Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hola, amigo! Tiene trabajo?

In my new role as Republican....I really have to object to the Compromise Immigration Bill. My objections are practical, personal, economic, cultural......and culinary.

Here is how illegal immigration affects the restaurant world: all the cooks, diswashers and busboys are Mexican. Spanish is the only language spoken in 95% of restaurants. Ninety percent of these workers are illegal.

Twenty years ago, I had a restaurant full of illegal workers. We had two good guys, Juan and Juan. Or Juan and Two, as we jokingly referred to them.

And as Hose A and Hose B. Hysterical. (There is some historical precedence here: there is an entire town in California called Coalinga now. Used to be Coaling A. Coaling B did not make the 72 hole cut).

There was also a dishwash crew. They shared one name, and one social security number. The cast changed a lot, as people went back and forth to Mexico. I didn't care....the job got done, and there was always someone there. Juan (who became Emigdio when he came out of the closet) was a meticulous parrot. Show him once, and he could do anything forever perfectly. His Caesar salad was still the best ever in Carmel, before or since. Juan, or Two......who was also called Nueve Dedos after an unfortunate knife accident..... held three jobs, one of which was cleaning the restaurant after service. He also catered with us, so that was four jobs. He was smart, cute and hustled like a motherfucker. After Silver Jones closed, Nueve Dedos went on to Hula's for a dozen married, had kids....and still had two or three jobs. The American Dream.

Silver Jones was a simple restaurant. Three or four apps, wood-fired pizzas, a couple of salads, a couple of desserts. The hotside stuff was all done by one or two white guys, but there were only a half dozen entrées. Not rocket science. And, though it was radical in 1990 to change the menu every didn't change much. Our chef was a troglodyte who would have been thrilled with frozen farm salmon. Parrots were perfect in the environment.

I also used illegals building my house. Two come to mind in particular. One guy was ever after known as Chino. My property was affordable only because it was completely buried in poison oak. I am not affected by poison oak (Brendan and I still do all the trail clearing at Tassajara because of this weird genetic superpower). Many Mexicans are not affected either, so I would gather a crew on my days off and we would swing machetes for eight hours....pile the shit up and burn it. Truly a job not many Americans were lining up for. Then.

The crew changed daily. The work was brutal and not for everyone. I paid well, fed them well, and there was always cold beer and sodas. This one weird dude who became Chino would not eat with the rest of us. He would take his lunch and go off into the bushes with his magazine on his own, and meet us later.

Some few days after he started the guy no-showed. The rest of the crew told me that he had been rushed to the hospital, all swollen up.....his face so swollen that he looked like a Chinaman. He needed money for his treatment, and I kicked it in. Turns out old Chino was deeply in love with Miss September, and at lunchtime would go off and spank the chango. He wound up with systemic poison oak poisoning and swelled up like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon. Probably the only guy ever to sneak BACK across the border.

The other guy I remember was from El Salvador. He came from a ruling family....but he was a fuck up. He flunked out of law school, got his girlfriend pregnant and got a tattoo. Still, he was among the nomenklatura so his family covered him....and got him a job with the police as a paralegal stenographer.

After a year of recording El Salvadorian police interrogations it occurred to this kid that he was the only living witness to some crazy war crimes and some even crazier political connections to the gringos (think Ronnie Reagan, Jesus' younger brother....) The kid wisely took a powder and walked from El Salvador to Salinas. I found him in the lineup at Kasey's reading a Spanish language copy of ''Ulysses"....handsome, fit, four languages, law degree almost....and not allergic to poison oak. Key skills for the new millenium global economy.

Fast forward twenty years. We have no illegal workers in our business. They can't keep up. Well, that El Salvadorean probably could......

I speak pretty fluent Spanish, so it is not communication that is the problem. It is that our focus is completely foreign to immigrant culture: we are highly competitive internally, focussed on details and subtleties and performance under pressure. We don't give a shit about the money....we actually strive to create. It is a culture of professionalism and creativity. If the creative level and creative pressure drops.....I lose workers.

Brendan and I start freaking out on Wednesday night about Monday dinner. How can we push the envelope? Edamame purée with the veal cheeks? And this is for the Cachagua Store!

And we are in a crappy valley walking distance from two trailer parks in the mountains of California. Picture what it is like in Nueva Jork.....College kids working for free 100 hours a week just to breathe the air around Wylie Dufresne......

Meanwhile, everywhere else it is Parrot City. Especially in California....and super especially in Carmel. Show the cheap Mexican worker how to make the plate over. He can do it speed....and come up with a reasonable approximation of the original dish and never complain. About pay, working conditions, benefits, ingredients....."Bring it, bitch....I can deal with it." Pretty soon, the only workers that CAN deal with it are illegal Mexicans. California kitchens wind up reflecting the culture of impoverished Mexico....either urban or country. Subsistence culture. Do just enough to get by.

"Volume cures all" is the modern restaurant mantra. Lotsa volume, minimal cost.

Sorry, folks. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Or parrots.

In real kitchens, guys get in fist fights over colors and textures. If some prick cuts corners and doesn't pull the basil leaves before he blanches them for the basil oil....someone (everyone) will notice the tannic bitterness imparted by the stems in the final product. All hands will be alert to the difference between adding the malt flour instead of rice flour to the tempura mix. Is the extra malty carmelization a good thing? When the baby beets get a centimeter too big, will the waiters be able to sell borscht, or do we just toss the motherfuckers? No one suggests using the wrong SHAPE ingredient......

But, the real kitchens are being outcompeted by the Parrot Kitchens. Try to find a proper meal in Carmel right now. Where? PassionFish is in PG. We are all the way out in Cachagua. Stokes is in Monterey....and is ohso lonely.

A kid that can notice the difference between stemmy basil oil and pure leaves is worth at least twelve bucks an hour for prep on artistic and intelligence grounds alone.....and the lead line cook at the Rio Grill probably gets less. Even at Stokes, the sous chef makes $37k for a 60 hour week.....Twelve bucks an hour. You want art for twelve bucks an hour? Maybe if it is bodypainting supermodels....but putting up with extreme heat, pain, pressure and stress for long hours in a commercial kitchen.....not so much.

Arturo, the recently fired chef at the Peppoli at Spanish Bay got $65k. $15 per hour....and he is an honest-to-God Neapolitan food Nazi-psychotic artist who trained in Hell with actual creative geniuses. He was replaced by a guy who can follow a recipe (devised by Arturo) for less money. And less vacation time. And less everything interesting to the diner.

Arturo's bosses are beholden to shareholders....Clint, Peter Ueberoth, etc.....who need to support their livestyles with their portfolios. They have made the decision, and been supported in their assumptions by actuarial gnomes....that you will not notice the difference between Arturo from Napoli.....and Arturo from Mexicali.

Our kitchens are being dumbed down....and it is a race for the bottom now between a public starved for a hint decency and cool who are clueless that they have lost all respect from the industry....and a workforce who sees that lack of decency and respect every day when they punch in.

