The Skirt Steak Files

for ladies who cook, professionally
Documenting the outtakes, outbursts and opinions behind the book SKIRT STEAK: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat & Staying in the Kitchen (Chronicle Books; October 24, 2012. PRE-ORDER it on
  • January 3, 2013 6:48 pm

    It’s Suppertime … Skirt Steak Style (with some help from Snoopy**)






    (Bring on the soup dish, bring on the cup, bring on the bacon and fill me up)




    THE SCHED (subject to up-to-the-minute updates):



    Monday, January 28


    Chef Dinner with Anita Lo (Annisa), Charleen Badman (FnB), Patty Gentry (Early Girl Farm), Missy Robbins (A Voce), Jennifer Scism (Cape House Catering)


    13 Barrow Street

    Share Cancer Support

    Cost: $275. For tickets, please call 212-741-6699



    Saturday, September 29

    10:00 AM

    Talk and signing

    Book Larder

    4252 Fremont Avenue N

    *Books available for purchase


    Sunday, September 30

    6:00 PM

    Chef Dinner with Ericka Burke (Volunteer Park Café) and Melissa Nyffeler (Dinette)

    Volunteer Park Café

    1501 17th Avenue E

    Wellspring Family Services

    Cost: $75. For tickets, please visit



    Wednesday, October 3

    6:30 PM

    Chef Dinner with Jenn Louis Lincoln PDX), Sarah Schafer (Irving Street Kitchen), Johanna Ware (Smallwares), Cathy Whims (Nostrana)

    Lincoln PDX

    3808 North Williams Avenue

    Janus Youth

    Cost: $80. For tickets, please call 503-288-6200 or email & include “Skirt” in the Subject line



    Thursday, October 4

    Time 6:00 PM

    Chef Dinner with Traci des Jardins (Jardiniere) and Liza Shaw (Merigan Sub Shop, WINTER 2013) 


    300 Grove Street

    La Cocina

    Cost: $125. For tickets, go to (starting 9/20)


    Friday, October 5

    6:00 PM

    Talk and signing with chefs Traci des Jardins (Jardiniere), Emily Luchetti (Waterbar and Farallon), Elisabeth Prueitt (Tartine)

    Omnivore Books

    3885a Cesar Chavez Street

    *Books available for purchase



    Sunday, October 7

    Time 4:00 PM

    Book signing hosted by Waylynn Lucas (Fonuts)


    8104 West 3rd Street

    *Books available for purchase


    Monday, October 8

    Seatings available throughout the evening

    Chef Dinner with Karen Hatfield (Hatfield’s), Nyesha Arrington (Wilshire Restaurant), Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill), Suzanne Tracht (Jar), Dakota Weiss (NINETHIRTY at W Los Angeles), Sherry Yard (Spago/Wolfgang Puck Worldwide)


    6703 Melrose Avenue

    The Breast Cancer Research Foundation

    Cost: $110 (not including beverages). For tickets, please call 323-935-2977

    *Books available for purchase



    Wednesday, October 10

    7:00-9:30 PM

    Book Release Party

    New York Design Center

    200 Lexington Avenue

    Edible Schoolyard NYC

    Cost: $50. For tickets, please visit


    Thursday, October 18

    6:00-8:00 PM

    Cocktail Reception with Ann Cashion (Johnny’s Half Shell, Cashion’s Eat Place) and Carla Hall (Alchemy, The Chew)

    Johnny’s Half Shell

    400 N Capitol Street NW

    Washington Tennis and Education Foundation

    Cost: $45. For tickets, please call 202-737-0400



    Sunday, October 21

    Time: Reservations can be made between 5:00-6:30 or 7:00-9:30 PM

    Chef Dinner with Marcie Turney (Barbuzzo), Jen Carroll (Concrete Blonde, NY), Ann Coll (Meritage), beverage consultant Phoebe Esmon, Monica Glass (Clio), mixologist Katie Loeb (Han Dynasty), Lindsay McClain (Jamonera), Natalie Maronski (Chifa), Susan van Vreede (Distrito), 


    110 South 13th Street

    Women Against Abuse

    Cost: $95. For tickets, please call 215-546-9300;


