July 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
We don’t talk about it. We avoid it. We are afraid of it because the world we are in build us up to be strong and good.
What is strong and good?
The last week has been an absolute struggle. After taking a few days off to be on the yoga mat, coming back to this island seems like scalding myself with hot water. Ever since then, I have been the nursing the wounds. The time on the mat appears to have taken a thick layer of skin and exposed, vulnerability.
I went to bed last night with a heavy heart. I have done what most insomniacs would tell you not to do: read on your phone. But as I read that one of Sydney’s most acclaimed chef, Jeremy Strode, has taken his own life; I kept the screen open and gave a deep thought about my own.
Early this week, I have been going through an emotional rollercoaster. I have been mostly upset about the work attitudes, society misconceptions, health ignorance and the hustle. As I explored the feelings and thoughts, usually through breaking down on a yoga mat or on the way back home listening to a melancholy tune, I realised it stemmed from rejection.
Much earlier this month, I have been rejected by a group of people that I trusted-wholeheartedly. The betrayal feels painful. I had devoted myself into something hopeful, with time and heart. Corporate, as they say. Chopping off the tree trunk and cutting the chase.
This week felt lonely. I wasn’t alone mind you. I am surrounded by physical beings everyday and have people around. But there is a difference being in a room full of people and feeling lonely at the same time. We, hospitality folks, work long and odd hours. We sacrifice family/friends time to earn a living and feed other peoples’ friends and families. At the end of the day, we are left with our group of kitchen family and our real family, who are often asleep already or too tired to deal with our emotions/tiredness. Our kitchen family changes, because not everyone can deal with the pressure and work culture. The line cooks and servers replace themselves like the next music charts every month. When you finally realised this and turn to your own friends, they have already forgotten about you and booked their own next vacation.
A few days ago, a high school friend felt the need to apologise for asking about my work life. She mentioned that I was apprehensive in my replies. “I have been in this industry for ten years, I am constantly on the dining floor, my replies are short because I am engaging with customers and sometimes holding a hot pan”, well I didn’t text the later part but you get the idea. “You are right I should have known better”, she said politely.
But I knew by then, there was already a misunderstanding and un-returnable damage. Years of not being there (for them) and years of not understanding (for me). So after service is done and dusted, there left the individuals who return to their devices and talk to loneliness. It is no wonder depression is such a taboo and yet, profound culinary issue. It is no wonder that chefs like Benoit Violier, who ended his own life after not achieving another Michelin star and Jeremy Strode, drown themselves passionately into cooking because they don’t know otherwise.
Admittedly, I have changed. I have became tirelessly exhausted, a little more impatient (just a little) and also more aloof with meeting up. I have also felt nonchalant when people don’t have time to reach out, but also have high expectations of closed ones to empathise with my work schedules. How can they meet? Well they do, behind the line, where we stand for hours, the emotions meet. There is a certain drive that we have and love for being in the service industry, which makes us feel whole. When a dish is made perfectly, presented on the table at the right temperature, paired with a right beverage and enjoyed as it should be. There is something magical when the crew is in sync, where everyone knows their roles, follow one another’s movements and no one is sloppy. The evening is played out like an orchestra in its element. The right notes are precisely hit simultaneously and timely. There is nothing like a perfect dinner service. It is a melody.
For us, well perhaps just me, I endeavoured to seek this tune over and over. I could replay it, improve it and play it night after night. For most chefs or restaurateurs, when they find the right people/food/dishes, they yearn to recreate, experience this fine moment and share it with the world.
I woke up today, feeling a little better. There are creases in what I do and have, yet there is joy at taking a step at a time. For this road and push is lonely, but we should talk about it. We should be able to create an environment for one another who share the same sentiments with food & service, and also be able to be open about our happiness and sorrows. If its being strong and good, I strive to be the same with empathy and kindness.
Let’s start talking.
June 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
“If you read stories, you get to see the entire world. And not just the stories you find in books and film, but the stories of strangers sitting next to you on the subway or in an ordinary restaurant. You can find the world in your own story, too – you just have to keep your eyes open.”
― Steve Dublanica, Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip-Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
I remember reading Waiter Rant, right after culinary school. It was the soft cream that finished off a simple butter cake. Something I looked forward to at the end of every shift as a pastry cook in a small French/Californian restaurant of 5th Ave at Santa Monica. He wrote about his observations around the restaurants and his life as a waiter. I admired his audacity to speak out in an invincible voice for the large group of us who went unnoticed behind the line. I adored the way he reflected on society’s perceptions of the service industry. Though they were mostly, rants, they were truths.
