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My Rules…a Continuing Effort to Be Better

Thailand 2017, by Reggie Soang

I used to think the career of a chef is simple and straight forward; you work your way up the rank and you become a chef, and then you’d enjoy the perks that come along with the hard work, the end. However, the road to becoming a chef is rather winding and surprisingly, without a summit. Being a chef does not conclude my journey, but rather just another pit stop off a long, exhausting, and yet rewarding climb in my pursuit to eat and cook good food. And at some point, being a chef and earning a title is no longer that important, and engaging in the work inside of the food industry becomes my sole motivation to wake up everyday and do it repeatedly.

Over the years, I had many lows. I had debts and I drank, and I hated the vicious cycle of waking up hungover and going to work, and doing it again, though at times that the camaraderie was worth it. I started on the recovering journey when I realized that what I wanted did not exist and never will. “Making it as a chef” is as abstract as “being successful”, at what point does my success complement the role I embody when I take off my chef jacket? To me, the greatest chefs are the ones who take an interest in other subjects, who are family-oriented, and who devote their time to teaching and mentoring. Being a chef embodies the role of a counselor, an entrepreneur, an innovator, and a great parent.

I am a patient of my own after seeing the worst of myself through job losses and breakups. I grip onto the faith that my continuous effort to be the best version of myself will lead me to a more joyful life. To achieve honesty, integrity, and accountability, I continuously write rules for myself in order to steer me towards a more pragmatic path. I’d like to share my rules here.

  1. Life is not easy and fair, and don’t try to make it so.
    • I knowledge my privilege and therefore will not play the victim card in any circumstances. The secret is…I had played the victim card quietly in my own world for some time and it’s only hindered my progression to be a better friend, a more thoughtful partner, and a more understanding chef. I will not allow myself to do it again.
  2. Do not be surprised by the absurdity of this world
    • Humans are capable of loving and hating; don’t let others surprise me with their effort to bring me down. Use their negativity to learn about compassion and develop a growth mindset. On the other hand, believe that others are capable of loving me as I am capable of loving them.
  3. Happiness is the byproduct of my hard work. If I don’t work hard, I don’t deserve to be happy. Nevertheless, I can be joyful and content with my life during the process.
    • I find happiness after winning a pick-up basketball game. I find happiness after cooking a delicious meal for my friends and anonymous guests in the restaurants. These happiness are the byproduct of my consistent practice and training. To achieve any of these happiness, I first have to find joy doing the work, and be content with my total effort, even if I fail.
  4. Turn the page
    • I am the author of the book on my life. Own up to my mistakes, make amends, and then turn the page and start over, but never forget.
  5. 10,000-hour mastery only gets you a better job, not the best job
    • Everybody can cut or dice an onion, what makes my onions better than his or hers? The best job does not need the “perfect diced” onions, but the finest onions for the job.
  6. Dissect opportunities through gratitude because chances are…I was lucky.
    • None of the jobs I have ever had was because I deserved it. No one is entitled to a job regardless of his or her experiences or background. Opportunities show up because life is a lot like luck. Be consistent, and keep doing what I am doing, let luck takes its course and grab onto the opportunities.
  7. Give my obstacles credit
    • Obstacles and fears push me to be creative and to overcome challenges. I have been defeated by fears and overwhelmed by obstacles, and I have had many bad days. I have also learned that obstacles and fears don’t sympathize with my circumstances, my pride and ego will only feed my own denial, and it’s only my acquired humility and growth mindset that will help me navigate through my time on this planet.
  8. Time is the most expensive currency
    • There are two items in my world that I won’t get back: the death of my loved ones and time. Death and time work hand in hand. Life is short…but how short? Time is precious…but how precious? I don’t have the answers and time does not wait for me to figure that out.
  9. My role is to support
    • One of the best ways to lead is to support. Being in a supportive role, I could empathize with the pain, create a joyful environment, and live with no regret. The most dreadful thought is to have lived but not have lived to be the best and kindest.
  10. Constantly define and refine the concept of success for myself
    • Currently, being a great support, being content with myself, living with intention, and looking after my health are on my scorecard for being successful. I have to feed each category with a healthy dose of attention to achieve my own success.