    Thursday, November 8

    Time 6:30 PM

    Chef Dinner with Anne Quatrano (Bacchanalia, Quinones Room, Star Provisions, Abattoir, Floataway Café, Summerland Farm)


    1198 Howell Mill Road

    Charity James Beard Foundation

    Cost: $65. For tickets, please call 404-365-0410



    Sunday, November 11

    Time 6 PM

    Chef Dinner with (a DUDE!) Jeremiah Bacon (The Macintosh)

    The Macintosh

    479 King Street

    Les Dames d’Escoffier

    Cost: $65. For tickets, please call 843-789-4299



    Tuesday, November 13 

    Time TBD

    Chef Dinner with Barbara Lynch (Barbara Lynch Gruppo), Ana Sortun (Oleana), Maura Kilpatrick (SOFRA), Lydia Shire (Scampo)


    348 Congress Street

    Barbara Lynch Foundation

    Cost: TBD. For tickets, please call 617-737-1234


    (So what’s wrong with making mealtime a joyous occasion?)


  • December 3, 2012 10:00 am

    Cookbooks, A Holiday Shopping Guide, The Skirt Steak Way, Year 2

    Bring out the mistletoe, menorah, myrrh and mulled wine. Start sipping the latter. It’s time to shop. 

    Last year, I rounded up a bunch of cookbooks written by the women of Skirt Steak ( This year, we’ve got some newbies, and a few extras, just ‘cuz.


    1. Amanda Cohen is the vegetable chef who brought New York City Dirt Candy (, which, four years later, finally, last week, had its day in New York Times restaurant review court and came up with two sparkly stars. Congrats. That’s a feat, sure. But, some might say Dirt Candy: A Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food From An Upstart New York City  ( is the biggest accomplishment of all. It’s a cookbook in graphic novel form, and it’s a bold, gutsy, hilarious mold-breaker. 

    2. Elizabeth Falkner has just opened Krescendo (, her version of a pizza parlor on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. She’s also competing on the current season of The Next Iron Chef, and has a new cookbook out. Cooking Off The Clock: Recipes From My Downtime ( It’s her second. The first, Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts: Recipes from Citizen Cake ( is a reminder of her former, sweet life in California.

    3. Susan Feniger brings us a cookbook that celebrates her first solo-effort (i.e. a non Mary-Sue Milliken collaboration) restaurant, STREET ( and the food served there. Introducing Susan Feniger’s Street Food: Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes ( Two words for you: KAYA TOAST. 

    4. Carla Hall has somehow managed to juggle life on the daily weekday talk show, The Chew, performing cookie-making magic with her company Alchemy by Carla Hall ( and writing Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You []. 

    5. Allison Vines-Rushing and her husband Slade Rushing are the co-chefs behind MiLa ( in New Orleans. In Southern Comfort: A New Take on The Recipes We Grew Up With (, they put their nouvelle Southern cuisine on the home-cook-friendly page. 

    6. Adam Roberts, the mastermind who gave us the Amateur Gourmet ( before everyone and her aunt had a food blog, has written what I think is one of the year’s best cookbooks. Secrets of the Best Chefs: Recipes, Techniques, and Tricks from America’s Greatest Cooks ( takes you into the kitchens of some of the greatest culinary talents in this country, many of whom happen to be members of team Skirt Steak. Let them, via one “amateur,”  teach you to become better cooks. 

    7. April Bloomfield is that British import who delivered (to those of us lucky enough to call NYC home) The Spotted Pig (, The Breslin (, The John Dory ( and this ( I consider her an honorary Skirt Steakette and hope she doesn’t mind. Her first cookbook, co-written with J. J. Goode,  is A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories ( and it’s sitting on my kitchen bookshelf as I type. 

    8. Reminder: There is a certain newly released book about chefs, who happen to be women, and the restaurant industry, and it’s called SKIRT STEAK: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat & Staying in the Kitchen ( It too makes a lovely holiday gift, if not the loveliest of all. 

