. Then I watched my beautiful friend walk down the aisle of an old New Orleans church, built in the 1850’s.

The back of my shirt had come untucked. I’m used to it, being a tall oddly shaped guy.

Then came the message from a person I knew long ago as a pastor and friend.
He said all the right things and it was picture perfect. To be honest, who cares if I agreed or didn’t agree. It was what it needed to be.

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Only, it’s hard to sit at some weddings and not feel a little jaded from it. For some reason, marrying people allows you to talk about what’s right and pure and what’s wrong and damaged. Like divorce. Or that marriage is hard and challenging. Which it is.

When I tell people a bit about my life, I bring up the fact that I was married, and that I’m not married anymore. Usually the response is “I’m sorry, marriage is hard”. And I nod and swallow, somewhat bitterly. I move on, because I don’t have time or the want or the energy to walk them through why everyone and everything is so complex and different.

I find myself thinking, “Why do people even have to say anything?”
But they will. And you will listen and it will make your heart heavy again.
You will smile and the conversation will move on to work, babies, etc.

Weddings are fast and emotional and busy. It is a whirlwind of remembrance and newness. Perhaps it will flood your brain with memories of love lost. Whatever it is, you feel it.

At the end of the night, my wedding date had a glass of red wine spilled on her dress, and her phone stolen from the venue.

She also smiled and laughed. And we both had our choice words.

I watched people eat the desserts and dance in the aisle, and I imagined it such like a place in the cosmos. All sorts of energies colliding and creating. New life mixing with old.

The Second Line marched the wedding party out of the doors and into the streets.

I cleaned up my jars, packed them away in my car and drove back home.

Somewhere, somehow, I said, “This is all just feels so good. And I feel so lucky. It’s just the best.” Not about any specific happening or memory. But that time shifts and moves forward.

I think it’s because at the end of great sorrow, there is birth to something else. Something new and undiscovered. And that’s exciting and scary.

It’s coming and I feel it all, wrapped up inside my heart — like a bud — awaiting to open and invite in the Beloved.

For a moment. I feel wild and carefree,

and it is enough.

I am enough.

doin’ alright.

It’s hour thirteen that I’ve been on my feet in a stuffy kitchen.

So far, I’ve eaten two eggs. A little bit of spinach with some tomatoes and cucumbers, and a bite of really sweet bread pudding from the “leftover pile”.

I’ve washed dishes more than I have cooked, and I begin to lose myself as my glasses fog with steam from the barely scalding water. I have a cup of hot, black Community coffee sitting on the ledge to my left, and I pause every few minutes for a hot sip. I’m tired and need a little jolt.

I lose myself for a while, as I rake off uneaten bits and unclog the drain. Hunched over a three-compartment sink, sweat beading off my balding head. My back, on the occasion of lifting a stack of plates, pings a nerve and I squint my left eye.

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I’ve found myself in some weird places recently. Mostly in my head, and of course, intertwined with some heart things. I’ve been asking myself some terribly hard questions.

“Is this place working out for me?”

“Shit man, what was that all about?”

If I’m honest with myself, I’m still having trouble fitting into place. I want to cook food for people. I want a place that I can live my passions, and up comes some article about how you’re never going to work your dream job. Whatever. Anyways.

I’ve been finding myself a little quiet and distant, because a person tells me they think what I write is too sad and heavy. That’s fair. But you tell me that, I’m going to find ways to not to write like that, and I need to. You see?

I need to be angry at the times when I am angry. I also need to be sad and people need to see it. Well, I need to see it. Because I cannot allow myself to dwell in a place where I do not feel authentic.

I am okay.

I am doing all of this now, so twenty years from now I can say I felt everything, and worked through as much as I could. I know you want me to at least seem happy.

I can tell you, this is the best I’ve felt all year. I may not be jumping up and down and screaming, but I am feeling good.
(what is happy, anyways?)

What I mean, is that I write what I write here because it is true to me. Sure I’m a little different in the kitchen, or sitting in a pew. I will make jokes about sausage and also sing a gospel song. Because my life is a wonderful, deep, and challenging thing.

Ya know, those dishes can be therapeutic.

And my couch feels like heaven right now.

I just ate two leftover Labor Day hot dogs on a fluffy white bun with mayonnaise and mustard and ketchup.

Oh. And a cookie.

And you know what?

I’m doin’ alright.