They say the truth sets you free. In many ways, they do. But truths are like art pieces, which beauty lies in the perceptions of the beholder. In a place of ranks or solitude, one looks through their own glass to define what is and not. In many ways, the truth doesn’t set you free. The present moment does. I could tell you that the slice of cake is awfully bad for you and you could jolly well believe me because that is the truth to you right at that moment. Does that set you free? No, it holds you down with guilt and displeasure. But if you accept being in the moment, you would have been honest enough to yourself that the slice of cake is bad and the awareness would bring you nothing but peace.
I have kept a resilient heart and soul with the adventures. Something to keep me absolutely grounded at this moment is being with the greater crew. Everyday I learn something new about them and how we can be better for ourselves. No one stands alone and do well for him/herself. You got to find something good out of them and encouraged their strengths. For the sandless ocean bay community, I’ve grown to find some friends which share common grounds.
I have given up defining or stereotyping things/people/events. The world is too big of a place for us to narrow everything into corner stones. The moments we live daily is truly what we have and can only sincerely appreciate them when they are accepted fully.
Sometimes on my off days, I visit one of my favourite parts of this island. In many ways, we grew up eating these little ang ku kuehs during tea time or after school. You can find them in the corner snack stall in our canteens and at a local bakery on the way home. There is a particular kueh-kueh stall at my parents’ hometown in Taiping, Malaysia, which makes the softest and most fragrant traditional ang ku. While I reminisce those little moments, we have moved on to a different culture. Back in the big city where locally roasted coffee is proudly served in little neighbourhoods and traditional bakes are still integrated our daily lives. We are redefining coffee moments. A Colombia El Mirador and Kenya Kagumoini brew with mung bean paste wrapped in glutinous rice pastry at our favourite coffee shop.
Ji Xiang Confectionery
Blk 1 #01-33 Everton Park,
May 10, 2017 § Leave a comment
How are you? What can we do for you today?
I’ve been in the service/hospitality staff for a decade. Every time when we are on the floor these questions are asked again and repeated throughout the day. Being in this island made me realised that people don’t care much when a service staff approach guests with friendliness or courteously. They retort to their own hole of reading menus or being on their devices.
Working in the US/UK is different. The basic human encounter is much simpler. Coming from an individualistic society, they seem to care more. They also seem to deeply cherish food and dining with their companions.
It seems that everyone here has an agenda behind their back or can’t even digest an honest question we were taught in kindergarten. A society which loves food so much but fail to even manage not having devices on the table, a kitchen that trusts chefs or a friendly conversation with servers.
What have we become? What are we doing to ourselves? Years of learning to how to be service staff/trained pastry chef/operational manager washed away in a lawful society.
I have a fair share of customers-becoming-friends. But that is also because I was in an environment that thrived on the idea of a community or being honest. It dwells back to the food we serve. How simple and honest the cooking somehow translate to how we serve our food. The more we try to load it with too many ingredients, the more we try to explain ourselves or complicate the whole experience, the more we deceive others. Giving people options are a great way to show your generosity but too much of it make them feel entitled.
Yes, that is what they deemed us as. Millennials who are too self-entitled to the vast amount of choices we have these days. Go ahead and pick up a menu that doesn’t give you options. A choice to change your pasta or bread or alternating it to this with that. If they didn’t have the option, would you ask for it?
“A little less ginger on the Ginger Chicken”, “More chocolate sauce on the Double Chocolate Caramel Cake”, “No egg in the Chinese Fried Rice”, etc. The crew will joke that we will serve eggless omelettes, non-alcoholic Alcohol beverages and hot ice-lattes. When these sort of orders come through the tickets, and we see you laugh at the server having a hard time keying them in but truly, the jokes are on you.
A meal is a meal and a meal itself. Why make it so difficult when life already is?
Last year at MADFEED (I know I have brought the event up so many times!), we spoke about millennial chefs: the difficulties of bridging us privilege kids, to be able to choose this profession, and our mentors, who find difficulties with staying afloat.
What is missing? Us not respecting you for your hardwork and whining about the daily grind. Us complaining that you are not open to our ideas because you are too old-fashioned. I belong to the modern group because I did have a choice and sold my soul to it. It was clear for me to learn as much as I can from my chefs or mentors, whether or not they came from the hospitality background. There is always something to master.
