Archive for the ‘My food background’ category

my parents

May 10th, 2008

My parents met early in the summer of 1967 in Portland, Oregon.  My mother, a recent immigrant from Germany, began waiting tables at the Rheinlander German Restaurant.  My father soon left to renovate Horst Mager’s Irish restaurant, the Little Blarney Castle.  My father, Dan Miller, did well there until a confrontation with the chef caused him to realize that he didn’t know how to cook.  He resigned his position at the Little Blarney Castle and asked Horst Mager’s advice as to the best food person to learn from in Portland.

In 1968 my father began to work for Willie Madsen in the kitchen of the Portland Hilton.   Willie Madsen had moved to the Portland Hilton from the Hong Kong Hilton and, despite frequent offers, refused to leave Portland, Oregon.  Chef Madsen would tell my father at the end of every shift whether his services were needed the next day…even on the eve of his wedding with my mother in 1970.

Willie Madsen showed up at my parents’ wedding party in a blue brocade tuxedo with six cases of champagne and the rock group Iron Butterfly.

In 1969 Miller started moonlighting on Chef Madsen at the Ringside.

In 1973 Dan bought a coffee shop in San Bernadino and called it Country Dan’s.  The fried chicken was so good  Johnny Cash heartily belched approval in a radio advertisement.

After many years my dad moved to the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.  He worked, fished and ate with the native people of the peninsula.

In 1988 he took over the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau Alaska.  He built a restaurant off the side of the historic bar and sold fresh Alaskan fish and chowders and crab to the folks piling off the cruise boat. The locals came in droves.  I worked two summers there…not the first time I had worked in the restaurant with my father, but the first time I felt the passion that comes from preparing good food for people. 


My food history

May 1st, 2008

I started washing dishes at my uncle’s German restaurant when I was thirteen years old because my cousin and I had decided that we would travel to Europe.   Our parents had immigrated to America and so held no fear of travel for their children.  We came back wise-ass fourteen year olds with pierced ears and a longing to experience more food and wine pairing.

I bussed tables and sold peanuts at ball games to help pay for private high school.  It felt good to buy my own car, and I loved meeting the crazy people that fed the public!

I worked my way through college at various restaurants around Oregon.  After I graduated I thought that I would relax for a year.  Only for one year.  After that I would get a “real” job and things would take off.

I spent 4 years working for the McMenamin brother’s at Edgefield.  The future of the property was very much still in doubt at the time, but Mike and Brian McMenamin were throwing all their energy into the creation of an epicurean oasis.  I drank bourbon with Booker Noe;  I drank Armangac with Huber Germain-Robin; I drank and ate with all the vinters, brewers, gardeners, distillers and had the time of my life.

I grew impatient and hit the road.  From Portland I went to the Virgin Islands.  I bartended in Honduras. I managed restaurants in Alaska.  I waited tables in Atlanta.   I picked apples in Ontario and lived out of the belly of my ’69 VW bus.  I exulted in the flexibility that my life held using the restaurant as a medium for survival.

In 1999 I lived with my dad a Native American Reservation on the North West coast of Washington State.  I chopped wood, fixed toilets and played horse shoes with the native kids all summer.  My dad was in charge of the native store and so we set up a business for the tribe.

We would buy salmon from the fisherman for $2.25 a pound.  My dad and I would skin and fillet the fish, brine the fish in brown sugar and salt, and smoke them over alder wood over night.  We sold the smoked salmon to the tourists for $17 a pound.

That summer my dad and I cooked for our community members every day.  My dad set me up and I smoked and poached black cod; I roasted marrow bones and made bordelais sauce.  I began to understand how easy it really was to cook good food from scratch.

For a few years I thought that restaurants were what I loved and I worked for MGM-Mirage Casinos managing restaurants.  But restaurants weren’t quite what I was in love with.  Not as a capitalistic vehicle anyway.   It was the creation of community through food.