Have you eaten at the Rio Grill recently? Could you gag it down? Don't answer.....And do you think there are not American citizens lined up ready to work there? Well, not for that kind of money.......

So, to finish up on the restaurant business.......My number one appetizer girl is Rachelle (aka Rose of BlogFame). She is graduating from high school next week and booted from her house. She needs a house, a car and a job.....all in a week. She is one of the most intuitive, hard working, sensitive and creative people I have ever worked with.....all the more so because her intuition, sensitivity and creativity is forged in the fire of weird social pressure and fucked up working conditions that is catering. How can she pay rent, insurance and gas in Carmel for less than $15 per hour? As much as I love her.....she ain't Arturo di Napoli. She will be better than he ever could imagine.......but do I bet on her in this environment?

If Rachelle is an you buy in at $15 per hour? If I can't support her.....she would be paid maybe $8 in a modern Carmel Mexican kitchen.....and subject to every manner of social, sexual, cultural and physical harrassment known to man. And probably not make it. If she did....all that discretion, creativity and sensitivity is out the window.

This now sounds racist. Mexican culture bad.....Mike's yuppie culture good.

No.....back in the day......true Mexican culture was superior to ours: family based, traditional, intact, tied to longstanding cultural and religious values and the land and sea.

We have destroyed all that. Our Mexicans live in a culture of subsistence and survival. Living the life of a lie....illegally..... does that to you. Twelve dollars an hour is a good thing, to be aspired to in Mexican restaurant land. And, in the kind of perro-comé-perro world we have created for our immigrant servants the idea that it would possibly matter whether the basil stems are included in the basil oil with the leaves or not because of issues of tannins is completely ludicrous and unteachable. You need highly educated white kids for that.....or Mexicans with one job and an absence of fear.

This attitude is spread across the entire spectrum of craft and industry. This week I have to decide whether to front another month's mortgage payment to one of my bartenders....a union carpenter and heavy equipment operator who has been unemployed for a year....and is now so depressed he is not even any good for bartending. Meanwhile, walking distance from his soon-to-be-foreclosed-upon house is a jobsite where illegals hammer together Brazilian hardwoods for a horse barn in the fifth house of some rich guy from Texas who is saving five or six bucks an hour on skill, subtlety and creativity. And citizenship, legality and morality.

Not to mention the hidden social costs of my bartender crashing out....losing his house onto a glutted real estate market and sub-prime lending market....and Medi-Cal picking up his certain to come drug and alcohol related medical costs.....forget housing, there isn't any....and finally the pathetic costs of burying the poor fuck.....

We don't hire illegals. My competitors do. They have a price-point advantage of 50% in labor costs. I hire your sons and daughters and give them lives and careers......and my own government supports my competitors in their criminal activities.

I am always amused when my fellow Republicans laugh about the socialist hell that is Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Free medical care, free education, subsidized housing....all paid for by crazy taxation.

Guys....wake up. We have the same situation is just not the citizens that are being cared for.

Meanwhile, we just got hired by a fella that has as guests next week the owners of Pebble Beach Corp, as mentioned above. This guy was bumped to us by Mrs. Hatfield, grace a dieu.

The menu he wants? Salad. Beef with no sauce. Twice baked potato. Maybe with some cheese in there, you know?

Will this guy notice the diameter of the beets? Or how we somehow leave the tails on them? Or the way the drops of balsamic reduction are shaped? Or if we use coconut cream in the dressing instead of the milk? Don't talk about the basil oil......

Am I going to work for him anyway? Yup.

I guess I am just an old whore....hoping the guy will notice my charms leave twenty bucks on the dresser when he leaves in the morning....

I wish I had some Mexicans to cook for him.

Maybe I can get some guys from the Rio Grill.......I could charge him $35 an hour and pay them $10......


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

It's Cachagua......

Sunday was Mother's Day......Duh.

This is not a big deal in Cachagua. Most Mothers out here have separated from their sons.....legally, physically, or spiritually. Often it is or the other is actually incarcerated, and jail collect phone calls are really expensive.

Imagine our shock to get the phone calls that two tables of people were coming out to Cachagua for brunch from Pebble Beach: Mrs. Hatfield!!! And another couple of nice, refined and rare left wing residents: the Evan's, who sponsored Paul Hodes successful congressional campaign in VERMONT for chrissakes, starting three years ago. Way before it was cool.

If you are not a regular follower of this blog.....Mrs. Hatfield is our Number One Favorite Lady....and client. She runs five or six houses, one of which is conveniently located in Pebble Beach. Her husband plays golf with George Bush.....and still likes the guy.....and she is a visual artist and clean freak. Who supports Teresa Heinz Kerry......Go figure.

She also is in the middle of a battle with a recurrence of lymphoma. We have been dropping off chicken broth, Vasquez strawberries, and my strawberry jello for her during the chemo. My last drop I found her in the garage of the Pebble Beach house wrestling with a giant barbeque in her bathrobe and straw hat (to hide the chemo hair loss).

"Bob (a Viacom board member) just gave us a new barbeque, and I wanted you guys to have our old one....if you want it. I just wanted to move it outside where you can get at it....."

What happened to the fucking cancer? The woman is worried about her caterer when she is supposed to be in bed fighting for her life? And she is coming for brunch?

Oh, crap......back to civilization. We gotta clean up. Brunch at The Store is normally just locals. Our standards are somewhat lax.

Town people, despite the way they mob The Place on Mondays....don't quite fit. Like last Monday....a gorgeous spring evening. A TownPerson complained that the sun was in her guests' eyes....."Do Something! Stop the sun!"

Well....Even for Irish guys this is a tall order: the curtains are cut from butcher help there. And, I have noticed that the sun often moves ten minutes it would be gone, what the fuck is your problem?.... and anyway all of us were actually pleased by the gorgeous, golden light that was now flooding the place.....the sun moving around and all..... and newly shining in those paper bedecked windows after eight month's absence.

I responded the only way I knew how: "I am sorry for the sunlight, ma'am.....That is why we don't wash the windows......"

The woman looked like she had been pole-axed: she had no clue, no sense of irony, no point of reference. We really are Indian Territory, and I guess I am Sitting Bull.

Anway in the face of Nice People From Town Coming For Brunch:

We scrubbed, we organized, we swept. We washed the fucking windows. I went in at 6am to get my food scene together: the cast-iron eBay waffle griddle, the cast iron aebelskiver pan, home-made English muffins (started the night before) the normal stuff.

Bernardus was having a Mother's Day Brunch for $65. Ours was neatly positioned at $6.50. Gas is expensive. Really. We are 25 minutes from Bernardus, and at least five dollars in gas money......The other costs are spiritual and social, I guess.

Amanda and I assigned special tables for the Evan's and the Hatfield's. Flowers. Linen napkins. I tried to express to my brunch waitress that the ONLY reason we were opening for brunch was that Mrs. Hatfield was coming in. And the Evan's.