Patience. Sincerity. Perservance. Resilience. Knife techniques. Assembling kitchens. Dealing with business partners. Building trusting relationships.
The goal is to stay relevant. How does one stay sustainable with society? For the larger part, it really is difficult to catch up or change the system. One habitually practice ways only to realise they have to alter them again. Age catches up, habits don’t. They stay stagnant. Good learning attitudes and open hearts allow growth. A developed city has the most versatile talents because of the type of people they have not the amount. When old people stay hip and young folks grow old souls, there comes innovations. Have you not seen the movie the Intern? There is always something to learn no matter how many times you have done it.
Bauisou indigo dye techniques, Chef Alex Atala and Lyn Slater are great examples of sterling new world meets old world brands/people. If we are both open to listening to one another, and find mutual ground instead of building hierarchies, wouldn’t it be so much easier for both millennials and mentors to come together? The question now isn’t what we do but how do we do so. How do we create a work culture that allows both sides to come together? There is no need to look further than putting all ego aside and be transparent as you can to one another. That’s something we learn from kindergarten too ~ don’t lie, be honest.
“Rather than love, than fame, than fortune, give me truth. “, H.D. Thoreau
The last two months here have been trying. I have been as authentic and trusting as I could, but somehow it has been pushed beyond limits. So you do what every loyal dog would, you stop caring. Truth is, the loyalty is limited when tested.
May 3, 2017 § Leave a comment
When we look up at the sky, we are trying to find the way to ourselves.
What is a community? A few individuals coming together and striving for a united goal? Or collective personalities wired to generate something better? Both scenarios sound similar to one another but none of them truly understand the beauty of a community. To understand the collective, we need to question the individuals. How they view themselves and what their roles are. The beauty that sync us lies beneath our heartbeats. It is in the way we devote ourselves, and commit in being inclusive.
I have yearned to be part of a community. I have wanted to integrate people’s lives with each other. A space for one another to be themselves through honesty, selflessness and trust. A bond of reliance for us to feel loved or inclusive.
There is a certain level of commitment when we dedicate ourselves, forming interdependence. One that takes time and effort to sow and nurture into a beautiful wheat field. A seed is carefully rooted into the ground for natural growth, then germinating into stems/leaves, eventually sprouting to a tall confident plant. A plant is nothing beyond itself, but a few of them forms something special. That something special transcends differences.
Last two weeks were rather challenging. We were setting up the space and have been pulling long shifts to misc, prep, clean, organise, plan and so on. There were too many of us, yet there wasn’t enough collectiveness. The irony in forming a space where miscommunications and ego override transparency.
It reminded me of how we set up the previous spot. How we cemented the floors, cleaned the equipments, test recipes and gradually gain confidence with time. How the community around us were patient, yet curious and grew with us. Somehow it felt right. Somehow it really thrived. For a long period of time, we gather a good amount of love and trust. Somehow, we lost this essence overtime.
Perhaps it is just for me.
A friend and I have been discuss the meaning of friendship for a while now. How we make the effort to reach out but the other party doesn’t. How we continuously want to involve ourselves with their lives and only to be turned away with a cold reply (or even better, silence). We understand moving on with life or getting busy but it is a two way street, with every step comes a closer bond. Free spirited hearts carrying heartfelt banters of care and concerns. While we can grow apart, we can also grow inclusively with humility.
I have watched various spaces filled with people who come and go. Many that stay beyond their “time” and many who couldn’t stay still because of something more. I have rooted myself in places where I thought people would grow together with time. But only to be disappointed, with time itself.
Looking up to the sky last evening,I have decided again to slowly let go of the strings I attached myself to. That this little big island, cannot be a place for a fish out of water like me. After five years, there is something better than forming a better relationship with a piece of device than the person living next door. If this is living, then the living is rather nonchalent. We are too afraid to bring the walls down; yet the only thing that brings us together is by lowering them.
Vulnerability in community snowballs. Once its members become vulnerable and find themselves being valued and appreciated, they become more and more vulnerable. The walls come tumbling down. And as they tumble, as the love and acceptance escalates, as the mutual intimacy multi-plies, true healing and converting begins. Old wounds are healed, old resentments forgiven, old resistances overcome. Fear is replaced by hope. – M.Scott Peck
If letting go looks like the beautiful sunset, then let the light in.
A little tip of enhancing beetroot hummus with laksa flowers leaves and sambal. Oh what would I do without a little kick of spiciness in my food?
April 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
You are too honest, she said.