  • November 20, 2012 10:00 am

    Getting Promotional

    Hi everyone,

    Hope you understand why there’s been radio silence here on the tumblr. I’ve been on the un-tour of a lifetime. The Skirt Steak Supper Series has been an ongoing banquet of some of the most delicious dishes I’ve enjoyed to date. No hyperbole there. FACT. I’m still thinking about the manti Ana Sortun and Barbara Lynch made on Tuesday night at Sportello in Boston. But, once I let my mind go there, the stomach pangs start, and next thing you know, I’ve got to have Ana’s shakshuka, or, the fried chicken livers I shared with Anne Quatrano last Thursday at her restaurant Abattoir in Atlanta. It never ends, the missing of the plates. And it would only make you all jealous. 

    Traveling and eating is a time-consuming business. So is talking up a storm about the book you wrote, which is, these days, par for the publishing course. Chatting is what I’ve been doing. There’s been a whole lot of radio, and not as much silence as I’m accustomed to. 

    Here are a few links to what I’ve been saying and writing about the Skirt Steak experience. No pressure to click on any of them. Just sharing is all. 

    1. Grub Street NY posted an excerpt from the book

    2. Nozlee Samadzadeh over at asked a few questions.

    3. So did my friend Mollie Chen at

    4. Fellow writer Andrew Friedman and I talked shop, in two parts.

    5. Lynn Rossetto Kasper hosted me on her legendary NPR radio show The Splendid Table

    6. The inspiring and talented polymath Michael Harlan Turkell invited me to his radio show, “The Food Seen,” on the Heritage Radio Network

    That’s more than enough to bore and annoy anyone. So, I’ll stop. 

    Thanks for your continued support, dear readers.


  • September 4, 2012 9:59 am

    The Manliest Virtual Crossover Event Ever

    Welcome to the first and possibly only episode of The Sack-Up with your hosts Skirt Steak (a.k.a. me, Charlotte) + Dirt Candy (a.k.a. Amanda Cohen)

    I don’t know how I missed this last year, when it was inaugurated. Maybe it’s better this way. Otherwise, I would have been forced to get riled up twice. That’s a lot of energy wasted, and on something inanely regressive. Men’s Health magazine’s “Manliest Restaurant In America” competition is a jeroboam of stupido. 


    What the hell is a MANLY RESTAURANT? Is it a place where a man with a Manwich appetite goes to fill his belly? Is it a place with a hyper-macho dude chef in charge? Men’s Health doesn’t bother defining terms (probably not manly behavior, that). But, we can figure a few things out based on its venue categories. 


    BBQ Joint, Pizza Parlor, Steakhouse, Seafood Shack, Brew Pub, Sandwich Shop, Taco Stand, Burger Spot and Adventurous Eating.


    First off, some of these aren’t even RESTAURANTS (a brew pub? that would be a bar, that happens to offer food; a SHACK? not a lot of room for sitting down and being served there; how about a STAND?). Probably not best to dwell on that.


    Next, let’s cast Adventure aside for a second (we’ll get back to it shortly), and look at the rest. Minus the tacos (and one Argentine-style steakhouse in New Orleans), it’s a pretty jingoist agenda. It’s the kind of stuff stereotypically cast as American food. There’s nothing Asian on the menu, unless you count the Taco Stand winner, Korean-Mexican mash-up Hankook Taqueria in Atlanta, Georgia (how appropriate that the single nod to Asian cuisine is part of a “fusion” concept, and swept under the one “ethnic” category in the contest). Unless it’s bundled up in a Mexican package, Asian food in any form must not be very masculine. Ramen, go home. Nice try, Korean Fried Chicken—just because you’re fried, doesn’t mean you’ve got balls. It doesn’t matter how much heat that Sichuan food’s packing, it’s not “manly” material. And while a sandwich shop called Bakesale Betty was on the list of nominees (for its fried-chicken sandwiches, no less) and somehow my neurotic people the Jews made the cut with Katz’s, a Vietnamese bánh mì establishment is, we must assume, for wusses. Indian or Middle Eastern food is also testosterone-free. All those Scandinavian chefs with their foraged gooseberries and black grouse, they’re nothing but girlie men. Tapas? Ditzy. Same goes for paella. Izakayas are like pubs, for drag queens. You get the idea.


    Your turn, Adventurous.


    Here were the nominees:

    1. Representing team offal and emerging as the victor in this division, it’s Incanto, Chris Cosentino’s restaurant in San Francisco (Man, I love this restaurant. As I typed that, I could swear my boobs shrank, just a touch). 