I practice these rules everyday. Through my own practice, I’ve become more confident and assured of myself. I embrace uncertainties, and these rules guide me through the noises and bring out the best version of myself even on a bad day.

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Blog

Raising My Fist – Archive From my Weekly Newsletter (6/3/2020)

Vote Trump Out, by Reggie Soang

There is no better way to start this newsletter by being completely truthful about my current feelings towards the state of our nation.

I am saddened, angered, and outraged at what has happened in our nation.

First and foremost, I am saddened by the killing of African Americans due to police brutality. I am outraged by the constant injustice African Americans have to endure because of our broken legislative, executive, and judicial branches at all levels. I am saddened that our nation has been complacent* about racism until today. And today, I am writing to admit that I am one of the reasons to blame because I never took the time to understand and learn about racism.

Merely having black or Hispanic friends does not make me anti-racism. Racism is rooted in legislature and institution, which means, laws are made unfairly to grant advantage and superiority to a certain ethnic group. Without showing the deepest sorrow and compassion towards the disadvantage, and using my privilege to help them take another breath, I am not being anti-racism. I have been complacent*; I focus on being a fair boss and a good friend to everyone, but I fail to walk in black people’s shoes. I do not know what it feels like to be a black person. I do not know what it feels like to be racially profiled to the extent where physical harm is executed on me. And let’s not forget the Hispanic people who have been publicly taunted by our elected President.

I am angered and outraged by the spin that people have put on to change the narrative. Americans protest for injustice and brutality, not against the nation, the flag, and what the country once stood for. Stop worrying about the flag and protect its citizens. This is the exact reason why police brutality is condoned, the focus is shifted, and the wrong leaders are elected, and this is also the textbook play used by our armed force to maneuver the media and corrupt our minds. Ignorance is bliss, and we have chosen to be blissful over grieving for our loss; equality and humanity. Do not change and maneuver the narrative, because she isn’t and hasn’t.

I am taking actions, and I am very new at doing this. I am spending time to understand the structure of our government. The elected officials who matter the most in the immediate reforms in police department and criminal justice system work at the state and local levels. I have the privilege to stay home and do my research. I can pay for my internet and log onto social media. I have to start somewhere, and this is where I choose to walk the green mile with all the African Americans. And I hope you could do the same.

Last but not least, I am ending this letter with a few resources that I used today to start the healing process.

If you live in New York***, and are on board with me, please either call or e-mail the following senators or assembly members to urge them to repeal 50-a (A2513/S3695) fully, without any amendments or modifications.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, New York State Senator, Majority Leader
Carl. E. Heastie, New York State Assembly Member, Speaker
John J. Flanagan, New York State Senator, Minority Leader
Joseph A. Griffo, New York State, Deputy Minority Leader

I chose to reach out to both majority and minority leaders because I firmly believe both sides need to hear what a person has to say about protecting humanity. It will be in his or her conscience to decide if he or she would like to protect basic human rights.

***If you don’t live in New York, please follow the same format, call your senators and assembly speaker in your states and urge them to reconvene and pass legislation that will end shielding police from getting disciplined and investigated for violating our constitutional rights.

If you are like me, who only has a basic understanding about civil rights movement (not talking about the literal movement back in the late 40’s to 60’s, but the overall continuous effort throughout the American history), Obama Foundation offers all the resources and information that you need to know about fighting for justice. Change is a journey and process, and if I can’t fall in love with the process, then results will always disappoint me.

If you have gotten this far, I thank you for your time and patience. I chose to change. I will not allow my children (I will be a father one day) to witness my complacency* and cowardliness. I stand for Black Lives Matter.

On the lighter note, on this date in 1992. When I need to take a deep breath, I look for sports highlights!

With much love,
Reggie

*Updates are made on 6/5/2020.
     – Complacent has replaced Complicit from the original content
     – Complacency has replaced Complicity from the original content     

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Blog

A Single In New York on Living (and Cooking) Under Corona Virus Lockdown

(Sometime in January, by Reggie Soang)

This blog entry is inspired by an interview done by Helen Rosner, New Yorker’s food correspondent. All the questions in this blog belong to Helen Rosner and The New Yorker.

