Archive for May, 2008

food etiquette

May 29th, 2008

So I am talking to this fellow who I had recently met dining at the restaurant I tend bar at, and he mentions that the liner on the shepherd’s pie intimidated him a little bit.  The shepherd’s pie is served in a crock, or heavy duty bowl, and placed on a dinner plate.  To prevent the crock from slipping around we place a folded white cotton napkin on the plate and the crock rests upon that.

This fellow said the white napkin made him very aware of any spills he committed.  He felt self-conscious.

This fascinated me because, when Adam, the chef/owner, brings food out to pre-shift line up for us to taste, we attack it with fingers, forks and anything handy.  When I am eating with restaurant friends, we eat with our hands as well as the cutlery.  Don’t get me wrong, I know which fork is for dessert and which is for the shellfish, but often times choose not to abide by social eating norms.  I didn’t grow up this way, in fact, my mother taught me and my little brother to eat bannanas with a fork and knife.

I guess it is the appreciation of food that matters: your intimacy to the food.  And maybe it’s the devil-may-care cultural attitude that one gets after working in the food industry for a long time.

good people

May 19th, 2008

I first met Donnie B. while I was waiting tables at Multnomah falls the summers I was home from college.  He was 16 yrs old working on the grounds crew of that high volume tourist destination.  He came inside to the lodge to help out bussing tables on Father’s day.  When he resumed doing grounds work I met with the manager and asked him to move Donnie to the restaurant because he was such a good worker and he would make more money inside.

Donnie B. later came to work with me bussing, then waiting tables at the Black Rabbit at Edgfield with me.  A few years later I asked Donnie to come up to Alaska and tend bar at a restaurant I was managing.  We drove my volkswagon bus back home to Portland together when the partnership crashed and the restaurant was sold.

He has a family now and is doing well managing a restaurant for some local folks.  Donnie’s house recently burned down, and, although I hadn’t seen the kid in years, I felt that something ought to be done.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have kept my connections to the people I worked with at Edgefield back in the mid ’90s.  So I gave a bunch folks notice and we threw Donnie a party and raised some money, gift cards and much needed furniture.  Plus, Donnie was thrilled to see everyone and was touched that so many people cared.

What astonished me about the event was how sincere everyone was when they brought donations and asked if there was more they could do.  It’s not every restaurant I work at that I meet really good people, but at most of them I do.

Something about this sparks my curiosity.  Do computer programmers create relationships with their coworkers? Do nurses?  Do we all create relationships with the people in our career world?  I grew up treasure hunting beneath restaurant booths, and playing fort upstairs in the storeroom with all the banquet chairs and tables.  I easily forget that most people have not been raised in restaurants. Community has always been integrated with my what I do for a living.  Is this unique?  

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.