Well I have been very transparent with my life with people I’ve met. I have been quite real with everyone and the downfall is, people do get tired of listening to your stories. Over the week I’ve reflected on friendships that have failed to withstand the rough weather. How often do we go about our lives to reach out to others only to see a two blue ticks, a “read” with timestamp and ill-reciprocated responses? It’s not the best feeling in the world. You try again but no respond. It leaves you wondering why you even bother, what you have done wrong or perhaps they honestly are just busy with their lives.
But we always say we make time. The priorities change and everything kind of just moves on. I hold on to things and people dearly. There is a certain sentiment that a moment shared between two people or more that I somehow appreciate. While the souls or physical existences connect, and intertwined but are ghosts to my daily routines now.
Coming to terms with distant bonds have been hard. In this city I had wished to call home but have not seem to established a sense of belonging. I have had them and still have very found memories of laughters and joy with hose that had withstand the tide, I am so grateful for. But leaving and coming back to them, doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.
We sat down at the dining table last week and questioned authenticity. I just could not bring myself to accept the fact that some people are what we thought of them to be. Our minds love to play tricks on us, we delude ourselves into anything possible and anything factual. Facts and fiction walk a fairly thin line depending on which end of the spectrum you are on.
But the truth lies when the blue two ticks don’t get a respond, or a phone call doesn’t get returned, you ought to close that chapter and start a new page.
Almost two years ago, someone told me I couldn’t be what I am. I couldn’t run a space, I can’t write a cookbook, I can’t run because I have no endurance. I shouldn’t be vegan, I shouldn’t say what I feel and I shouldn’t be what I endeavour to be.
This morning, I ran for an hour and almost hit the 10km mark. Last week, we finished off a menu that was solely written by women. I am still on a plant based diet and living just fine.
We are all afraid to disappoint others’ expectations. It takes us a while to realise that we are deluded with our own imaginations formed by our upbringing or exposure. We are all so fearful of failing or falling short. Not meeting deadlines, not getting to the finishing line etc, the greatest disappointment is nothing but letting yourself down.
“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The weekend is here again, soon it will be gone. The little pet project I have been working on is setting off. There won’t be weekends on weekends, and breakfast on breakfast. I start to wonder the lives others’ live. For those that enjoy the daily 9-5 and holidays, there are those at the other side of your world that make those hours for you. But instead of letting that get to me too much, I’m starting my own set of routines for after beer runs, yoga sessions and quiet sharing reads.
The kitchen crew I work with now are mostly Malaysians. And as much as I can’t love my own country’s political federations or climate (please don’t say one malaysia), I do love our people’s resilience to life. They also have a very good sense of humour when a crisis hits. The jokes are on us but we love the attention, perhaps that is why we have the best Comedian on Earth.
So here goes to the new page.
You can be my beurre noisette to form a great cookie or folded into a simple muffin batter. Thank you for always being a text away, sharing your day and making my day count. Looking forward to form a community of modest cooks and great humble beginnings. We have been procrastinating this for way too long!
April 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
This week has been a long ride. There were undeniably questions of how long can one trust the process, how honest are we to ourselves and etc. Well, it shouldn’t be that doubtful but the energiser bunny’s battery level was depleting.
I had spent an insatiable amount of time with food (more than the average joe). I eat it, I write about it, I research it, I plan other people’s meals, I cook/bake/alter etc. I could go on until the cows come home. After a while I start viewing it not as a mean but either a form of art or business/passion. One could have a bad relationship, just like spending too much time with one person and you could end up wanting space. The roles are mixed up and somehow along the way, the respect or trust can be lost.
There was a time where I wasn’t very proud of myself and the relationship with food turned sour. I lost all interest with eating/cooking. I was frail, insecure about my decisions and was pretty low. Tired of feeling so exhausted all the time, I took the step to take responsibly of my own well-being. It started with preparing meals at home, buying groceries, salads, making sandwiches, changing white rice to brown rice and eating less processed/refined junk. I brought food wherever I went. There was really no excuse of “oh I can’t find healthy food”,because I was prepared. It was then I realised that if you could take ownership of your own health then why can’t you do the same with the other aspects of your life? We often victimise ourselves into bad situations but don’t we all fall short to see that the situation is negative, because we allow ourselves to let it be.