New York City has been given the mandate to shut down all non-essential business activities. For the most part, people must work from home. Though restaurants that offer delivery or take-out are considered essential, most of the restaurants have shut down because opening for business is no longer sustainable. Without restaurants, many New Yorkers have to cook at home for the first time. Reggie Soang, a New York City chef, decided to give cooking lessons on instagram and share recipes on his website. Reggie wants to help people with different needs when they pick up their knives for the first time or dust off their cookie sheets since last Christmas. Since the mandate, cooking at home could be seen as a necessity rather than a hobby. Even Reggie, who doesn’t normally cook at home for more than two consecutive meals, finds cooking at home challenging because of the limited space, limited fire power, and the lack of a reliable dish washing machine. I had a quick conversation with Reggie over the weekend about his current living status and mindset for riding out the pandemic.

What’s it like now, being under lockdown?
I have to plan my meals at home and I haven’t had to do that in 10 years. For the majority of my adulthood, I’ve lived and breathed restaurants. Home cooking is another level of challenge…water takes forever to boil, oven is only big enough to bake 12 cookies at a time, dishes get piled up too quickly…I miss big powerful machines. But I am grateful…supermarket is near by and it is restocked quite frequently. In addition, I could manage to cook for 1 person and still be able to share leftovers with few friends who live few blocks away.

How did the lockdown in NYC unfold?
Things happened quite quickly. I was only told to operate the restaurant at 50% capacity few days before shutting it down entirely. I wasn’t all that surprised and I am grateful that my former company was fast in making the call without jeopardizing our health and safety. In regards to the city…it felt like everything happened overnight. I think our timeline aligned with the city’s…first came the big restaurant groups, and then it was done in matters of 24 hours.

Walk me through a trip to the store to buy food
I put on my mask, which is a winter hat-mask gear for running outdoor, and then I make sure to have my keys by checking them twice…a little bit of OCD there, guess that’s what a pandemic could do to our mental health. I am lucky that the closest supermarket is within a block. Also, I have always been an efficient shopper – I’d mentally draw a map of my route in the store (of course, with a list of ingredients written down) and I’d find a spot near the section where I shop and “park” my basket, and then I’d go grab whatever I need without having to “basket pump” everyone else. I’d only move my basket if the items are too far away. Also, having a culinary background allows me to change plans on a whim…if they run out of flour…then I just won’t bake! I am in and out of the store in 10 minutes or less.

You’ve been living like this for three weeks now. Does it feel normal now?
Only somewhat…I still can’t get used to the fact that my exposure to nature and sunlight could be life or death. Worse, I feel like my life is a roulette sometime…I could be taking out my trash and catch the virus. I try not to be paranoid every time I touch the door knob or my face. I am doing everything I possibly can to be clean and healthy. But I have accepted that nothing will ever be the same anymore, and that took a while to sink in.

What other adaptions have you made to how you cook and eat?
I have been cooking 1-pot meals because my friend would like to learn few dishes that he could easily execute at home. My friend still works very hard everyday, and he needs recipes that require minimal steps and equipment. I find this project to be challenging and rewarding. I no longer enjoy taking many steps to make a dish at home because of the amount of dishes I have to do. I also think that kind of cooking belongs to restaurants where everyone helps out. At home…cooking should be simple and straight forward, and the food should be just as delicious.

What do you miss the most?
Personal life? my friends and swimming pool. I really miss drinking and sharing a meal with my friends…like crazy. I love nothing more than opening a decent bottle (or two) of wine and passing the food around. I miss swimming because it is one of the only workouts that pushed me to the limit and felt accomplished at the end. I also miss going on dates occasionally…not that I have ever been successful in that department, but I enjoy meeting a new person and learning about her work and interests. If it didn’t workout, at least I’ve learned about a new line of work that is outside of the restaurant world.

Work wise? It wouldn’t be called work if I loved it. Let’s just leave it at that.

