I watched an interesting documentary the other evening, 42 Grams. It started off with a chef and his wife, running an underground restaurant from their apartment in Chicago. Let me just interject here for a moment, this is not an idea that I am looking to entertain - ever. However, the film did speak to me. It spoke to me, especially at this time of year, when I always reflect on when I left the Irish restaurant that I spent 7 years at. As Alexa, the wife and one of the main focal points of the movie said, "the name is just a riff on the idea that the soul weighs 21 grams: 42 Grams represents what both Jake and I bring to the space.”. The title of the film is derived from the name of the restaurant that the husband and wife started together.
At the beginning of the movie, I could completely relate to Jake, the husband and chef in the piece. He expressed how and why he came to get out of restaurants after so many years. He realised that he was moving in the direction of making his dream a reality, but at some point did not believe in the journey any more. This was how I was feeling when the restaurant was sold and the new owner wanted to turn it into a pub. I thought while working at the Irish restaurant, this was going to be the big goal that I had always worked toward. New people came in, and I could see that the "soul" that I had put into it, was being choked out of all of its life.
In the movie, the chef would watch sous chefs killing themselves for their head chefs and owners, who would get all of the glory without having to put in much time. People would come to these restaurants and eat food that was basically "assembled" and not really "cooked". That was where I envisioned the new pub going. The direction and feel of the pub were all about "getting the food out" and less about quality. That is not to say that it actually became that way. That was how I envisioned the way it was headed.
It was then I decided that I could either cook for business or for passion. In that scenario, I was not going to have it both ways. I perceive the chef that took over the now pub as one who is not passionate about that food. Granted, he may be good at cooking, but his cooking lacks passion and soul. I am sure he is good at business, but his passion is not my passion. So we are different in that sense. That is why I would rather cook for passion than for business. To paraphrase the bible verse: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot have a passion (for food) and making money."
That was how I made the choice not to stay on with the new owners and the pub. I needed to retain the passion that I had finally found. I am not a person who finds happiness in money. Yes, it makes things easier sometimes. But my happiness comes from my work. A dear friend of mine once inscribed a cookery book as a gift to me, "Get happiness out of your work or you may never know what happiness is." - Elbert Hubbard. That is what I have strived for ever since I realised that money does not motivate me. My happiness comes from the quality work that I produce, and not from the dollars or numbers that the food I make generates.
That was the choice that I needed to make at that time. As I have said before, I always wish it a success. The new owners seem to be happy with how it has turned out. That is the important thing. Perhaps more importantly for them is, that people seem to be happy with it. We definitely do not have the same vision of how a business should be. That is okay.
Their vision is not how I pictured it in my mind. Then again, I am more of a purist. I like things more simplistic and "rural". The pubs I enjoy most are the ones in small towns, where you could "walk down to the local". Those pubs are the ones where you can sit and engage with the people of the town. City pubs are not bad. They just are not my style. They cater to tourists more than the local clientele. Rural pubs’ food comes more from the heart than it does from the account ledgers. Rural pubs’ food is the food of someone's soul. To me, you cannot put a price on that 21 grams of passion.
I have been doing a lot of thinking about food lately. Granted, I always think about food, but this type of thinking is a bit different. I have a piece that I am going to release later this week. That piece is going to cover how I put my soul into everything I do when it comes to food. A bit of it will touch on my philosophy towards it. However, I wanted to elaborate more on that idea here.
I got caught in a "rabbit hole" of what is considered fine dining food. Coincidentally, I was watching videos of posh food in high-end restaurants. It made me start to think. When I was a student at a cookery school, that was all I wanted to do. I wanted to create beautiful amazing food. I wanted to create things that were more "intellectual" and "artistic". Good Lord, I was so full of myself then.
I thought only food that was "well thought out" was acceptable. Little did I know, that simplicity was a far better thing. I had always heard the phrase "less is more". I do not think that I actually realised what that meant.
When my uncle called me up to come to get that Irish restaurant back on track in America, I was hesitant. Sure, I knew what Irish food was. I had been surrounded by it all my life. I saw it as something that was beneath me. But, I needed work. This was a chance to start over, in a new place. This was a chance to get out of the small pond that I had been in and grow into something bigger. After all, it would not be forever. Or would it?