The first guy through the door was Grant Risdon, one of our pet homeless outlaw wino pet humans. Grant has a fixed income from the lawsuit from the beating he got from the sheriffs after he lassoed one and dragged him a half mile forty years ago, and comes in every day. We get his check....we keep him alive. Next, a family involved in gunfire litigation with one of my store ladies....marijuana growing related water issues might be involved....walked in. They had reservations. My waitress, who walks over from the trailer park to work, could not conceive that there might be a difference in treatment between Grant, the pot people, the Hatfield's, and the Evan's. She gave Grant the Evan's table, and the pot people the Hatfield table. With the orchids, the linen napkins......

"They had reservations!! I gave them the reserved tables!! And Grant likes orchids! What is your problem?"

As Brendan says: "It's Cachagua". They are untrainable. Trotsky would be proud....the class structure has been destroyed or inverted. Grant, who costs us $3,000 a month is just as important as the Hatfield's.....who bring us $50,000 a year.

For their part, the Hatfield's acted as if it was normal to sit at a table with no linen or silverware, with the orchids at the table next to them with the mountain people pot growers, and the toothless old bandit with HIS own orchids. Mr. Hatfield asked me: "Is this your normal crowd, or did you just bring them in for us?" Restaurant shills?

I was suddenly hit by PTSD......Post Traumatic Shill Disorder. The idea that people would pay people to eat in restaurants so they looked busy......Gong!

I worked at The Colony Restaurant in New York City, back in the day. It was started in 1917, and quickly became a Big Money clubhouse. Big enough that the old maitre d'hotel, Ciro runs New York's longest running and most expensive restaurant, Le Cirque. The Colony was Jackie Kennedy, Gloria Vanderbilt, the Nixon girls, Truman Capote, Pablo Escobar, Cordelia Biddle Duke that. It is featured in the original "Sabrina" with Audrey Hepburn. The place was huge during Prohibition....the backbar with all the booze was in an elevator that disappeared into the basement with a touch of a button. I was the youngest winesteward in New York history, with the biggest winecellar.....based upon the fact that I had actually once been in a vineyard, I guess.

Unfortunately, the place had been purchased from the Italians by an ex-Hitler youth named Carl Demler. He was a Cornell person, like me. When it became apparent that the place was not flowering under his guidance......he put it on the market and tried to dump it. He was such a putz that he tried to sell it to the supposed heirs to the Romanovs.....the descendents of Anastasia, who may or may not have been in the cellar with the Bolsheviks, and may or may not have lived.....and they may or may not have been descended from her. But they had a great publicist!

Business was slow. Carl had alienated the entire City of New York. I will go into chapter and verse at a later date....but I am sure I am partially responsible (see post about tossing the Stock Exchange member in the dumpster). And there was the Truman Capote thing on the Johnny Carson show.....and the Salvador Dali thing with the wife having sex with the Jesus Christ SuperStar guy......and the thing with Mr. Revson of Revlon and his split-toothed supermodel girlfriend while his wife was dying of cancer.....and the thing with the hookers......and the thing where the chef had me murder the swan in Central Park for the Arab guy....and the thing with Andy Warhol's boy/girlfriend's dog.....the thing with the Beignets Souflée guy with the busted colostomy bag. Wow. Which Step is it when you say you are sorry? Sorry, Carl..........

Anyway, Carl was sure the faux-Romanov's were gonna buy the place.....if it just looked busy. He asked me to call my friends in to fill the place up, and look nice and act cool. Not a problem. My friends were typically broke and hungry....and fairly cool.

The problem was that Carl was a cheap prick. Despite trying to sell a million dollar place, he would not let me bring in a helper in the dining room. He worked the door, as faux-maitre d'hotel.....and his mom cooked. I was captain, barman, waiter, busser, sommelier, bitch.

Unfortunately, all my buddies showed up. Including my pot dealer, and her boyfriend.....a drummer in the band at the National Lampoon show.....some guy named Chevy. He was a diabetic and kept passing out during the shows, and didn't like her trash cans full of pot in the apartment, so she was gonna dump him. Soon. She had an Irish Setter, I had an Irish Setter....walks in The Park......

Anyway, I was slammed. All the shills got: Escargots, Duck á L'Orange, Marron Glacée. These dishes were chosen by the relative cheapness of the ingredients.

The Colony was known for its tableside service. From the gueridon....the war wagon, a little cart with knives, forks, platters, and a Sterno-fueled stove we did everything. When we did a Caesar salad, we started with coddled eggs and put it together right there. Crepes Suzette. Steak Diane. Chateaubriand. Flames. Carving.

Ditto with the duck: Duck á L'Orange. Carmelize some sugar in the pan (sugar cubes rubbed on the outside of the oranges). Butter. Cognac. Flame. Orange juice. Grand Marnier. Flame. Carve the duck. Present.

Meanwhile, all my loser friends were packing the dining room, scarfing snails, drinking champagne.....and watching me race around like a long-haired, Irish Lucille Ball......cutting, slashing, flaming, pouring, serving. While Carl sat there sucking up to the faux-Romanov's, calm as could be.

Oh....and, we had a piano guy. Tinkling away on an upright. Carl could not afford a baby grand, so we just thumbtacked tablecloths on the back of the upright to hide the bare wood.....The piano guy was a super-stoned, heroin kind of gay guy.....that was a friend of somebody named Billy Joel. We heard "Piano Man" all night, every night.

It turned out that Carl could also not apparently afford new Sterno. He would take all the old Sterno at the end of the night, and pack the little pieces into one can. It would burn.....sort of.

Back to Post Traumatic Sterno Disorder.

I was working like a around, serving escargots here.....dragging the gueridon over to another table, flaming, carving......dragging it over to a new table. While my shill friends snapped their fingers and ordered more champagne. From me.

I finally got to the last table, over in the corner by the piano.....with the beautiful pot dealer and her friend named after the car. Carl continued to engage the Romanov's....and it was looking good. As I moved the gueridon over to do their ducks, I bumped the fucking wagon a little too hard and the Sterno rolled off and hit the floor. I swooped it up (coolly invisible to the Romanov's and Carl) and got going with the caramel, the rubbed sugar cubes, the flames and the ducks.

In the middle of my presentation, the Chevy guy started pointing over my head and squirming.

"Yeah, whatever......fuckhead-diabetes-no-pot-man-Harvard drummer boy. Workin' here!"

I finally heard a shriek from Piano Man. I turned around to a wall of flames.

The Sterno chunks had exploded like a incendiary grenade and pieces had rattled off out of the can and under the piano and set the linen and the actual piano ablaze. Ablaze.

Carl actually continued to sit there and pretend that nothing was wrong with his lunch with the Romanov's.

I raced behind the bar and grabbed a seltzer bottle....the same kind of seltzer bottle that made the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges......and hosed down the flaming piano. My friends all cheered and laughed hysterically. The Chevy guy looked bitter......

Anyway......The Romanov's did not buy the place. Carl went broke and opened a famous piano store in New York.....something about ''Beethoven". The Chevy guy became Chevy Chase. His ex-girl friend is certainly still beautiful......