Have you been talking about lockdown in the videos?
No, it’s not my platform. I decided to be more visible on social media because I want to offer ideas to help people adapt to our new lifestyle. What I know about lockdown is pretty much the same as everyone else. I watch/read CNN, NY Times, Washington Post…you know, all the fun and liberal fake news. (j/k).

Well Reggie, thanks for your time! Keep cooking because someone will need your 1-pot recipe sooner or later!

Thank you for spending some time with me! Pleasure is all mine!…I guess this is what Tom Hank must have felt like when Wilson was the only friend.

Categories
Blog Bookshelf

COVID 19 Cookbooks

Last two and half weeks have been life changing. I haven’t had to cook at home for more than 2 consecutive meals since I started working in the restaurant industry. I dug out some of my favorite cookbooks and adopted couple news ones. I look for cookbooks that could help me formulate simple meal plans, ranging from making a broth for noodles, to baking a cake for myself and friends. I rarely follow a recipe verbatim, except in baking, yet these cookbooks give me ideas for using simple and common ingredients. I only hope to create contents that could be just as resourceful and helpful as these cookbooks. Please enjoy my selections:

  • Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman
    This is not a traditional cookbook, but a great reference to basics in cooking and baking. The title of the book says it all…cooking and baking is all about combining the right ratios of ingredients in order to make a dish shine. Not only does the book teaches textbook ratios, but it also goes in depth about choosing the right technique for recipes. One of the most fascinating lessons I learned is by using different mixing methods, my baked goods could end up tasting very differently in texture when given the same ratio of ingredients.

  • River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
    River Cafe Cookbook is one of my favorite cookbooks because its recipes are so simple and easy to execute as a home cook. River Cafe is a well known English-Italian Restaurant in London. The River Cafe’s food is seasonal driven. The chefs cook with local farm produce, meat, and dairy while paying homage to rustic Italian dining. My favorite section in the book is on cooking poultry. While making a Sunday Roast (chicken) is a British tradition, some recipes use popular Italian ingredients such as sage, prosciutto, lemons, or parsley to elevate the simple dish.

  • Momofuku Cookbook by David Chang
    I love Momofuku’s cookbook because of its eccentric recipes of combining Asian flavors with American Ingredients and Western Cuisine. The book is divided into three sections based on the first three Momofuku restaurants in New York, Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar, and Ko. I must have read David Chang’s ramen recipes a dozen times, and the recipe never fails to inspire me to add depth and flavors (not more ingredients…big difference). Also, though some ingredients are unobtainable in retail, such as foie gras, most of the recipes are simple and serve as guidelines to cook simple food.

  • A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield
    I have read this cookbook front and back few times. Chef April’s recipes are thorough, yet easy to execute. Although the title of the book might suggest a heavy collection of meat recipes, a good portion of the cookbook dedicates to making salads and roasted vegetables. My favorite recipe in the book is Caesar Salad. Her flavors are bold and portions are generous; a hearty bowl of Caesar Salad might just be the perfect dinner choice when I don’t have the patience to cook.

  • The Art of Simple Food by Alice Water
    This is one of the first cookbooks I own. I’d highly suggest this book to all levels of cooks. Most of the recipes have only 3 to 5 ingredients, excluding the seasonings. Alice Water is known as a pioneer in promoting Californian Cuisine, which focuses on sourcing and cooking local ingredients. Her cookbook covers a broad range of repertoire, which is helpful to anyone who is either looking to begin or advance his or her household culinary skillset.

  • The Whole Beast, Nose to Tail Eating, by Fergus Henderson
    Another great cookbook written by a British chef. As the book title suggests, Chef Fergus Henderson is an advocate in using and eating every part of animals. Nose-to-tail eating is also a lesson on managing food waste. When our budgets are slim and costs are high, we could be creative in utilizing all part of ingredients in our meal. One of my favorite recipes in the book is “Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad”. I will not be able to get my hands on bone marrow in retail, but the essence of the dish is animal fats mixed in with herbs and pickles…kind of like eating a grilled cheese sandwich with dill pickles.