    2. Piling on the charcuterie, Olympic Provisions in Portland (OR) is next.

    3. Hot Doug’s Encased Meat Emporium in Chicago … freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, and “encased meat,” is merely a synonym for sausage—as manly as it gets.

    4. Husk, the much-‘scussed nouveau Southern restaurant in Charleston. Let’s go to the video tape: “Chef Sean Brock, the tattooed genius running the kitchen at Husk, has taken traditional Southern fare, kicked it in the balls, and served it up with a side of pig ear. You may not have grown up eating offal, but somehow a Southern twist makes even the oddest bits of the animal taste like comfort food.” In short: tattoo, Southern food, balls, offal. 

    5. WD-50 in NYC, Wylie Dufresne’s 9-year-old house of modernist cuisine—one of the best known and respected kitchens for this kind of cooking in the country.


    In a nutsack (sorry, nutshell), Adventurousness comprises offal, sausage (offal light, sort of), Southern offal, and, for something different, sci-fi techy stuff. What do these phenomena have in common? They’re all mega trendy. When Cosentino first opened Incanto a decade ago, people hadn’t caught on to offal. Now that everyone has jumped on the nose-to-tail bandwagon, he’s finally getting props for his mad skillz. Those making reservations aren’t doing so because they’re adventurous; they’re signing up because they got the memo. Charcuterie? Which au courant “artisanal” restaurant isn’t house-curing some meat right now? Moving right along … there’s no reason to talk about the wieners, or, really, the Southern spot (we’ve already covered offal, and should be talking about Husk’s reclaiming a regional cuisine instead of writing off all the food below the Mason-Dixon line as a single stereotype). Did anyone at Men’s Health hear about a guy named Ferran Adrià and how he closed El Bulli? When he took over, “molecular gastronomy” was the new final frontier. Now, avant-garde cooking has become part of the bigger food picture and many chefs are incorporating its techniques. The adventure has run its course. The magazine seems to have confused adventurousness with trendiness.


    While we’re trying to slow the pace of our mental processing to match the magazine’s way of thinking, there’s something else to consider, especially in today’s world when it’s all about being “on-brand.” There’s a word in the publication’s title that rhymes with WEALTH. This list of genres—BBQ, pizza, porterhouse, lobster rolls, beer & shepherd’s pie, subs, etc—isn’t the HEALTHIEST assortment. So now, I’m forced to assume that healthy food is NOT manly, and therefore, that a magazine devoted to the subject of men’s wellbeing is, in fact, not at all manly. I’m sure the publication’s marketing whizzes have come up with a good explanation for that and are all way too manly to bother explaining or justifying. I’m probably not manly enough to understand. 


    I asked Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy in NYC ( to weigh in. She specializes in vegetable cookery, opened a tiny restaurant to showcase les vegs, and has just penned an “untraditional cookbook” ( I know what you’re thinking: Vegetables? Untraditional? That sounds like a whole lot of unmanly, or, adventurous. What does she know of manly?


    Here’s what: 

  • August 18, 2012 5:58 pm

    another word, please, Le Fooding

    To follow up on my earlier tweet (, a CORRECTION:

    There are, in fact, a whopping TWO women participating in the Le Grand Fooding event in Brooklyn this September ( There’s Rae Bernamoff, who’s taking part with her husband Noah Bernamoff; they’re the duo behind New York City’s Mile End Delicatessen(s) ( She’s the managing partner of the restaurants, and co-author of the forthcoming Mile End cookbook. Then, there’s Laura O’Neill of “Laura O’Neill and The Van Leeuwen Brothers” as they—the three proprietors of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream (, also in New York City—are collectively accounted for on Le Fooding’s website. Like her cohorts Ben and Pete (i.e. the brothers), she has a hand in every aspect of the business. 


    Of the 29 food industry participants, two are women.


    Neither of these females is given solo credit; they’re featured as part of a team. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that two other Le Grand Fooding players, co-owners and -chefs Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo of Frankies Spuntino et al. (, are each given their own slot on the list of cast members. 

  • July 28, 2012 9:22 pm

    fish vs. bicycle*

    While scanning chef Danny Bowien’s New York Diet (, something he said in the midst of describing what he ate—smoked wings, soju (i.e. “braised beef, cut in really beautiful slices and served warm”), and a porterhouse, to list a few—stood out.