And the PTSD remains.....

With my Vietnam can be triggered by the sound of helicopters.....

With me......just say "Restaurant Shills".

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Terrorism: It's all about ME!

This month a number of threads in the Big Web came together:

1) Federal Attorneys Fired!
2) Yugos attack Fort Dix!
3) NRA Advocates Guns in Classrooms!
4) Police Chief in Mexico Assasinated!
5) Queen Toasts Power Sharing in Ireland!
6) Standards for Chocolate Gutted!

Let's see how this works......

First and most is now legal to call a mixture of cocoa powder and vegetable oil "chocolate''. Like grain alcohol and fruit juice is ''wine''. Anyone remember Boone's Farm? So, a five-hundred year tradition of defining chocolate as cocoa fat or butter, cocoa and POSSIBLY milk products is out the window. At the same time we are concentrating on single source chocolate (raised by one grower in Africa) the corporate tools have taken the entire industry in the other direction.

It is not important what something ''is'', it is only important how it can be marketed. Perception is reality. Remember Bill Clinton parsing ''is''? Democrats voted for this one......

Onwards to more marketing: Terror.

Apparently, the consistent rationale for firing four of the eight federal attorneys was that they were not pursuing gun cases hard enough.


I thought these guys were the gun guys. Guns for all, all the time. After all, it was Clinton that was in charge at Ruby Ridge and Waco, not the Republicans. Remember Janet Reno?

Meanwhile.......I loved the NRA stance on the Blacksburg college shootings: "If the other students were armed, this never would have happened......"

I agree.

Teenagers have done so well with automobiles, motorcycles, sex, drugs, and alcohol.....why not give them guns, too?

Who is in charge of the NRA? Ozzie Osborne?

Meanwhile, I am a gun guy, sort of. I am a recovering engineer who works as a chef, for chrissakes. I like machines. I like fire. I was a fencer in college.....long before I discovered Henckel and Shun. I have a Dunstall Norton Commando café racer with the 850 11.5/1 compression Combat Engine in the garage.....and three Alfa's and a Sunbeam Alpine in there with them. Then there is the 30-30, the Brazilian saddle gun 12 gauge, the steel Ruger mini-14, the chopper, the varmint rifles.....No pistols.....but some air guns! All legal.

Steel. Oil. Acceleration. Loud noises don't hurt either. Forget opposable thumbs....This is the real difference between us and the protzoaic mess that laps at our feet.....

I promise you....give me a less-than-robustly-heterosexual-proselytizing-vegan UC Santa Cruz student, 300 rounds and two hours at the range at Laguna Seca......and I will give you a new NRA member.

Anyway...what gun cases were these guys not prosecuting? Democrats are not big gun guys. In fact, many gun guys would love to have a couple of hours free-fire in Iraq.....or South Central, probably and unfortunately. These are Bush guys......I know these guys!

Last month, I was given the opportunity to buy an AK-47 or an M-16.....or several, for that matter......for $400 apiece. I was in: I don't have a violent agenda......I like machines, and I am a history nut. I promise that the folks who offered the guns were not Democrats, or Al Queda, or even traditional criminals......normal, tractor-driving country folks.

Well, turns out they might have been FBI!

The six idiots that organized behind the Bosnian pizza delivery guy to attack Fort Dix went down when they met the FBI guy with the guns! Hey, that could have been us!

Since I am fairly sure that this is now a client-free zone.....let me describe the Cachagua version of "Proper Use of Automatic Weapons".

For the Millenium, a local faux-rancher hired us to do his big parties. He was not a real rancher, but a guy from Florida with a NASCAR team and a nationwide rental business who had the bucks to buy out an old family ranch.

Oh, and the guy was a devout Catholic. (Please note: I am descended from a family thick with Jesuits on the male side, and Sacred Hearts on the female side. My aunt Cecily rode with Pancho Villa in Northern Mexico on his trains as a young nun. She taught Keats. Go figure.)

I can talk shit about Catholics. I was the Bishop's Altar Boy.

Anyway, this idiot invited everyone in Cachagua to his Millenium party in a tent in a pasture. Free food. Free booze. Free music.

Everyone came. I mean every upstanding citizen, every quiet hillbilly, and every in-bred, drug-addicted, wife-beating, child molester in the hills. It poured rain in buckets. I (former electrical engineer, and genetic Irish shovel wielder) spent my time digging moats around the electrical boxes....trying to ignore the sheets of water pouring down the faces of the boxes. Lights, heaters, bands with amplifiers......300 amps of service. Oh, and there was lightning as well.

We pulled it off, though. No one died (the ultimate ideal in the world of catering).

Faux-ranch Guy refused to believe that the crowd had drunk 30 cases of beer and 15 cases of wine in 8 hours in a pouring rainstorm on The Millenium Day.....and stiffed us for $1500. Are you kidding? I could pick five guys with JOBS in Cachagua and we could run up a $1500 bar bill anywhere.....and still be throwing bricks through the window of the package store at 1 am. This guy demanded to see the re-cycle, three weeks after the event. Yeah, well....fuck him.

Meanwhile, Faux-Ranch guy loved his Jesus. Around the time of Jesus' birthday the next year he put up a Nativity Scene by the side of Carmel Valley Road at Tassajara Road. Fine.

On the next New Year's Eve it snowed heavily. My loyal crew of locals obeyed tradition and drove 4wd's up to Chew's Ridge and went skiing. On the way back, they noticed the Faux-Ranch Nativity Scene. They stole Baby Jesus, Joseph and a couple of the Wise Guys.

They do like The Sopranos, my boys.....but Carmel Get-High School left them so culturally bankrupt that they actually, innocently called the statues The Wise Guys......not The Wise Men.

Their plan was to strap Baby Jesus to the 4wd, and run him into Joseph on the Valley Road at a million miles an hour.....and film the whole thing. Turns out that Baby Jesus was so creepy looking that even these heathens passed on that plan. Instead, they took Joseph and The Wise Guys up the mountain and machine-gunned them in my garden.

Some people have scarecrows in protecting their veggies.......I have Sarajevo Joseph and The Machine-Gunned Wise Guys among the sorrell.

Keeps the birds away.........What the hell!

So.....home-grown terror:

The single blessed result of the past month was the power sharing agreement in Northern Ireland. Ian Paiseley and Gerry Adams are actually talking and cooperating....supposedly.

Ireland was a mess 40 years ago. There was a religiously, culturally and economically oppressed majority who rose against the ruling elite. Civil war broke out. Gunmen captured busses full of Christian white people and shot all the Catholics.....or all the Protestants. Whatever. They could tell who was who by looking at them. Walls were built to separate religions in the capitol city. Sound familiar?

There were twenty-five years of anti-civilian terror....that technically had followed an even THOUSAND years of terror and oppression of said minority. The IRA conducted a vicious terror campaign.....Guns, bombs, rocks even. The money came mostly from Americans. In bars, of course. Guinness is good for you.......