  • All the Presidents’ Pastries, by Roland Mesnier
    Last but not least, this is a memoir written by Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier, who served under 5 U.S. Presidents, from Jimmy Cater to George W. Bush at the White House. At the end of the book, Roland gave out 12 recipes that were favored by the Presidents. During his time as the Pastry Chef of the White House, Chef Roland often made elegant desserts for banquets and receptions. Nonetheless, the recipes at the end of the book are for “home cooking”; these were desserts served to the First Families on daily basis. Did you know Bill Clinton is allergic to chocolate?

Enjoy my selections! Let me know if you have any great suggestions on cookbooks!

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Blog

Tracking Personal Finance

Since pandemic COVID 19 has turned this world upside down, not only are we vulnerable to the virus, but we have also become vulnerable to our well being in the immediate future. People have lost jobs or have been reduced to lesser roles with lesser pay. With my future being uncertain, I immediately set up a system to track expenses and create a budget for the next 3 to 5 months.

*All numbers below are fictional

To track my daily expenses, I created these columns: Month, Date, Expense, Item, and Category. My spending is to be recorded everyday, and I could use this data to generate a summary on purchases, which is followed in the next step.

I record my daily spendings in this table. I could use this information to generate a summary.

Excel has a “Pivot Table Analysis” function that helps you summarize a large quantity of data. I found a very useful website to help me build a Pivot Table, which extracts my expenses from daily input and show me where I spend most of my money.


This is a game changer! Pivot Table Function gathers all my daily purchases and categorizes my spendings. In my fictional data, I’ve spent most of my money on Amazon, which is sort true.

Last, but not least, a Cash Budget spreadsheet allows me to see where I’d stand financially in the next few months. If you study my fictional cash budget closely, you’d see that I strive for consistent spending every month. At the end of every month, the “Excess Cash” will go to “Estimated Cash” at the beginning of every month, and be added with salary to help me budget for the month. With formulas built in, I could simply type in any number to predict my future in various scenarios. (And of course…I could quickly see the worst in matter of a second)


This is my Budget Sheet – with this, I could predict “okay”, “not bad”, “almost bad”, “ohhh shit” scenarios…kind of cool!

Creating a solid financial tracking system helps me stay calm. I have learned over the years that anxiety is built on my loss of control in any dire situation. I have also tried to only control what I can control, and adapt quickly to reality. My personal struggles have always been about managing expectations and being present. With COVID 19 lingering on my front lawn, I need to be present and focus on living purposefully.

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Blog Recipes

Poached Eggs and English Muffins


(Poached Eggs, English Muffins, Taylor Ham, Spicy Tomato Sauce, and Kale Pesto, by Reggie Soang)

A simple brunch egg dish to start off your weekend right!

For the latest on COVID – 19 Home Cooking Series, I present you:

Poached Eggs and English Muffins, w/ Spicy Tomato Sauce and Kale Pesto

Ingredients:

Tomato Sauce:
1 Can (28 oz.) Canned Tomatoes
(You’d be able to use this sauce for other meals)
1/2 of a medium size onions, diced
12 Cloves fresh garlic
Salt, to Taste
1 Tablespoon of dried chili (personal heat preference)
1/2 Cup EVOO

Kale Pesto:
1/4 Cup Pine Nuts
2 cloves Fresh Garlic
1 Cup EVOO
7g Salt, just less than 1 Tablespoon
1 Bunch of Kale
1 & 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan

