You provide the food and I will provide the perspective." – Anton Ego, 2007


January 2014

Lunch with a “Bubblehead”.

I had one of the most interesting meals today in Modern Banquets. Not because of the food though.  I was pleasantly surprised when a gentleman looking to be in his mid 50s sat down with two of my friends.  He didn’t say much at first but when appetizers came out the words began to flow.

Come to find out this gentleman’s name was Greg. He has completed about half of the Associates program and has already been out on extern.  He talked to us briefly about the kitchen he was in now.  He said he didn’t quite love the teacher but all the information that she taught was invaluable.  I was told that she had a different teaching style then most of the teachers at this school.  Rather than noticing students mistake and ignoring it in order to avoid having to stop and help them out she actually calls the student out on their mistakes and makes an effort to fix it.  She doesn’t jut give you the answers though, whenever you do anything in her class she expects you to be able to site the information from either teacher or a book.

Greg told me a story about a girl in his class who dropped out on the second day.  She attempted to make a pincage, which is caramelized mirepoix, with the addition of tomato paste, but she wasn’t following any real method.  The chef asked her what she was doing and the student had no clue. Greg jumped in and saved her but after that she never came back to the class.

After finishing apps, we began to talk about what he had done before he came to this school.  Greg told us that he had originally attended this school at the age of 18.  At he 19 he decided that the Navy was going to be a better option.  We then learned about his military history.  Greg was the cook on a submarine that had to feed 150 people 3 times daily.  The name bubblehead was given to members of the navy who were stationed on submarines.  The food had to be good and he had to get along with everyone. His missions would last up to 30 days.  If you got fed up with someone or something you couldn’t really step out of the boat and take a breather at 1200ft deep.

One of the most interesting stories was hearing about halfway night.  Each mission there was a party when the crew had completed half the mission.  Because of the high amount of gay men on these boats they typically involved “male burlesque” activities.  It was quite often that these men would come out during halfway nights dressed in full drag.  The whole nine yards.  Greg went on to say some of the best people he worked with were gay and how he enjoyed their attention to detail.

We also talked about how Greg already was an expert pastry chef.  He attributed this partially to having to make bread for grilled cheese sandwiches down in the depths of the Atlantic.  Even though I had just met him I had already developed an immense amount of respect for Greg.  Here’s a man who served our country and kept quite an open mind while doing it.  He left the military and adapted well in civilian life.  Greg told us how had had been group leader.  He had a zero tolerance swearing rule.  He also demanded that the students maintain dress code at all times.  When I asked him how he enforce these rules he said “If they didn’t follow the rules, I gave them a zero!”  He talked about how some. Chef’s drove him crazy because they would swear in front of the females in the class. “There’s the kind of man you’d like to take home and introduce to your mother and sister.” That is my favorite quote from The Great Gatsby and I think it sums up Greg perfectly.

I find it amazing how many people you can meet at this school is astounding.  Greg is someone I already consider to be a role model.

Day 2 Meat Fabrication and ID

Today I began Day 2 of my journey in Meat Fabrication and ID.  The instructor, who I refer to as chef, is a cornucopia of knowledge.  He has been working in this industry for quite some time and he has developed a high level of competency in his craft.

Watching him work with different parts of animals with ease is astounding.  During our first day demo Chef took an entire steam ship round, or the entire leg of beef, and had it cleaned and fabricated into its separate parts: top round, bottom round, knuckle, heel, shank.  One of the most fascinating things about watching Chef work was how easily he manipulated the parts of meat.  He was making perfect cuts along seams hidden under layers of fat and muscle without a moments hesitation.  It was almost like watching a surgeon perform a complex operation with his eyes shut.

Day 1 was more of a demo day.  We really didn’t do any hands on work.  We toured the the meat room so that we would be familiar with everything in it.  We also watched Chef demo cleaning the steam ship round.

Day 2 I had to jump in with both feet.  The class started with a small demo showing us how to fabricate a beef clod into different parts.  I ended up having to make beef cubes, cut our the heart of the clod, tie the heart of the clod in order to mimic tying up a roast, as well as trim an entire shank so that we could use one part for cubes and the other part for either usable trim for grinding into burgers or a roast.

I left the Meat Room with blood spattered on the front of my coat and apron as well as some blood on the sleeves of my long-johns.  I was told that each day was going to be a messy hands on experience and this is something that I really am looking forward to.  Meat ID keeps me on my toes and always focused because we are always working with sharp tools and always have something to do.  There never is a second of down time where I can just sit and wait.

Signs of a chef.

After working with chefs frequently it becomes clear who is a chef. Distinguishing marks such as burns, scars and food related tattoos can be seen scattered across their body. It really is interesting. The kitchen has always been a dangerous place. In medieval times chefs would die young from fires in the kitchen and inhaling the toxic fumes all day.

I worked with a girl, a person I considered to be one of my best teachers, who always wore a coband wrap around her wrist. She was hiding a bad burn scar that look quite repulsive. Its these marks that allow anyone to quickly identify a chef.

For those of you who don’t know, I suffered a very bad cut where I cleaved off about one third of my finger tip. It bled forever and took about 3 weeks to heal. I never found the piece that I chopped off and even if I had the nurse told me they wouldn’t have been able to attach it. Now my finger looks almost normal. If you look really carefully you can tell which finger I cut.

Another mark that I have acquired is the bald patch on my left arm. Why? About every five days I sharpen my knives. Cutting potatoes, fabricating meat and using my knife nearly daily causes it to wear down quite fast. I never let it get completely dull but it can get a rough edge sometime. One of the real reasons I sharpen my knives so often is so that my precision cuts, such as the ones in my profile picture, can only be done with sharp tools. I take great pride in my cuts because its something I’m quite good at. Back to sharpening, there are many different ways to determine the sharpness of a blade. My personal favorite is to try to shave the hairs off my arm. If I can run my chef knife across my skin and it acts like a straight razor I know its sharp.

Each chef has something that gives them away. No one is perfect and we all have our quirks. Next time you see someone you think might be in the industry take a look. Look for food tattoos, cuts, burns and even bald arms.

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