Little did I know that I would have a food epiphany. I started creating food that touched my soul. It opened up doors that I had long ago closed. It caused me to reflect on who and what I really was. No, it was not forever. But it was for an amount of time that was just right. I was converted. I taught myself how to create things that were the exact opposite of what I thought food should be. I was creating food that was stripped down and at its most basic. For some reason that was satisfying to me.
Food, in my opinion, does not need to be elegantly plated and contrived. It is not about micro this and using tweezers to get that garnish just right. Do I think that that kind of food is wrong? No. There is no right or wrong when it comes to food. I think it is about whatever satisfies our hunger; both physically and philosophically. Some people have the need to experience food in the most pretentious ways possible. They want food to be cerebral, much like art. If that type of food speaks to them, that is fine.
I need food to speak to me on another level. As I was watching "Worth It" on the television last night, it struck a note inside of me. The two hosts were eating a caviar souffle that cost 2500.00 American dollars. An appetiser for 2500.00! What the feic? The food I am about is not well understood in America. Then again, I do not know that any ethnic foods are well understood outside of their own confines. Sometimes even within their own confines, they are not that well understood.
It saddens me when ethnic foods are Americanised to appeal to the general palate. I watch it happen all of the time here in the States. I think that is why I needed to escape the restaurant life and the direction it was headed in. What I do is about as real as it gets. Yes, there will be native people who say what I do is not real to them. But that is because even native food changes from region to region. But here in the States, restaurants and eateries need to appeal to American palates so that they can stay open and make money. They are businesses. That is what businesses do. They need to make money.
I am taking A Kilt and a Cuppa in a different direction. I already have a decent means to make a living. So, therefore, I am creating food that is more about bringing culture to those who really appreciate it from Ireland and the U.K. It is about educating people with food that is not "dumbed down". It is about the food your Gran might have fed you if you visited her house or her farm. This is food on a small scale that touches another level. It is mostly about quality over quantity. If I make a ton of money, that would be brilliant. But I refuse to sell food just to fill someone's gullet. I am in the business to sell food to satisfy one's hunger for nostalgia. Will it be exactly as you Gran or Mum made it? No. But it sure will get feicing close.
Keep posted this week when I elaborate on putting my soul into what I do.
While it is true that I primarily only work during the academic year, I am trying to pick up some odd jobs here and there. Luckily I have been able to round up a few spots working on food trucks and at festivals for the summer. With my other time, I am hoping that by blogging enough I will get people interested in what else A KIlt and a Cuppa does in addition to this - namely catering and items for delivery. To distract myself from the security of a regular pay cheque that I am used to, I have been trying to research things that are a bit different and unusual.
The past few weeks I have been concentrating on stinging nettles in the area. I was able to procure some from a few different sources. There is one local farm about 45 minutes away from here that grows and sells them. I have also purchased seeds online to start growing them for ourselves. I hope to grow them in a large enough pot so that we get enough of a harvest, but they do not take over our entire yard.
I have looked online to see what other bloggers and culinarians are doing with stinging nettles. Soup seems to be the most common of applications. Those that lean toward more healthy and medicinal purposes tend to write about making nettle tea. There are those that also use them to make nettle beer. I wanted to do something a bit different. My curiosity piqued toward seeing if they could be applied to desserts somehow. I did not even have a thought in my head as to how one would even use them in that genre.
I stumbled upon a Lemon Nettle Cake with Lemon Buttercream on veggiedesserts.co.uk by Kate Hackworthy. Not wanting to completely lift her work from her blog, I reinvented her cake into a Lemon and Nettle Madeira Cake with Lemon Glaze and Candied Lemon Slices.
I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant when I first set out on this journey. But, at the same time my curiosity wanted to know. The verdict? I actually enjoyed this cake. The nettles, with their herbaceous flavour notes, blended very well with the tartness of the lemon. The cake is not cloyingly sweet in trying to cover up the flavour of the nettles. The chlorophyll from the leaves tints the cake a really nice colour. Overall, I would make this again - especially for a springtome afternoon tea.
It is great when things like this turn out. It helps lift the spirits when the direction of the journey that I am on, does not always seem to be so well defined. It remindes me that I can still do this. It reminds me that there is still a passion and a curiosity in there. Most of all it reminds me, that it is all worth it.
It will come as no surprise to you that generally abhor any type of convenience foods. I do not use cake mixes. I am not one for tinned soups. I prefer to make things the long and complicated way. I prefer to make them as they were originally made. To me, it feels as though they were made with more love, care and passion. Thus, from scratch has to be better. What if I created somethng that is instant, from scratch? Then it is a complete oxymoron.