1 English muffins, split in 2, buttered
2 pcs Taylor Ham
2 Eggs
White Vinegar

  1. In a medium pot, gently cook your onions and garlic with olive oil until soft. Add canned tomatoes and simmer until thickens (this could be done well ahead, or just use any red pasta sauce you have on hand)
  2. To make Kale Pesto, use a food processor to blitz pine nuts and garlic first until fine, add kale and pulse until the greens have been finely chopped. Slowly drizzle olive oil into the food processor with motor running. Adjust the amount of oil for consistency.
  3. Add grated parmesan and salt for seasoning.
  4. To cook taylor ham, use a non-stick skillet and turn the heat up to medium. Slash few cuts around the ham to help cook evenly. Cook taylor ham until crispy on the edge. Remove and set them on paper towel to drain off excess fat.
  5. Maintain the heat at medium, put the buttered side of English muffin down in the skillet and toast until fragrant and browned.
  6. To poach your eggs, maintain your pot of water at simmer (in between 80 to 90 Celsius if you have a thermometer). Add a splash of vinegar to help egg whites coagulate. Use a whisk to create a gentle tornado in the center of the water and drop your eggs in. Set a timer for 3 minutes.
  7. To check doneness of poached eggs, gently poke around the edge of the yolks; if the whites are little bouncy, then the eggs are done. (3 to 3 minutes and 15 seconds cooking time is usually my sweet spot)
  8. To Serve, put Taylor hams on toasts, scoop some tomato sauce onto hams, and put the eggs on top. Spoon some kale pesto onto eggs and sprinkle some black pepper if you’d like. Drizzle some olive oil around, and voila. Bon Appetit!
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Blog Recipes

Orange Flourless Chocolate Cake…Saving AP Flour for Pancakes

(Orange Flourless Chocolate Cake, Pomegranate, White Chocolate Ice Cream, and Brown Butter Solids, by Reggie Soang)

I need my chocolate…and to prolong my indulgence in Chocolate, I made it into a cake without flour, how about that gluten free diet? This one is for you!

For the latest on COVID – 19 Home Cooking Series, I present you:

Orange Flourless Chocolate Cake
Serves your family

Ingredients:
170g (1 & 1/2 Stick) Unsalted Butter
170g Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
220g (1 Cup + 2 Tablespoons) Sugar
Zest of 1 Orange
4 Eggs
2 Yolks (save the whites for Macarons!)
55g (1/2 cup)Cocoa Powder

  1. Preheat your oven at 350F and get out your 10-inch cake pan. (You could absolutely use other baking pan, mine was 13″ by 9″, so I doubled the recipe)
  2. Butter your baking pan, and lay a piece of parchment paper on it. Butter and flour your parchment paper.
  3. Set up a double boiler, and melt chocolate and butter in it. Whisk to combine.
  4. Once the chocolate and butter are melted, add sugar and orange zest. Whisk to combine. Take it off the heat.
  5. Combine your eggs and whisk. Now…carefully adding 1 ladle at a time (about 2 oz.) of warm chocolate to your eggs and whisk to combine. Do this few times until your eggs are lukewarm. You will use about half of the chocolate mixture. We call this technique TEMPERING, which is to bring up the temperature of the eggs so they won’t scramble when combined with hotter liquid.
  6. Once your eggs are warmed up, add them back to the chocolate mixture. Whisk to combine.
  7. Sift cocoa powder into the chocolate and stir to combine with a rubber spatula.
  8. Pour your batter into the cake pan and place your cake inside a water bath. To set up a water bath, use a pan large enough to fit your cake pan and pour hot water until water level reaches half way to the cake pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, and check for doneness.
  9. To check for doneness, insert a skewer. You should hear a crack at the surface, and there will be some chocolate clinging to your skewer…THIS IS NOT THE USUAL CLEAN-SKEWER TEST.
  10. Let cool, and use your knife to run around the pan to release the cake. Put a tray that is big enough to cover the cake pan and flip the cake over. Do this again with a cutting board. Now you are ready to slice.
  11. Run your knife under hot water to help you slice through the fudge-like flourless chocolate cake.
  12. Now…sky is the limit on how you’d like to serve it!
Categories
Blog

Last 48 Hours

(My brother, sister-in-law, and two cute nephews, who’ve become naughty kids!)

I won’t repeat what is on the news…I will get to the point.

– Job creation has been on my mind for the last 48 hours. In 2020, I might be too late to the game. But after doing some readings, there have been 5, including COVID – 19, pandemics since 2002, starting with Coronavirus – SARS. These pandemics have happened 3.4 years apart on average. I am thinking our lives will be tested even more rigorously in the future if we don’t look ahead.

