Derivative and Ratio
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
(to Eschew the Devil I Knew, Pt. III)
A little planning can go a long way. Which is fine and dandy to some degree, but generalizations have served mankind for centuries. Even still, looking back on the year in review, so much would almost seem as if it had been planned. Almost....Depending on how you tilt your head, you can see both disaster and smooth sailing in the future ahead. And, almost-planned though it may seem, the reality is that it's hardly more than a chain of convenient circumstance (not always comfortable, but convenient). Even still, the snap-shot of the present situation, is that so much of this has indeed had to do with choice: Maybe not exactly as correlates to how we got here (most folks--and certainly not we--actually try to get fired), but the choices we're making relative to how we're getting through it; viewing it as an opportunity versus a beat-down, and making a rough go of it.
Relatively convenient circumstance if not always comfortable: Earlier in the year and over the course of previous years, re-figuring and downsizing our living quarters, our budgets, our eating habits; educating ourselves in order to catch up because everyone seems to know so much more than we do. Both purposefully and inadvertently picking up more and more knowledge and experience over the years--about branding, marketing, business, finances--the nuts and bolts of it all and not even just that: Stewing and brewing and foraging like I say in the little introduction to the Cynical Chef page itself, but for what? What, pray tell, has been cooking on those back burners these however-many-decades?
Well a "chowder", always has potatoes. Add a little of this or take away a little bit of that, and all of a sudden you have a completely different take on a classic dish. Remove the potatoes entirely and suddenly you have a creamy clam soup that is not a chowder but which may well be quite delicious. So long as it's got either love or hate in the dish, most likely it's gonna be good (this notion was especially applicable when the kitchen setting is something along the lines of the guest ranches I worked in Texas and Arizona: We hardly ever catered to the same guest twice without six to twelve months between each visit, so if something wasn't exactly the same as it was the first time around, nobody ever really knew the difference).
Nevertheless, I began to believe in the power and importance of recipes very shortly after I "got serious" about cooking. Along with that, came the notion and understanding that everything in the kitchen is a matter of derivative and ratio. At this time, I am certainly not the first person to say that. In fact, following 2009's Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman, whenever I mention derivative and ratio the general response is typically along the lines of some kind of reference to the tome which, personally, I've never actually read; but whose conclusions it seems I've generally reached of my own accord.
However the average cook is not usually too much about science (and sometimes might have trouble exhibiting even the self-discipline necessary for, say, proper knife work, or the thorough preparedness of a station). It seems the masochistic majority of them prefer the all-for-nothing, balls-to-the-wall, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants feel of getting fucked every night--whether by the customer, the hangover, or by the godforsaken shitheads who just can't wrap their head around the concept of "open to close, close to open". At the end of the night they can call themselves "badass" because they managed to pull it off--didn't get lost in the weeds, didn't spin in circles and run long ticket times but just pumped it out and got it done. But they don't do well with science: They're "live" cooks, "hands-on" chefs who may well disdain the paperwork paper chef scientifically mathematical approach.
Seeing as how it became--and has always remained--pretty effing obvious that no one else was going to make sure of it, along with derivative and ratio I began also to foster an understanding of the importance of consistency at least in myself (striving for it in the long run, anyway). No, I don't mean consistency in the fact of showing up to work on time, or even in that of being late on a regular basis. I mean consistency of thought and action, ready and rapid responses and guest ranch guests who do get the same food and flavor profiles six or twelve months later, as they did the first time around.
Because more often than not the majority of your cooks and chefs are indeed going to be winging it, not paying attention to anything but the orders and problems in front of them and trying to get through the heavy push so they can make at least some kind of half-assed attempt at cleaning and properly closing, consciously making the decision to leave certain things undone because fuck the day crew, they didn't do shit for me. To a large degree, this is part of what makes the struggle toward restaurant profitability such a particularly difficult one, generally speaking.
And I wanted to be better than that.
I could be, because I paid attention to my surroundings. How people reacted to different situations; what the individual persons cared about the most; even, to some degree, the manner in which a person formed sentences, and whether or not English was a second language. The environment became relatively predictable over time, if not for longevity then for similarity. All current events were measured against past events, because in general I'd seen the same or another similar situation once or twice before, and it was this experience which would inform my current action or reaction. If the situation was different than I'd encountered before, then from which past experience(s) might I derive a better ratio of understanding? Practiced and intentional consistency, based on a self-imposed and self-realized foundation. I had no more to go on than that which I'd gone through myself, therefore all things tended (and tend) to be measured and balanced against that past, up to and including catastrophic failure.
Everything turned into a melting-pot, a constant brew percolating at a constant low simmer. The bubbles forming on the surface were the tidbits of advice, the solutions I might come up with, the answer that I might give. Interacting with others only added more ingredients, only created more layers of flavors--more batons, chops, minces, dices herbs and spices of experience and knowledge. In general the flavor remained consistent. Every now and again there might be a bitter element, or an off-taste; but in general the percolation has always returned to some kind of happy medium, and that is me in a nutshell. Or a pot.
As I've gone from place to place over the years, whether retirement communities, guest ranches, privately-owned restaurants or whatever else between, there have been any number of demands and requests relative to any number of cuisines and dietary preferences. But there also have been many similarities in that which is requested--if not relative to the food requested, then the techniques by which the food might be prepared. I wrote things down as I went because I didn't want to forget; and I continually distilled and re-wrote many of the same recipes, and prepared many of the same dishes, until finally I had something consistent, pretty much no matter what the type of concept or location. Odd enough, for a long time it was this which created rather a large amount of work, for me: Making sure I was being consistent; that I was creating something, not just copying something; that I was documenting it and tweaking it, as needed if not based on personal or third-party observation and commentary. Being relatively scientific and analytical about it, because trying to figure out what you're going to make, or trying to figure out how to make something, can be a bit time-consuming. And if you're trying to do it on the fly, like many often do, then you may end up with something like what you ordered, or what the cook or chef originally envisioned, but in the end who knows if that dish can ever be prepared quite that way again? I didn't want that for myself: I wanted to be able to see someone way later on down the line, years from the last time I'd met them, and, if I happened to be preparing the same dishes as when I'd last seen them, or made such an impact that they remembered the last meal I prepared for them, be confident in the knowledge and fact that I could literally prepare that same meal for them again. Barbecue, after all, is just barbecue; my take on it, is the one that matters to me, because I know what to expect of it.
Recipes that don't get used, mean just about absolutely nothing to anyone except, perhaps, those who are using them to gauge their potential for profitability, and those who created them in the first place. For myself, I'll make the same Chicken Parmesan no matter where I go, and that recipe is based on one that I learned while in Rochester, working at a restaurant that--yes indeed, now sits closed. All my principles and basic approaches are always going to be the same, because I've been working long and hard to get to that consistency of self that I mentioned earlier. My approach, my matrix of knowledge constructed over the years, is a derivative of all that I've learned from others over the years; and others' influence, is the ratio to which I've allowed them to influence me. And, obviously, I cannot but have the same approach right now.
Past experience has informed me in the ways of business, management, marketing, canning, cooking, baking, farming, landscaping, publishing, construction, finance, graphic design, web design, written copy, customer service, data entry, data analytics, and legal red tape including permitting, licensing, and what can happen when you don't do things the right way. These are preparations and ingredients both; and right now the soup of the day is Desert Bakehouse. Reflecting upon the year it may indeed look like everything was planned. It could also look like a couple of newlyweds who lost their friggin' minds while on their honeymoon.