The British responded equally viciously with their military. "Armoured cars and tanks and guns came to take away our sons......But EVERY MAN will stand behind.....the men behind The Wire." The Wire was Long Kesh, which made Abu Ghraib look like Club Med.

And then the IRA got smart. In the early nineties, the High Command stopped targeting civilians and British military and went after commercial British targets. Bombs went off outside skyscrapers in financial London on Sunday mornings. No injuries or fatalites, but 80 stories of broken glass, in multiple buildings.

Soon, it became impossible to insure glass in downtown London. A small thing, but picture the cost of all the windows in the Prudential Building in Newark. Suddenly the intransigent, right-wing, fuck-you government of Margaret Thatcher was brought to heel by her masters. The corporations were losing money! Oh fuck no Jesus God the windows the insurance!

The political settlement process started almost immediately. Bill Clinton threw his weight behind it.....and deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.....blow-jobs, globalization or no. It took until last week to sink the deal.

I leave you folks to draw your own parallels to now: when the economic incentives for businesses to reap financial rewards from the conflict in Iraq ends.....or when the pain becomes too severe......the war will end. In weeks......

Finally, more home-grown terrorism:

My friend Horace used to invite us down to Mexico in the early eighties. Horace's dad had been the dentist to the Presidents of Mexico.....and Horace worked for Mosler Safes....a really, really good business in Mexico.

Horace had a house in Chapultepec in Mexico City, and a house in Tepotzlan near Cuernavaca. His friend John White had a posada in Cuernavaca, and his other friend had a house in Jocotopec in Jalisco that included Curt Flood's parrot (this proves that I am old....Curt Flood was the first free-agent, a St. Louis Cardinal, and his parrot had been in so many games that it sang the National Anthem in a heartbeat). His other friend had a house in Ajijiic on Lake Chapala just down from Jocotopec.....and his OTHER friend had a house on the cliffs in Acapulco in the beautiful part of town between the cliff divers and the bull ring. The house had the first infinity pool ever built.....the water would cascade down the cliffs into the Pacific on a promontory just opposite The Island of The Burro Borracho......don't ask.

Horace had the keys to the entire country of Mexico.....and despite this power was......and remains.......the kindest, smartest, most considerate businessperson I have ever met. If Horace were Secretary of State......he would have the Nobel Peace Prize.....and we would be out of Iraq. We would not be IN Iraq.

Anyway, Mexico is all about class....class as in Marx....and despite Horace's was clear that the catering geeks from California had some serious make-up to do socially in old Mexico. My dear wife and my partner Valentine were oblivious to the guilt and spent their days working on malignant melanoma, comatose under the tropical sun. Meanwhile, I got up at 4am, grabbed Brendan (18 months) and went to the local market to buy food for the day. I would return, cook at least two meals with the abuelas in the back......pretend to dine with my friends, and fall asleep exhausted to start again the next day.

Brendan, even at a year and six months was a huge help. He was blond and blue eyed, and very smiley. Upon entering the crazy, gnarly Mercado Indio at 4:30am the first abuela to spot him would grab him and run off. They called him Zarco, after a famous general of Pancho Villa's that had blue eyes and a generous libido in Sonora during the Revolution. The irony of Aunt Cecily riding with Zarco and Pancho seventy years before was not lost on me.

Anyway, the kid was safe......the grannies loved him. I would do my shopping, the abuelas would brutally critique my purchases and return him to me, well-fed and unscathed. I do wish that I had a foto of the Sunday morning in Taxco when I retrieved him...... gnawing on a goat-head from the traditional Sunday morning goat head soup. And you thought it was a Rolling Stone album!

After a couple of weeks of this I was wearing out. Late nights and early mornings......and the store-bought Percodan were losing their ooompf. We hit Acupulco after a long drive with one windsheild wiper through the mountains and multiple Army check points....... to make sure we were not guerrillas. I was really confused......Acapulco is in the State of Guerrero, for chrissakes. Aptly named, I guess.

Anyway....more of the same: big house, combative abuelas, gorgeous sun and water, comatose wife and partner, overwhelming guilt and hunger. I hit the Mercado Indio like Sherman hit Atlanta. The most beautiful fruits and vegetables I had ever seen....or have seen since. Gorgeous fish and shellfish. Stunning meats and offal. In Mexico it is VERY important to get to the market early.....refrigeration is not a huge value.

The beautiful, kind Mexican people welcomed us like brothers.....and Brendan and I quickly had a routine. Abuelas for the boy......Fruitas y legumbres for papa.

Acapulco was different than inland, though. I would work from 4am until about 10pm and fade. Because all the gorgeous houses on the point were lit up, and because of the geography of Acapulco Bay....a party boat would pull up right offshore and blast away until all hours, starting about 10pm. BeeGee's. Tie a Yellow Ribbon, for fuck's sake.

This was like a mini Love Boat, with big white decks for dancing, bars, restaurant, strings of lights like a Cal Worthington wetdream....and loud, loud music. Just when I was trying to get some sleep. And on and on until all hours of the night. Motherfuckers.

After a few days of this I had had enough. My contacts at the market (the minute you appear there are twenty college kids waiting to be runners for you and find you shit....even Keats scholars....and they were not elaborately right-wing kids). My Irish genetics led me to the simple solution to my growing exhaustion: explosives and rockets.

Not a problem, as it turned out. The abuelas vouched for me......well, really for Brendan, and I was IN. I met with the local Fidel look-alike, gave him all my cash (and some of Horace's) and they hooked me up.

My rockets were full on gorilla guerilla-style. This was 1982, and the cocaine/heroin economy had not reached this far north......or the left-wing politics had not reached this far south. Whatever. I needed my sleep.

The rockets had bodies made of tree limbs. As in kinda crooked. Very Williams-Sonoma. Cute. The warheads were wrapped in papier-maché. And they were not cheap. Again....whatever. I needed my sleep.

For the attack itself, I enlisted the help of the grandson of the main, gnarly abuela of the household. He was about 12, but he knew my revolutionary contacts at the market. Like all teenagers he had traditional values: Oil! Metal! Speed! Big Noise! Bright Light! Shock and Awe!

We waited until the height of the Party Boat Frenzy....about midnite. We set up our base just below the top of the cliff, and pounded pipes into the cliff to support the tree-branch bodies of our rockets. We were gonna get these "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" motherfuckers......

When the boat appeared, we prepared our rockets, our launch pipes. We actually saluted each other.

Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!

Our shit was together. First rocket burst over the dance floor and blew out all the strings of lights. Screams. Second rocket took out the band. Silence, except for the screams. The other rockets made direct hits to the hull and decks and left huge black stains all over the pristine white paint. Fuck you, Love Boat!

Victory!! The boat took off like a bat out of hell. High fives all around. Well, me and Francisco, anyway.

Sleep, beautiful sleep! "Flights of angels sing thee to they rest........."

Next night......

There were four boats with bands.

They had heard about the show from the cliffs.....and wanted to be part of it.

Get a clue, America. Listen........ for a change.

We are only 10 per cent of the world population....and only five percent of that bunch don't follow NASCAR.