– What’s up with “not taking your life too seriously”?…now I might have finally understood it. There is a big…huge…ginormous (haha!) difference between caring and taking my life too seriously. I care about everything I do. But I have lived a good chunk of my life by taking it too seriously; my tunnel vision was from my own insecurity, ego, competitiveness, and loneliness. What good is it if what I learn, do, and speak can’t make me and you happy? When it’s all said and done, my health or livelihood is just as fragile as the person I either choose to love or hate.

– Be accountable…be accountable…and be accountable. If I can’t be accountable to my own health and happiness, who else is there to do it? I have found myself doing a few more probability problems since you know…the shit show; What’s my probability of getting sick if I were going out for a run ?(not too high). what’s my probability of getting up on time in the morning if I were to indulge in few more whiskeys than I should at night? (not high…I try to keep my alcohol consumption to minimal). What’s the probability of me getting others sick? (unknown…therefore, I need to be accountable in everything I do).

– Be responsible…be responsible…and be responsible. Know my personal finance in and out. I am only spending money on: groceries, books (might become an expandable purchase, but hopefully not), medicine, transportation, rent, and utilities.

– Staying connected. Be transparent with myself and my closest friends and family. I believe my family and friends should know about my health, as I’d like to know about theirs. I leave nothing to chance.

– Dig deep…real deep. For the ones who still have jobs…stay relevant. I dig deep into my experiences and think of as many ways as I could to prepare myself to get back to work. Work will be strenuous, recovery will be taxing, and the best way to prepare myself for long days ahead is to have all the arsenal ready within my reach.

– I am not ready to die, but I am not scared of death. I am doing everything I possibly could to continuously live a normal life. I know this world is a function of each individual, all 7.6 billions of us. If I do my part, then I have lived.

All in all, it’s been a shit show. But I ate, slept, ran, spoke to my friends and family, and made templates for work.

Categories
Blog

Why Did You Choose to Become a Chef


(Scrambled Eggs, Shittake Mushroom, White Anchovies by Reggie Soang)

I am often asked about my reasons for choosing to work in the restaurant industry, and my answer has been the same and consistent…because I love cooking, and I have found the calling to become a cook because I wanted to learn how to do it better. However, I’ve never managed to reflect on my choice in depth because my job has consumed me, and I am also scared to find out if my choice had been unfitting…or worse, wrong.

I remember after watching a video on Gordon Ramsay making scrambled eggs, I thought to myself…I’d like to do that for my future wife and kids every Sunday, and most of the New Yorkers on Saturday Morning (I actually enjoy working a brunch shift…an inside joke for my fellow cooks and chefs). My sheer passion for cooking led me to put on a suit and headed into NYC for a job interview. 

Around the same time when I grew to be obsessed with all the Gordon Ramsay videos, I traced his work back to working for a chef, named Marco Pierre White. Chefs and cooks idolize Marco Pierre White because of his immaculate craftsmanship and relentless pursuit for Michelin stars. I was quickly drawn to an industry where aesthetic and taste of the food would be judged. In addition, growing up as an immigrant, I’ve battled identity crisis; therefore, it was easy for me to choose a job that could point me in the right direction and give me an identity…a chef, perhaps. 

I’ve also been drawn to work in the kitchen because I see the similarity of cooking and playing on a team sport. I liken prep to a practice, and service to a game. Every cook in the kitchen needs to participate in the prep, as players to a practice, and then executes, as the players to any game or match. A great kitchen works in sync to deliver delicious food in a timely fashion, as a great team plays with harmony with discipline. I’ve likened my job to being a professional athlete, who practices repetitively in order to perfect a scheme or move, as in my case, a menu or cooking technique. 

In addition, cooking allows me to stay connected to my closest friends. My closest friends helped me pave ways to start my own business. Though defunct, I’ve never deemed my business entirely a failure; I had my closest friends critiqued me and gave me fresh perspective on my food and services, and I believe I had learned valuable lessons on running a business from their support. 

My obsession with Gordon Ramsay’s videos had led me to work in the restaurant industry. For over a decade, my love for cooking hasn’t waned. Cooking is soul searching. Cooking is a team sport. Cooking develops leadership skills. Cooking helps me stay connected. However, the restaurant industry has drastically changed over the course of my career, and I’ve contemplated if my desire to cook in a restaurant has slowly diminished. Regardless, I came to work in the restaurant industry because I love eggs, I love team sports, and I love my friends.