There are certain things that take me right back to my childhood. Custard is one of them. Custard was an accompaniment to many types of desserts. Custard topped puds and crumbles. It was the glue that held together a trifle. It was mixed with fresh fruit. There were so many applications to use custard powder. It's versatility was amazing. But, as I became aware of good food and even more so, of high quality food, I began to question the thing that was always a comfort. Why would someone not just make custard from scratch? It would have to be a much better product, would it not?
In 1837 Alfred Bird created custard powder not out of convenience, but out of necessity. Bird was a scientist and chemist. His wife happened to be allergic to eggs, yet she loved custard sauce. Bird created an eggless custard powder to satisfy his wife's fondness for the dessert accompaniment.
I will admit, there is nothing like the taste of custard powder. I close my eyes and I am reverted back. I am in another place and time. This time of year, when strawberries and rhubarb are in abundnace at the grocer, it only seems appropriate that a spring crumble and custard sauce are served as afters. Seeing a good deal on rhubarb, I could not resist this past weekend.
My daughter is lactose intollerant. I try to do alternatives when I can. Custard powder is usually made with not only milk powder, but accompanied by milk in liquid form to make the custard sauce. Not only did I create the custard powder from scratch, but I made a dairy alternative version as well. The results were not only pleasing, but they flooded me with nostaglia. Here in the States, the grocer just started carrying a product called a2 Milk®. From their website, I offer the following description:
"Ordinary cows’ milk naturally contains a mix of both A1 and A2 proteins. a2 Milk® comes from cows that naturally produce only the A2 protein and no A1. Published research suggests that a2 Milk® may help some people avoid digestive discomfort.
At The a2 Milk Company, we’re on a mission to bring you delicious, nutritious and pure a2 Milk®. We take great care to bring you milk naturally free from the A1 protein from cow to cup. Our cows have not been treated with growth hormones, rBST or antibiotics. All of our family farms are independently certified by the Validus Group to ensure we meet strict animal welfare guidelines." - https://www.a2milk.com
Overall this was a great success! I was able to satisfy a culinary craving without feeling as though I had sold out to a second rate convenience short cut. The quality of this homemade instant custard powder is just as good, if not beter than the shoppe bought version. I was, much like Alfred Bird himself able to create something, for my daughter to enjoy without having her feel as though it was a lesser substitute. Maybe in the end, instant is not so bad, especially if it is instant from scratch.
One would have thought that I would have taken the opportunity, to use the Royal Wedding as a post. However, I did not want to be so cliche. It seems as though so many are using the event to cook something British. Every other blog is doing a piece on scones and what to eat as you are watching the nuptials of Harry and Meghan. Seeing as this is the point of the blog, I wanted to go another route. It was synchronicity that led me to another to another topic by way of the wedding
You see, this week was the 27th anniversary of when I graduated from The Culinary Institute of America - 17 May 1991. The CIA, as it is referred to, was a former Jesuit Seminary. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin a Jesuit himself, whom Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry referred to in his sermon at the Royal Wedding, is buried on the property of the school and former St Andrew's on the Hudson. de Chardin as Bishop Curry noted, "was at once a scientist, a Roman Catholic priest, a theologian, a true mystic. His was one of the great minds and spirits of the 20th century. He suggested that the discovery and harnessing of fire was one of the great technological discoveries of human history. Fire made it possible to cook food, thereby reducing the spread of disease. Fire made it possible to stay warm in cold climates, thereby marking human migration possible. Fire made the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Industrial Revolution possible."
In light of this, de Chardin said that if "human beings ever harness the energies of love, then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire. Love is the very fire and energy of real life!"
I find it ironic that de Chardin refers to fire in terms of cooking as he is interred on the grounds of America's foremost school of cookery. Doubly ironic is that he compares fire to love. I have been looking to rekindle the love of cookery and food that I found within those walls. That is what this journey is all about. There is no doubt that I love food and creating it. The many tomes of books that line my shelves are a testament to to that idea. The ultimate goal is to keep that fire burning and that love growing enough to create a body of work that pays homage to this food that I love so much.
This story came full circle this week when my son asked if I could bake something for after prom. I figured that brownies, the same brownies that I learned to make at the CIA, were the perfect choice seeing as how it was the anniversary of my metriculating. They bring me back to a special time in my life. They make me recall the good times that I had while being there at the school. They help rekindle that passion, that fire, that love that brought me there. For me, food is just one of the things that fuels me with the energy of real life.
