Where can readers get a copy of your memoir, Laminating Daniel: misadventures of a jalapeno popper from too-stoned, arizona?
Laminating Daniel is currently available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. The paperback is $14.75, the ebook is $2.99. It’s roundabout 220 pages long, not counting the table of contents and such, and I am actively looking into making the book available through other major online book sellers such as Barnes and Noble. And of course you can find links to the purchase page for any of my books on my website, thecynicalchef.com.
You briefly mention in the introduction that you and your wife got on the “Quarantine Bandwagon” last year, April 2020. How is Laminating Daniel relevant to 2021, post-COVID?
Well I suppose we’re not really out of the woods just yet, some folks are still wearing masks and others are not; some people might consider it a political thing, some might assume it’s relative to whether or not any given person has been vaccinated, et cetera. But yes, 2021 does feel a bit more post-pandemic than not, I suppose. Anyway and either way, I’ve read here and there that Americans drank, or are still drinking, a lot more during their time in quarantine than ever before. Obviously I went an entirely different direction, and I’m sure there are many folks who did the same too. But as to relevance, I think Laminating Daniel is relevant to any time period, really. There are always cooks, there are always people who want to read about chefs and cooks, whether they’re celebrities or not, and in some ways I suppose Laminating offers a bit of hope—at least some small businesses survived or even thrived, at least some kind of good could come out of the fear and sometimes outright chaos of the year. And maybe it’ll be a bit of an eye-opener for those who’ve been imbibing a bit more than usual.
Who calls themselves a “Jalapeno Popper from Too-Stoned, Arizona”?
I’m not a tall person, and I’ve always been fairly thin—whether for drinking and not eating, or simply due to the number of hours I tend to put in, in any given kitchen in which I might find myself. I don’t quite remember when or why I started to refer to myself as such, but it seemed fitting. Jalapeno poppers are typically jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, breaded and then deep-fried. Sometimes they’re spicy, sometimes they’re a little less so (I suppose it depends a lot on whether or not you remove the seeds before filling with the cream cheese). To be sure, sometimes cream cheese-filled jalapenos might be wrapped in bacon and baked, rather than fried; but either way it just seemed fitting. Poppers are smaller than a chile relleno, as I am also of smaller stature; and sometimes they are spicier than other times, just the same as I might have moodier days and other days where I’m more relaxed. And cream cheese is relatively average, but it can help cut the spice of the jalapeno, or sometimes—if you bite into them too soon after coming out of the fryer—they can be like molten lava, a real burn risk to the consumer….As for the too-stoned part, I just worked with someone in the past who once referred to Tucson as “Too-Stoned, Arizona”; I guess I kind of stole that one.
There are references to the kitchens you worked in over the years, and you even claim at the beginning of chapter four, ‘Taking Stock’, that stock-making is one of your favorite kitchen activities. Yet you seem to pretty intentionally focus more on your behaviors and relationships aside from your work in the kitchen. Why did you choose to take that approach, instead of another?
I wrote a lot of these pages just a little after the Great Freak-Out, as I call it in the book, when the only person I had left to call was my mother, who came and picked me up. I think at the time I did try to change my lifestyle, my way of thinking. I went to quite a few AA meetings for a while there, and I managed to keep my nose clean for about a year or so after that whole incident. And the kitchen was fairly constant, really. I was always in the kitchen, generally learning as much as I could about food at first but then it was also about climbing the ladder. Knowing just seemed to be the way to get my way to the top. A lot of chef memoirs have to do with how the kitchen anchored them, or they found themselves through food, or maybe they decided to switch it up halfway through their first career choice and either open a restaurant or at least start washing dishes at one. Or go to school for it. Or so it seemed. But I never felt that I’d got into it like they did—for the reasons that they did; so focussing on the food, or the joys of eating with friends and family—that would be just plain dishonesty, on my part. A lot of what I did, I was able to do because I had a kitchen to go back to. The fact that it’s not really at the forefront, to me, seems to better-exemplify that fact, as well as the fact that a lot of my motivation stemmed from the chase—chasing the next drink, the next fling, the next state, whatever it was. So for me, that was more what my time was about; that was more what came to define me, rather than the fact of being a cook or an aspiring chef.
Memoirs tend to focus on more specific themes, such as the loss of a family member and how the person got through it or even the individual journey from one career to the next. Either way memoirs are usually pretty revealing, and force their authors to kind of face up to facts, so to speak. What was the hardest part about writing Laminating Daniel?
Being okay with being so open and honest. It was fine and easy enough when it was just me, writing or reading the manuscript, because I was the only one passing judgment. Or even able to judge, since obviously no one but I knew what I’d actually written. Whatever else anyone in my past thought of me by that time, they were long gone or they weren’t speaking to me, so I didn’t have to worry about what any of them thought. It was one of those things where I figured I’d done them so wrong, they’d never want to purchase or read whatever I’d had to say about all the things I’d done. Everything would just be an excuse, is what I figured would be their final conclusion; they wouldn’t take it seriously. So I was able to just block that out and focus on what I had to say. And I think writing it, reading it, setting it aside, repeating the same old patterns, going back to it and not being able to read it because I was repeating myself (and therefore setting it aside once again, which is why it took so long to finish—roundabout eight years);—that was the hardest part about it.