And.......I was really bummed when I hit a nettle last week while reaching for the last chanterelle of the season. It numbed my hand for two days.

I did not call in an air strike.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I see dead people......

Well, not actually.

I see the LIVE people.

This Saturday we were working (Shock!! Horror!!) a lunch for a new favorite client. She forgot to tell us how many people were actually coming to the event (Shock!! Horror!!) so we had to call Amanda at The Store to drive to town with more plates and glassware.

Amanda was hung up in The Village: a motorcycle crash with a dead guy. She eventually arrived and passed on the info that a teenager had run over a sexy Japanese rice-burner across from The Running Iron. The same place where Chrissy was killed last year. There are now European-style Day-Glo green warning signs all over the place to mark the spot. Europe's only REAL cultural influence on Carmel....the color of the paint on the warning signs.

Chrissy was a Village icon: a nearly totally disabled woman with a five-speed, fuel injected wheelchair. She could use one hand, which ran the wheelchair controls and a computer that would spit out tapes of her words. Her high-speed car crash back in the day had left her with little nerve control of her facial muscles, etc. so she was iconically always wearing a Kleenex in the corner of her mouth to stop the she blasted by at 30 mph.

When our kitchen was at Rippling River.....some 15 years.....Chrissy was the queen. She had been there since the 60's, when there was a swimming pool and a hot tub......and all that implies for disabled, highly medicated, liquid nudity.

Rippling River became a HUD, then a County of Monterey facility.....and the pool and hot-tub were paved over. "You freaks are lucky to breathe our air!" seemed to be the message from dear old Ronnie Reagan.

Even so, Chrissy was the first to get a government subsidized 4wd electric wheel chair....and she used to push that baby to the max. She usually would blast by our kitchen on two of the four wheels of her chair, hooting with joy.....her dog, Comet barely hanging on and trying to keep up.

Co-habitation was not allowed at RR, so her "care-giver" boyfriend fought a constant battle with the County Housing Authority over his residence. And, just because her body had sucummbed to her accident.....her party spirit was still strong. The docs gave her enough meds that she could stay in the zone, and share enough into the local community to support her modest life-style.

The never talked about dirty secret of our local underclass is just this issue: meds. At Rippling River the people have genuine disabilities....mental, physical, spiritual. The rent is supported by a less-than-benevolent government.....but many of the people are reduced to cat food status. In our tenure we gladly handed over any leftovers people wanted, but that was nothing. Meanwhile, the docs supervising these folks were generous with the meds. The residents were often faced with a quandry: food or pain? Sell off the "extra" meds to help the $420 a month (less rent) go further. One old guy actually told me that he found that if he just turned up the TV a little louder, he could go without his afternoon Vicodin. Thanks, Oprah!

Most of the people were just schmoes....but at least a couple were heart-rending. My friend Madeleine was a 90-something Frenchwoman who had outlived all her people. Now.....I feel about French people about the way Patty Hearst feels about the SLA.....serious Stockholm Syndrome......but Madeleine was the real deal....a Heroine of the French Republic. Her husband was a Jew, and got popped by Klaus Barbie somewhere in the Central Massif. Madeleine was a typical Frenchwoman and refused to accept any male-related reality....and rescued the husband from a transport train in Germany. She hid him with neighbors and was so pissed she went on rescuing other guys throughout the war.

Her great sin was out-living all her people. To stay at Rippling River, you have to be ambulatory and be able to feed yourself. At the end, Madeleine could not leave her room, much less get to Safeway. We used to cook her lunch every day: old school French style. Sole meuniére, boiled potatoes with parseley. And, true to her genes, she would bitch us out if we slacked in any way. The other residents and the local crack-addicted caregivers covered for her until she finally went her lonely, heroic way to........wherever heroes go.

Our other guy was Jim. He was a young hot-shot pilot in WW2. He did not need food so much as the company of other hotshots. He would fight the arthritis and hobble out to walk his doggy every day and come by the kitchen to restore batteries by hanging with Brendan and the boys and breathing the testosterone.

Jim was one of the guys at the battle of Midway. That morning, they knew the Japanese carriers were out there because of intercepted de-coded signals....but not where. His patrol went out as far as they could from their carriers.....and then opted to stay out past the point where they had enough gas to be able to return. Long story short, they found the Japanese carriers, did a suicidally stupid torpedo run with no gas and suffered 90% casualties.....but turned the war around in an afternoon. Jim got $800 a month as a retired colonel.....and had oxycontin to sell from time to he was fat.

I am trying not to be political so much......but I think the true measure of a nation's military is not the quality of the toys in play, but the quality of care those that lay it on the line for us get in their later lives. Rippling River is full of vets who will be happy to share their meds in exchange for a TV dinner.....

Mission Accomplished!!

Anyway, back to the Dead People. Chrissy. Chrissy was a partier. She partied herself into her original crippling accident, and never looked back. One morning last year, possibly jacked on meds, and certainly FLYING in her chair.....she shot out into Carmel Valley Road and was flattened by a young guy in a big pick-up truck. Oh, well.....

There were testimonials to her courage fighting her her her spirit. All well deserved. There were multiple memorials....all tear-jerkers.

Meanwhile......what about the kid? This poor guy had his life ruined....and no one stepped up for him. A nice kid from a local Italian family......the killer of the poor crippled woman.

Yeah, who had a death wish for forty years......

This weekend it happened again. It turns out we knew the dead guy under the most recent pickup truck: Paul Sparks.

Paul was a total creep.....but he had a cute dog. George was an ancient tea-cup poodle with kidney problems.

We first met Paul when he moved to Cachagua and came for Sunday Brunch with George. He was afraid George would not be welcome in The Store.....but we gave George his own chair, his own bowl....and eventually George had his own dish on the menu. I hid a brand-new Teflon omelette pan for George so that I could make him an oil-free eggwhite omelette on Sunday mornings....while Paul read the paper and got schnockered on cheap rosé.

Paul was one of the weird, manipulative rude people. He would throw a shit-fit if his rosé was not available and cold. He would sit for hours and order weird dishes that even we would not cook. And under tip, or not tip at all. Paul was so weird and manipulative and creepy that we figured he was probably a serial killer. Really. Not so strange for Cachagua.....we have other guys like that.

But we loved George....and the whole idea of George. George was kind and polite and humble and appreciative. And owned by Paul....who was such a creep we actually talked about whether it was possible to sexually abuse a teacup poodle.....

Paul's last moment in The Store was on a Monday Night. He had reserved and no-showed on us a number of we had charged him anyway, and took a credit card hold on his table. This Monday he showed with a date, and proceeded to show off and act like a Michelin critic....snapping his fingers and being weird. After his first glass of wine, he went south.....and grabbed the ass of my 16 year old busgirl. In the middle of the craziness of Monday night I had to stop cooking and actually stop my cowgirl busgirls from setting Paul on fire where he sat.

"Think about George, girls. George is cute.....And, it is a wood building. And you have tickets up........"