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A Real Rock Star

 Mother Nature is a true rock star; it never ceases to inspire and teaches humility

With prominent leaders and chefs accused of sexual harassment, our restaurant industry is confronted with harsh reality of sexism and discrimination. To the chefs who have committed and condoned such wrongful behaviors (to that extent, what were you thinking?), you guys have got it all wrong when you became rock stars; a rock star’s got perspective, a rock star’s got respect for his craft and would do anything to protect it, last but not least, a rock star’s got to inspire the future generation, and you guys have failed in each of the category.

I worked in The Spotted Pig at the very early stage of my career. My culinary path was rather unusual in the beginning; I am a self-taught cook and I was trained in English and Italian cuisine, a somewhat overlooked style of schooling compared to the more popular French haute cuisine training. I consider myself to be fortunate to have worked with Chef April Bloomfield; she held high standard and her work ethic inspired me to work relentlessly; she was one of the rare celebrities who devoted herself to the restaurant entirely even after reaching stardom status. Unfortunately, The Spotted Pig has become a brewing ground for male industry leaders to harass female workers, as was told by several news articles.

Chef April’s apology for wrongful behaviors occurred in her restaurant have received wide range of responses; some accused her lack compassion and insincere in her statement, and some stood by her and showed sympathy for the unwanted attention that came with Ken Friendman’s negligence and abusive behaviors. As I took a hard look at myself in the mirror and reflected on being on the receiving end of scolding and humiliation in the kitchen, I realized that Chef April might have been blindsided and desensitized by the supposed rock star chef culture when she was cooking her way to the top. The culture of rock star chef stemmed from the 80’s when Marco Pierre White, arguably the very first celebrity chef, stormed the culinary scene as the youngest British chef to achieve 3-Michelin Stars. Marco’s style of leadership was often the center of the controversy because he was brutal and ruthless towards his cooks. His abrasive style of leadership was adapted throughout the industry. However, most of the chefs have failed to interpret and reflect on his legacy; Marco Pierre White did not condone sexism. Marco’s militaristic style of coaching was to push to refine dining experiences, and his trailblazing kitchen had no room for amateur bullying culture. Marco paved the way for future chefs to get inspired and work hard, and we have failed as a group to preserve his legacy of a rock star chef.

After working at The Spotted Pig, I got a job at the renown WD~50, where great female leadership further shaped my way of becoming a chef. Great leader shows courage. Great leader is responsible and accountable. Great leader also shows great humility. Great leader is as focused as a rock star to further refine his or her craft. Samantha Henderson, our Chef de Cuisine, was a WD~50 rock star. Sam’s food was an extension of herself, the perfect marriage of wit and grace. With a string of wrongful behaviors brought to the eyes of public, we chefs, as a group, have failed to inspire others as Chef Sam had inspired me. Working towards becoming a chef is no longer frowned upon as it was few decades ago. Number of people working in hospitality soared and businesses flourished because of the rise of mainstream rock star chef culture. However, with the money and fame, chefs often lose sight of what is truly important in becoming a rock star chef – nurturing young talents, pushing to be innovative, and continuously create jobs and opportunities for the next generations. To abuse stardom status and suppress others, rock star chefs have only become a bunch of narcissists and not leaders, and lastly, those rock stars have betrayed mother nature, who has been blindly faithful in giving us the resource to be creative.

From working under female chefs, I have witnessed resilience, compassion, and great intelligence. We should embrace our differences in gender, and to also mutually understand our strengths to support each other. Being a chef is a privilege; we often start our journey because of our love for food, and through the long and winding journey of grind and tear, we often meet incredible people and develop long lasting friendship. We are resilient, compassionate, and smart as a group, or how else could we have justified the time and energy spent on refining our craft. We are also rock stars; we enjoy entertaining our customers. But let’s not forget rock stars need to inspire and have perspective, and most importantly, real rock stars have humility and respect humanity.