So my friends can have a bowl of deep-fried tofu/fishballs in chicken stock curry egg noodles while I have mixed rice, sautéed vegetable with fresh salad leaves. They can make fun of the diet, they can decide not to hang out, they have chosen to order more vegetables, they have taken notice of their own diets and some have even wrote to me how I’ve changed theirs. Somehow I am thankful for those that have been more aware of themselves. As much I would love to say, you are what you eat, you truly are, how you eat. If you are the sort that eat chicken breast and can’t run a mile, you are that piece of meat as it is. If you are the sort that takes time to enjoy marinating the piece of meat and have it with brown rice sautéed in garlic or oriental greens, perhaps you would learn to appreciate a different side of life. After all, people who love to eat are always the best people.
Soba noodles with ceylon spinach: Veggie Stack, replicated from an original tofu veg stack made by a best friend from Canada who loves his bacon way too much for his own good
With the people who loves food, comes with different sort. Eating is an intimate activity. Perhaps this is why there are people we constantly declined to be on the same table with and those who are always there when we have our daily staples.
I came home late last evening after hours in the kitchen, just in time for dinner and enough time to bake for the next morning. I reflected on these thoughts of how food has altered my way of lives and those around me. I thought of how small I am in making a change and how much more I want to be. More change soon to come but for now, here is a vegan, gluten-free banana bread made with chia seeds, walnut powder, sorghum flour and coconut oil. I am leaving out the recipe for another day.
April 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
perhaps this was lunch or breakfast, whatever the time was, a bowl of oatmeal with coconut flesh, mango, fresh berries and ground cinnamon chia seeds
There are many reasons why I put up with the long hours, the kitchen bullshit, the shenanigans crew and irregular produce or perhaps nature. There are many reasons why day after day I go back to the station, lay a wet towel, a chopping board, and sharpen the knife before cooking. There are many reasons to stay in this spot, but with different cooking styles and a change of crew; yet feeling the familiarity of creating something together. Watching all the little actions, discipline attitudes, loud laughters with tired eyes and knowing somehow when everything comes to one, we are doing something good. There are no reasons to why I will ever stop doing this because deep down, it’s to feed people honest food and simply see the smiles on their faces.
I want to be honest in everywhere.
I had Indian vegetarian dinner with a chef friend sometime last week. While we decide over what dishes to share, I took a chance to question his hospitality experiences. We had worked in mutual establishments but at different times and with different crew. Nevertheless, we had gained a somewhat passionate drive and indebted deed for these places for we were young and were just starting out our service journeys. There is something we couldn’t point out that drawn us here, but we realised that at some moments, the chefs/owners had made us feel like “nothing”.
Yes, nothing. Nada. Empty.
They made us feel like we didn’t belong there or simply didn’t care to be there even when we put in 60-80 hours a week/dedicated our hearts to the space. Why? Well perhaps it was their egos that we didn’t feed or they couldn’t accept that we challenged their mottos. I often hear stories of crew saying they “fit in” or “left out”. How come we always want to be part of something when we couldn’t even accept ourselves or even discover ourselves yet? Why are we always seeking from approval from others while we couldn’t even approve of our own doings/feelings? More so allow others to do so?
While exploring this topic, we walked around the bustling Little India’s vegetable vendors. The produce seems to be more vibrant and energetic, much like the people and vibes they portrayed. After almost a decade in this industry, we realised that we had to be honest with ourselves. That came with courage and vulnerability, like oil and vinegar whisk together to form a beautiful gentle vinaigrette.
I no longer feel the need to impress customers but to make them happy. I had always been the plain Jane who bakes everyday cake loaves and imagine serving a community that makes my family. I want to be the butter to their breads and cup of daily joe. Following trends and moving forward may seem appealing but there is so much more about history of food and authentic cooking/baking techniques I have yet to master. Hence, ordering the classic aloo gobi masala and paneer with an all-time-favourite soft chapati.
Somewhere down the line, I found happiness in being presently focus on making this philosophy count.
Somewhere through that night, I realised my personal life was taking a shift. I no longer feel the need to change for someone. I no longer feel so upset when they don’t feed themselves well or be responsible of their own health (well I try to). If they can’t help themselves, you can’t help them. The realisations have to come from within. That being said, I am thankful to be surrounded by motivated crossfit ladies/long-distance runners or smoothie nazis/cleaner eating buddies. One step at a time, one step at a time.
Much like this morning’s surprised breakfast (after a too early 8km run) at Woodlands Sourdough. An old regular who got his & his wife’s hands dirty and opened a heartwarming bakery. Long fermented bread dough with patience, homemade almond butter with sea salt/honey and honest coffee. I can only hope for more like-minded people for a good change.