Paul was heavily 86'd.....lucky to leave alive........ and we never saw him again until Saturday....under the wheels of the pickup.

Our first concern was for George, so we put County Animal Control on the case. Turns out George died a few days before Paul.

So....we have a probably drunk, possible serial-killing, certain child-molesting 78 year-old freak who crashes into a truck driven by an 18 year old girl who stalls in Chrissy's crosswalk. And dies.

And The Pine Cone is doing a story on how cute Paul was on his scooter (he went to meetings of The Scooter Club!)......

Meanwhile the girl is a wreck.....consumed by guilt. "What if.....what if......"

OK....sad story. Not much we can do about it since we already painted the crosswalk Euro-Green.....

My heart goes out to the poor kid that Chrissy hit....and the girl that Paul hit.....and to all of us that have lost the joy that their lives might have been in our little community without this dreadful, unnecessary guilt trip over one person that was ready to die....and another that needed to die. Those poor kids.

Then, just suppose there was another situation where young people randomly became responsible for the deaths of strangers and their friends in meaningless situation beyond their understanding or control. We won't even talk about the manipulation of their ideals and goals.....

We have more than 3,300 dead in Iraq. We have more than 25,000 badly injured.....and all of their friends and comrades who trained with them, loved them, fought with them, tried to save them at the last instant. Oh, yeah.....and the families. If accidentally being the agent for the death of a drunk child molester wrecks your spirit.....what does having your friend die in your arms do for your joie de vivre? Or have your buddy wind up drooling like Chrissy and lining up for the new 4wd wheel chair?

Oh....and having none of it matter at all. Mike Gravel on the Colbert Report tonight: "There is nothing to win!" As my friend Tommy said about foreign service: "Where the competition is fierce.......and the stakes are LOW!"

How many Rippling Rivers are we gonna have to build? And will the Republicans still be there to support the troops when they come back? Who will identify the Madeleine Blackmun's and care for them?

I guess we don't have to worry about the Vicodin and oxycontin supply for the next few decades.......

Small World....not getting bigger

Despite what the Chinese say....this may not be the Year of The Pig....

To us it seems to be The Year Of Being Nibbled To Death By Ducks. Cool clients being dropped by divorce and disease....worthy charities in more need than ever. It is not always about the money......

Our mission statement, somewhat different than Rupert Murdoch's......"There is a God.....and She has a Sense of Humor....."

An Irish Catholic's uninformed view of Buddhism and karma: we just buckle down, do our thing and try to weather the storm...

Last week's charity of note was CASA. I had this weird idea that CASA stood for Christians Against Substance Abuse. Back in the day, when my kids were still at the Carmel Get-High School, CASA sponsored what came to be known as "The Carmel 24 Hour Marijuana Brownie Cook-off". Kids ran around and got sponsors for so-and-so many miles, then got together on the Carmel Get-High track and ran for 24 hours. The Christian parents running the deal were religious in their security arrangements to eliminate alcohol from any possible appearance in the festivities. Kids went in, were searched, and locked down for the duration.

Yeah, well. Unbeknownst to the parents....Carmel kids are smart, inquisitive, irreverent, and seriously bored. It apparently never occurred to the parents that the kids' culinary skills were already way past meatloaf. This was a popular event....a sanctioned, co-ed, 24 hour party. With Jesus!

My favorite memory of the CASA event: arriving back in Carmel at midnight with a truck full of high school soccer players from an indoor game in Santa Clara. Our buddy Brent the painter was the security at the gate to the track.

Brent was also a soccer coach. (Word to the Christians: "Soccer" and "Security".....Antonyms).

Brent: "Hey guys! Come to check out the kids? Want some mushrooms?" He held out his thermos....


Anyway, some years later we were contacted by CASA to do a brunch for them at the Big Sur Marathon. Something about running and CASA. I said "Sure!" and gave them a great deal. After all, my kids had had a great time for years at their anti-drug marathon.

And, we HATE the Big Sur it was nice to be stalking their premises and sticking a thumb in their eye, serving better food for cheap than they could muster even for big yuppie bucks.

We have been doing this for some years now. I had never gone before last weekend. Amongst all the cancer cancellations, Gilda and I wound up with nothing on they got the A-team.

Turns out that this is a different CASA. These guys are Court Appointed Special Advocates. Supernice folks as it turns out. No Jesus, no substances, no guilt. Who knew?

Meanwhile, we still had the best food at The Marathon, even for cheap. I say this because our friend Dierdre from Sand City was the security at the VIP Hospitality tent. She couldn't gag down the Costco potato salad and leathery tri-tip, so she had me bring her a plate. No, she was not on mushrooms......though Bloody Mary's may have been involved.

The downside was that every single person entered in a Marathon-related event came up to our buffet and tried to grab shit. I was mean and brutal: "Fuck off, asshole!" Gilda was nice and politically kind: "Did you run for CASA? No? Well, maybe next year......Put down the strawberry, sir. Back away from the buffet!"

I explained to Gilda the difference between the two CASA's. This CASA is for people like our Victoria from Cachagua.

Victoria was a shy little ten year old with severe scoliosis. She used to come to The Store to buy cigarettes and beer for her mom....and we followed her progress through her surgeries at Stanford. She had a neon sign over her head: "VICTIM!" I tried to hire her to help me on Sunday mornings at one point....but her mom thought that I was a pervert for trying to get a ten-year old to work for me sweeping The Store. Supposedly her dad had already been there.....and was in prison for it.

Victoria finally got some attention....busted for smoking pot, running away from home, calling the cops on her crack-smoking mom, running away that. She quit school at 13, and I used to see her shoulder-tapping weird old dudes in two-wheel drive Toyotas at the local convenience store. She hitch-hiked a inappropriate places and times. I saw her with the crack-head landlord, and a bunch of other weirdos. It was pretty clear to me that she was hooking.....and I kept an eye out for her body in the ditches and creeks around the store. It was only a matter of time.....

Victoria finally fell in with Jay...another of the local low-lifes. Jay is the kind of low-life that painted all 2500 crosses for me last May for our Memorial Day fest. Jay got her off the street, back in school, and even doing her homework. Still....a 45 year old alcoholic drug addict with a 15 year old girl in a 100 sq ft cabin......Not so bueno.

Jay got evicted, arrested, fired from his job, run out of town. Victoria ditto. The County finally got Victoria.

Victoria became a ward of the State....and got a CASA.....a Court Appointed Special Advocate....since mom is a crackhead, dad is in jail for molesting her, and the only person who ever stood up for her is another alcoholic crackhead, however warpedly noble. The CASA is a volunteer who runs interference for her through the legal, moral, and social gauntlet.

Gilda felt SO much better about working at The Marathon for CASA.

Just then, one of my brides came up to our tent. No, not one of my own personal brides....but a lovely, cool young woman we helped get married last year. Her husband, an obviously insane person with too much time....or too much guilt....had actually run in the Marathon. He had swum to Alcatraz in the middle of the engagement party at a boathouse in San Francisco so I should not have been surprised, I guess.