So here is the next step of this blog. The part where I actually start posting recipes.
I have been away from "the Irish restaurant" for four years. In that time, I have been working various food and non-food related jobs since. Nothing else has captured my heart as that restaurant had. It has been more of a journey to find the right outlet for my passion. I came here specifically for that job. I moved my family here. I have no regrets about that. I think what I regret is, letting the love for what I do, not matter "enough". Sure, I started this blog. But, I have allowed my self to just do it haphazardly. I've done it as a hobby. I think this is the point where it needs to be more of a way of life.
I have had, in the last few weeks, a voice inside telling me that I need to make this a second career in order for it to become my first career. I need to work harder on getting this message out there. I need to listen to my heart. I need to treat this more like it is a part of my soul and not just some Pinterest board.
Listening to the "voice" inside
I wanted to walk away from the job that I had been doing recently. That job afforded me extra time in my life to do things related to A Kilt and a Cuppa. I thought maybe if I found another full-time chef gig, it would make me forget how miserable I have been. What I failed to realise was, that nothing else was going to make me as happy as doing A Kilt and a Cuppa. Then my current job offered me a contract with a 3% raise for next year. The voice inside me, the spirit, said loudly and clearly, "You are not trying hard enough to make this work". The voice was right.
So I faced my fears, knowing that financially, right now this would be a difficult decision. But I went ahead and committed myself to it. Somehow, someway, A Kilt and a Cuppa needs to be made known. It needs to get the message out there. Sure, what we do is a niche market. That does not mean it cannot work. It just means that I need to find the right people and make them believe in me and in it.
I need to believe that sacrifices now will produce rewards later. This is my home now, here in Pennsylvania. But that does not mean that this is my home forever. I have to look ahead and see that I can get back to my real home. The journey cannot just exist inside my head. If it is to come to fruition, then it needs to start inside my heart. The journey cannot just be the map. It needs to be the physical and spiritual act of putting one foot in front of the other. It needs to be the act of taking it all in and absorbing each and every experience. Hopefully when I reach the destination, be it physically, or emotionally, or both I will have returned to that place in my heart.
Here is to a safe and happy journey...
What will this new year, 2018 bring? In the back of my head, I am hoping that it brings better things than 2017 did. Last year was not horrid. The again, it did not exactly fill me with feelings of warm cosiness either. While things did get better work-wise, they did not in relation to this blog and the side business of A Kilt and a Cuppa.
A New Year, new ideas, and a new look...
Right before the holidays last year, the website was hacked and destroyed. This meant the shop was lost and there was not much opportunity to make sales for the season. At first, I thought that it was not worth it to keep going.
When I began this as a blog, I did it mainly for myself. It was part of the healing process to move on from the Irish restaurant that I spent almost seven years at. There was a lot of myself that I put into that place. I wanted something to show for it. In the course of time since 2014 when I left, the website was hacked 3 different times. After this last time, I decided that I needed to do things differently. I moved the site to Squarespace. I decided on a very clean minimalistic look for it. I wanted to start clean, neat, and completely different.
Yes, this blog is written for me. It is in part for my kids, so that they have something to go to in the coming years when they want to reflect on the foods that we have all come to know and love. It is a cookbook to share with everyone. I am not a believer in "secret recipes". Food is meant to be shared be it as a meal or as recipes for others to prepare themselves. That is what the writing part of this is all about - sharing. I get to share my passion, my interest, my knowledge about this specific type of food.
The other part of this site (due to take form soon) will be about the Shoppe. This is where I can share the physical fruits of my labours. This is the place to sell those things that we became known for when we were at the Irish restaurant. There are things that we will do seasonally as well as regularly. These are the items that we will produce for delivery sales.
One of the goals for this year is to figure out shipping details as well. This way we can share with a much broader audience. Hopefully, we can have all of that ready to go, so this year's holiday season will be much more profitable.
Other goals on the agenda for this year include a more consistent writing schedule, promoting our catering menus, and not just waiting for things to happen. This is the year that is about getting out there and really promoting A Kilt and a Cuppa. This is the year to really let people know what we do and why it is so good.
If you plan on embarking on this journey with us, welcome aboard! Tell anyone and everyone that you know. The more people that we can get to share this trip, the better. This year will hopefully be a good journey. May the road be filled with many stories to tell and good food to eat!