    I’m not the manliest-man chef. 90 percent of the staff at Mission are women … and I think that’s because when I first went to visit Christina Tosi [Skirt Steakette] at her commissary kitchen, I realized it’s mostly girls there, and how they were so efficient and fast! She has the whole thing under lock. I’ve stolen a lot of ideas from her. After that, I was like, I’m kinda tired of the macho-guy-chef thing. I don’t want to play ball tap in the kitchen. I don’t want to get hit in the balls every five minutes.”

    Having read that along with the two items below, you might decide to entertain an amusing, provocative and possibly irritating conversation about “manliness,” and, alternatively, “womanliness.”



  • July 3, 2012 9:52 am

    And Now, A Few Random Musings from Gabrielle Hamilton

    "There’s hardly a discrepancy between what I make and what the fucking dishwasher makes, only because that’s just the nature of this 30-seat, non-profit, little piece of shit and when you plug in the hours and all that shit. But, right, I’m in the white jacket, out front, shaking hands with table six, and the Mexican porter is not."

    "Well, I love, Alex Witchel wrote a little piece ( about how—I mean, she’s a drinker, right? She’s an old school broad, in a way, and, she smokes, she writes—hard writing—and she drinks her drink. And she mentioned us in a piece a long time ago. She’s like, Fucking thank God, they put the glass down, the alcohol, I can add my tonic or my soda as I like. And she’s a real straight-up, you know like, I’ll just have a whiskey and soda’ or whatever, and that is my ideal kind of customer.

    "In an essay, I wrote about this blowing my hair back experience, where, I mean, I opened a neighborhood restaurant—I mean genuinely … There was no press release. It was just like, Put the menu up in the window and we were like, Oh God, I hope we’re not dead in a year. And it turned into a destination restaurant and we were just like, Oh Jesus Christ, like somebody get change, there’s got to be money in the drawers. We have to have someone to answer the phones. We had to scramble to keep up … You’re saying that someone has taken that idea and marketed it. That’s so much of what goes on in the world now … Can we just say that the phenomenon of lying is so devastating … It’s still pretentious to pretend to be something that you’re not, and it’s very upsetting. And it’s a chronic experience now … the places that pretend to be farmer-driven. I went to some organic restaurant up the street this past winter, and I was sitting at the bar and I’m like, Oh my God, is that Ocean Spray Cranberry juice? You know, I’m looking down behind the bar, I’m like, That’s Ocean Spray Cranberry juice? Fuck you, organic bar! Fuck you.

    Find her:

    Read her:

  • June 11, 2012 9:55 am

    Soa Davies, Shrimp Boil expert

    Skirt Steakette Soa Davies recently ended a long and wonderful stint working for Eric Ripert and has just embarked on a new venture, Salt Hospitality, her consulting company. She has also launched a blog that should prove essential to home cooks everywhere

    Back in March, along with her boyfriend Jeremie Kittredge of The Idea Collective ( and their friend, the terrifyingly talented food stylist-writer-teacher Angie Mosier (, Soa hosted a shrimp boil (also known, she explained, as Frogmore Stew). “It’s ideal for entertaining a large crowd,” she counsels. 
    Here’s her recipe:


    Serves about 12


    ½ cup Old Bay

    ½ cup Crystal hot sauce

    ½ cup Kosher salt

    2 tablespoons ground black pepper

    4 heads garlic, outer papery skins removed and rinsed

    2 pounds small red potatoes

    1 ½ pounds Andouille sausage, 1 inch slices

    6 ears corn, cut in half

    5 pounds crab legs

    3 pounds shrimp, unpeeled

    1 pound butter, melted

    6 lemons, cut in wedges

    2 baguettes


    1.     Fill a large pot with 1 ½ gallons of water, add Old Bay, hot sauce, salt, pepper, garlic and potatoes, bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes.

    2.     Add sausage and corn and simmer for about 10 minutes more or until potatoes are tender.

    3.     Add the crab legs and shrimp and cook 3 to 5 minutes until shrimp just starts to turn opaque and pink.  Drain and dump on a table first lined with garbage bags and then topped with newspaper. Serve with the melted butter, lemons and bread.