They stood there talking politely and eyeing the buffet.

After having tossed roughly 2,000 people from our buffet I felt a little guilty about feeding this lady.....but meanwhile she and he had spent a ton of thousands of dollars with us.

Did I mention that her husband is the son of Pete...the host of the party at the Becky Rudeness Debacle I talked about earlier? Land of self-absorbed rudeness! Not him, mind you...he is the nicest guy in the world....but the beast was there, rearing its ugly head. Post Traumatic Rudeness Disorder!

The Bride noticed my discomfort and said: "It's OK, I am a CASA. I work in Salinas for them."

Oh, great! Thank you, Jesus. Cool.....Please eat. Have a strawberry!

"As a matter of fact, I am the CASA for someone from Cachagua."

"Do you know a girl named Victoria?"

I love my brides.....and I am so lucky to be part of their lives....

I just need a wake-up call now and then......

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rudeness and Naming Rights.....

Last weekend we did a party for a good friend and longtime client…..I remember three weddings. At the last wedding he asked me: “Michael, do I get a volume discount?”

I came right back: “Pete, you are a rug merchant… got a volume discount on the FIRST wedding!”

Anyway, he had a nice engagement party for a friend. It was a rainy day, so it made the whole outdoor pizza oven deal kind of problematic.

Ahh, what the hell. Do it anyway. Great food, great drama….hand made, primal food. Pete is worth it.

Day of the event dawned wet and drizzly as promised. Micah came in at nine and did his prep: the dough, carmelized onions, julienned and sautéed shiitakes, the chanterelles Dirk found, the ham, the prosciutto, the grated cheeses, the crème fraiche (well that was the day before….yeah, we make our own crème fraiche). He did all his knife work: agar agar mushrooms, the Bermuda onions, the sundried tomatoes, the leeks, the fennel, the Corralitos sausages….

Then, of course, you carefully pack all this stuff up: dough, the semolina, the flours, the oil guns, the paddles, the platters, the herbs and spices…oak stove wood just in case…..and drive it 30 miles to town in a rainstorm.

Upon arrival, the wood is wet. The genial host saved some stuff out….pine, plywood, some oak. We sort through all this, eliminate the actual toxic stuff, get the fire going in the pizza oven and ignore the rain pelting down. There is a permanent canopy….but it is for the counter in front of the pizza oven, not for the oven….or the guy standing in front of the oven doing the work.

The bride or the groom or someone is a vegetarian so we came up with a First Pizza: organic Sonoma soft ripened goat cheese base, carmelized onions, the chanterelles…stretched by some shiitakes….sundried tomatoes, toasted pinenuts, some basil oil…dusted with some Carr Valley cave aged sheep cheese….roasted on Kevin McGovern's hand split Cachagua oak….in the pouring fucking rain.

First person through the door is Becky, the across the street neighbor and part-time illegal caterer (gotta pay for all those face-lifts SOMEHOW....that airline pilot ex is just not delivering!). Becky has brought her own dish for the dinner in properly cool shopping bags….why let the pros have the whole stage? Becky stops by the pizza oven on her way inside, and juggles her Nordstrom bags full of Tupperware long enough to seize a piece of First Pizza.

“Not bad…..You know they have a pizza EXACTLY like this at Trader Joe’s for $6.99. The EXACT same thing…..You should check it out!”

And totters off on her so-four-years-ago-super-pointy Italian giant pumps…….knock-offs, of course.

It is not the 18 hour days….the rain, the 120 degrees-in-the-kitchen thing.....the lack of financial rewards……

It is the Becky’s of this world that make this job hard.

Our menu that Monday:

Just Like Trader Joe’s Roadhouse
There is a reason for the C-word, Becky….you!!
23 of April 2007

Cachagua Valley

Duncan’s Pizza: Corralitos sausage, smoked ham and bacon; artichoke hearts, jalapenos, and mushrooms $7.50 and $12.50
Micah’s Pizza: Crème fraiche, Corralitos ham, carmelized onions, fresh basil leaves, fresh and domestic mozzarella $7.50 and $12.50
Becky’s Just Like Trader Joe’s Pizza: Sonoma goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, carmelized onions, and pine nuts $7.50 (manipulative rudeness extra)
Cate’s Pizza: Shiitake mushrooms, carmelized onions, fennel, asiago 7.50/$12.50
Soup: Sorrel with Slow Roasted Chicken and Cream $4.50
Fresh Local Dungeness Crab Cake with Meyer Lemon/Rosemary Aioli $10.00
Roasted Beet, Arugula and Coconut Goat Cheese Salad $6.50
Porcini Risotto Cake with Butter Roasted Chantrelles and Shitakes $7.50
Poached Quail Eggs with Green Beans and Crispy Shallots $6.50
Scallop with Black Rice, Lemongrass, and Lime/Fennel Foam $7.50
Cool Salad of Jicama, Blood Orange and Cumin $5.00
Cachagua Caesar Salad $5.00 Zolan’s Blue Cheese Wedge $5.00

Served with organic King City asparagus, cous-cous, and roast baby creamer potatoes

Mesquite Grilled BBQ DuRoc Farms Organic Saint Louis Pork Ribs $14.50
Roast Loin of Kobe Beef with Porcini Cream $16.00
Syrah Braised Niman Ranch Organic Beef Short Ribs $16.00
Pan Roasted Sea Scallops with Fennel Pollen $14.00
Confit of San Benito Rabbit with Shiitake Mushrooms and Creamy Risotto $16.00
Mesquite Grilled Niman Ranch Tri Tips of Beef with Mushroom Gravy $12.00
Duck Confit with Braised Endive, Pecans and Szalay Raspberry Reduction $14.00
Oven Roasted Fulton Valley Brined Fulton Valley Chicken $12.50
Chicken Cacciatore (Chardonnay Braised with Leeks and Roma Tomato) $12.50
New Zealand Double Venison Chop with Szalay Jamaica Reduction $20.00
Michael’s Saffron Linguine w/ Black Mussels, Shiitakes, Sundried Tomatoes $14.00
Niman Ranch Loin of Pork Chop with Heller Port Reduction and Cherries $12.00

Michel Cluizel Single Source African Chocolate Cremas Inglése, Sea Salts and Olive Oil
Micah’s Dumbass Redneck Carrot Cake with Cointreau Cream Cheese Frosting
Txema’s Crema Catalan
Death by Brownie with ALBA Organic Strawberries and Mint
Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet with Balsamic Reduction and Strawberries
Susan’s Jamesburg Apple/Blueberry Pie

Savory Dessert (
Carr Valley 10yr Aged Sheep Cheese, Carr Valley Baa Baa Blue and Chevre, with Carrot Confit, Pineapple/Fennel Compot, Lemon/ Red Onion Compot and Basil Gelée with Wild Olallieberry Honey)

All Desserts $4.50

Nellie Melba had other skills....she got a toast and a peach and a raspberry sauce. Lady Curzon got a turtle soup.

Becky gets a pizza.