  • May 21, 2012 1:41 pm

    A Reply to ‘Cook, Interrupted’

    Deborah Reid (@dreid63), a professional chef in Toronto responds to last week’s guest post from Tina Dang []

    Hello Tina: 

    Firstly I’d like to commend you on reaching out.  This is a vital step in good quality career development.

    It’s difficult for me to comment in detail on your situation because I don’t know you - particularly your practical skills, culinary preferences, and your ambitions - but I have helped to guide many budding professionals in the 12 years that I have taught.  I will provide general feedback and hope there is someone in your professional circle who you can sit face to face with and discuss the nitty gritty details.  If not, then that should be a task of the highest priority, finding a good quality mentor (you mention that in your second sentence).   Give this some careful consideration as they should be in a position to actively aid in advancing your career.  Refrain from choosing someone who is solely willing to be a sympathetic ear for difficulties.  Although that can be quite helpful, a good mentor should ultimately help to promote you.  Ideally, it should be someone whose work you admire and someone who can tell you the truth.

    While you’re at that, I suggest that you build a very strong professional network.  Join culinary organizations that interest you.  Attend events when you can.  Have coffee with acquaintances with the hope that they may become friends or colleagues.  One of the best things about this business is the people.  Find your folks and cultivate your professional relationships.  With time, that investment will pay great dividends.

    After 4 years in the business you should have some idea of what makes you happiest - there should be a style of cooking, type of cuisine that has your name written all over it - pursue that.  Your training needs to be progressive and balanced but it should also become increasingly specialized.  Find your niche.

    I would also encourage you to advocate for yourself.  Career advancement should not be left to others.  When denied promotion to sous chef you needed to have asked the chef, immediately, about why you were overlooked.  If the answer is less than satisfying, then just as quickly look elsewhere for opportunity for advancement.  I’m not suggesting that you burn bridges but did wonder why it took you 2 months to leave?  That’s a long time to be disappointed in a kitchen.  You bear complete responsibility for finding the conditions where your passion can ‘flourish’.

    I would also suggest that you not be too hasty to judge.  I’ve been a stagiaire in internationally renowned restaurants and know that there is a certain amount of ‘stagiaire fatigue’ that comes over those kitchens.  In many cases, they see an endless parade of people asking the same questions, being of minimal help (and skill level), and never staying long enough to form relationships.  Putting that kind of experience on a resume can make careers (I made big personal and financial sacrifices early in my career to gain that experience).  Loyalty to those chefs can often lead to much bigger and better things.  And yes, thankfully, they are generally very, very serious about the work they do.

    In 2013 I will have been in the business for 25 years.  There have been periods in that time when I have asked myself all the questions that you are asking yourself.  But while I was asking the questions, I held steadfast to my professional path.  Just like any long term commitment it takes a lot of work, there are a lot of doubts, but the rewards of staying, struggling and building are immense.  The passage of time professionally for me has been very kind.

    Finally, don’t dog your romanticism.  There is much harshness and hard reality in the business but ultimately (and as flaky as this is going to sound) it really comes down to love.  Don’t let anyone take away your passion - protect it, treasure it, pursue it.

    Wishing you a delicious life,

    Deborah Reid

  • May 14, 2012 10:51 am

    Cook, Interrupted

    Today’s guest post comes from Tina Dang in San Francisco. She’s looking for some encouragement and seasoned advice. See what inspires her, and what she has been cooking, at her gorgeous blog

    When I started to cook, my eyes were cloudy with romanticism. Here I was, finally cooking.   I was intent on learning and having a mentor.  I was super-idealistic about the evolution of a chef—what it was going to be like to button up those whites.   That was 27; I turn 31 this June.  I grew up surrounded by donuts, and at night I dream of stuffed squid in a spicy tomato sauce.


    Classic story:  I always wanted to be a cook.  I always wanted to feed others, and I loved watching others eat my food.  It took a grand kick in the ass for me to jump into this gastronomic world (or, more like a nagging persistence of kicks). My father was afraid that I would never have the patience to graduate high school let alone college. I just had to do something to make my parents proud, so culinary school was pushed away for an Art History degree; but somehow I still ended up with a knife in my hand.  My first paid kitchen job was at a spaghetti shack. I wore hoop earrings, basked in the glory of the blasting music playing in the FOH and tossed Caesar salads with tongs.


    I kept at it.  Working in various kitchens with various people.  I have heard, “I just want to strangle you,” or “You have to work ten times harder than any other guy in that kitchen;” or my favorite, when I sent out salads and knew nothing about coarse lines like, "You’re gonna make me go to IHOP!” There were sour times when negative cooks threatened my optimism … and, more than anything, many, many times when I just loved what I did.  I was at my happiest when I finished a shift and the smell of burning coals lingered on my clothes. 


    Unfortunately I take things personally, and I am stubborn.  Yes, I have grown as a person—I have learned, and I have conquered emotions. And, I’ve grown as a cook—from making salads to desserts; from working with coals to burning wood; from mastering grilling to roasting, and sweating to sautéing. But, professionally, I have not reached my desired goal.  


    What is that goal? Good God, I still don’t know.  When someone asks me if I want my own food cart, if I’ve thought of opening my own catering company, if I will do pop-up dinners, if I still want to work in a kitchen … it all seems to be in a state of flux and limbo.   Yes. No. I don’t know.  Somehow, I always have the same answer: I just want to cook and I just want to keep on learning.


    See, that’s the wonderful thing about what I do; I am always learning and, every day, placing myself in a challenging situation.  But I still have to pay off those student loans and cover my rent. 


    So after a couple of years, I decided that I was going to go freelance, but because I did not have confidence in myself, I did not flourish. Once again, like my idealized image of a chef, that romantic notion of freelancing was tarnished.   I tried my hand at being a private chef; tested out various catering companies; cooked for under-privileged kids; taught classes, and lastly, even dabbled with food styling as an assistant.  Despite being inconsistent, it was all successful and gratifying, but I still felt lost. 


    I went back to a restaurant kitchen because I missed the sounds, the adrenaline; I missed the prep.   I just love it—all of it. 


    I also went back because I felt like I still needed more time under my belt—more experience.  


    One day, while working part-time at two restaurants and cooking for a private residential client, I was asked to be a part of a new restaurant and help with the opening.  My chef approached me, said he needed strong cooks, and implied that there was sous chef potential.  He told me how much he paid his sous; he told me that I had balls and he wanted me on his team.


    Although it was never promised, of course, in my head, I was on the road to becoming a sous. I was working towards and being considered for it, and a number of people knew that I was up for that position. I thought wanted it. What I really wanted was a new challenge—to give my career a boost, as well as my confidence.


    What did I do?  I changed my LinkedIn profile to read “training sous.” I told my friends, my family; everyone was so proud.  I continued to work the line in order to know all aspects of the restaurant and the stations, trailed with prep, etc.   When announcements were made, my name was not listed as sous.  That day I went to the bathroom and told myself not to cry. Do not cry! I became a line cook again and I realized that I wanted more than that.   I felt so ashamed.  I continued on the line, but it became clear to me that I was not exactly passionate about the food, so I broke the news to my chef two months later. 


    As heartbreaking as it was to walk away, I understood that this wasn’t the challenge I was looking for. Still, I feared that I had backed down. Had I decided too hastily? These and other doubts have continued to surface. As much as I love it, I sometimes ask myself, did I choose the wrong career? I wonder if I would I still be this heady and crazy if I had taken a different path. At the same time, I worry that deciding not to be a line cook anymore is a form of giving up.


    I have also wondered what it would be like to work at a legitimate fine dining establishment. It always loomed over my head. What would it be like to use a spoon and do those cool swivels and swirls? Like a painting! So I quenched my thirst for that moment and did a stage at one of those places. It felt cold; there were no smiles and if there were, they were questioning smiles.  The food was gorgeous, though—too precious, but so damn beautiful. Unfortunately I did not get to taste many of the plates.  As I stood there watching each person work his two plates, I knew this wasn’t what I wanted in cooking. I can check that off my list; there’s one less thing to wonder about now.  

    With a rocky personal relationship, and a job that was unsatisfying, I gave my notice to my boss.  A cook told me, “I think the best thing for you is to go get an office job.”  I responded, “Nope.”


    I need advice. There is still so much I can learn from other seasoned chefs.


    One thing I know for sure: I want to cook.