Monday, November 28, 2011

musings about FOH

"i don't think it is worth it!" declared a woman...over and over again....who decided to put back some of the fruit that she was going to purchase from one of the vendors at the farmers market. this is a vendor that i visit on a regular basis. fruit from this vendor is $3.90 a pound and the price point is very obviously displayed every 4 inches on their signage throughout their stand. when i observed this behavior, there was a part of me that immediately created a mental picture of me grabbing her very expensive yet knockoff quilted chanel purse and repeatedly hitting her burberry logo branded clad body over and over again for such incredible rudeness.

if you don't want to buy the fruit, don't buy it.

perhaps, if you knew a bit more about the'd realize why their fruit is $3.90 a pound and why it is incredibly delicious. when i buy their fruit...i buy 3-4 pieces for personal consumption and enjoy every bite. i've been doing this for years and i'm doing it right i eat an asian pear from this vendor for breakfast.

as i puttered around my place this morning, i made myself a cup of hot chocolate which was just water and valrhona (see top pic). just thinking. you know, just thinking about people. thinking about interactions with people. then when i reached for the asian pear, it reminded me of that instance at the market. i've been wanting to write about front of house (FOH) experience for a while why not now? as i have a quiet contemplative moment...waiting for the various loads of laundry to finish up. there has also been more then enough time between my own FOH stints with hapa that my anonymity will still be present....even if i write about it.

i'm a cranky curmudgeonly person.

i don't hide this.

yet, the times that i've helped out doing some FOH work for hapa, i put that aside....because for means more to me that the clients have a positive experience than being myself.

when i help out ...and end up doing is important to me that the clients receive a friendly smile, observant supportive helpfulness, a positive connection....that underscores and respects the food. this friendliness is completely contrary to my personality. i'm usually only know...if i actually like you. yet, why is it so important to me when i'm doing this? because i know exactly how much work the folks....often right behind the BOH.... put into the food....and i know exactly who makes the food, the farmers the ingredients come from, and the number of lives that the overall business impacts.

the food in itself is a culmination of so many different people....a web of networks....that come ensure that the food that is delivered on the counter or table has the best intentions.

for me, when i am working FOH is different....because i actually care.

at my day job, i care about the quality of work i produce....and my team MUST be of the highest quality possible....but i have zero emotional attachment to what execs decide to do with the information. i know and they know it is what they role is providing the information, potential outcomes, strategies, and tactics....but it is really up to them to pull up their own pants and take responsibility for the decisions that come out of the work i do. that is why they get paid a boatload more money than i do. i love the intellectual puzzles and challenges of the work....but have a complete emotional detachment to decisions that are made because of it.

i fully realize that i pimp out my brain and get well compensated for it.

my experiences helping out doing FOH stints here and here are incredibly different. not only do i actually care, but it has also provided me with a different perspective.

i don't see FOH folks the same way anymore.

anytime i hear about a sense of entitlement of a certain percentage for a FOH tip, i just roll my eyes these days. like any team in any kind of industry, there are those that are great at what they do, those that are average, and those that just really suck. if you suck, you shouldn't get rewarded for being need to either step up your game or do something else. at the same time, i realize that the places i've become a "regular" is because of specific food offerings and the skill of certain FOH. skilled FOH are integral to creating the atmosphere that underscores the vision for the well as the food. when i am regular at certain places, i know when someone is just having an "off day" and definitely don't penalize them for it.....and i also know which FOH at these same places are just consistently and always awful....and try to ensure that i'm not seated in their sections.

i also fully realize that some clients are on the full spectrum as well....some are super friendly, some just want their food, some are shy/awkward but are seeking connections with their food, and some are supreme assholes...on that person at the farmers market that decided to publicly deride the fruit. there have been times when i've observed supreme asshole behavior from clients at places i've visited...and actually made a conscious decision to "break through" that barrier between client/ just acknowledge that as a human being......certain actions on the part of the client were inappropriate and uncalled for. normally, the FOH folks are supremely surprised when i've done this...yet, i never received the impression that it wasn't welcomed.

oddly enough, i think folks often forget that the FOH folks are human beings....or they deliberately don't want to remember. i find that this reveals quite a bit about their character or lack thereof.

yet, sometimes, i think this goes both ways.

there are times when i've been a client...watching...observing....certain suck-o-rama FOH folks forget that their clients are human beings as well. i've seen certain FOH pigeon hole and categorize people....and provide them with service that has truly been appalling....methinks that they forget that in such an affluent area like san francisco...that there are many folks that save up to eat out and are hopeful of having a lovely dining experience because they don't get it very often. instead of gently guiding these clients through the dining experience...these FOH become supercilious pretentious pricks. the times i've seen makes me both angry and sad.

while i didn't receive that makes me angry enough that i don't return to those places.

i suppose we all have our pet peeves....and this is obviously one of mine. a rather ginormous one.

unsurprisingly, i've never seen anything remotely like this with hapa (even before folks knew who i was)...which is not surprising since i think richie would make any FOH person become quite familiar with his serious knife skills if they were that type of person or decided to show that sort of unacceptable behavior....he's has high expectations for every aspect of his business.
also unsurprisingly, i adore some of the FOH folks that do the hapa ramen popups.

i think my stints helping out FOH on occasion has also led to a greater appreciation for those that decide to do it day....after day....having the patience dealing with the sheer amount of people that come through. i'm not exactly certain what it is...but there is something about food that brings out the best.....most joyful.....almost glowing happiness from people....and it also brings out some of the most appalling behavior.

i know that i couldn't do it. the only reason why i do it occasionally now is i have stated before...i believe in what hapa is doing and want to support them. there is a different doing something because you "have to" and doing something because you...or in this case.... "i".... believe in what the folks are doing.

big difference.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

a nakano thanksgiving

"three turkeys?!"

when mrs. hapa ramen told me on our hiphop dance date that richie had three turkeys in their fridge for thanksgiving, i was both surprised and not surprised.

i was surprised considering how many events hapa had in the pipeline before thanksgiving....i.e,. a popup at bar tartine, two market days back-to-back, etc...which meant that there wasn't a heck of a lot of time to prep for thanksgiving. i don't think folks realize just how much prep work goes into hapa's regular gig at the tuesday and thursday farmers when adding things like popups and doesn't leave much time for coordination of a rather large holiday meal.

yet, i wasn't surprised...because...well, it is richie after all.

so after mrs. hapa ramen and i talked a bit more about thanksgiving, i didn't really think that much about the three turkeys. i figured that richie was going to do his thing and that i'd pretty much took it for granted that it was going to be great.

of course, it was.

i wasn't stressed about what i was bringing to thanksgiving because i had already arranged what i considered to be a rather fool proof strategy. sooooo....what do you do when you know that you are going to go to a chef's house (and not just any chef...but richie's pressure or anything) for thanksgiving? well, if you are the foodie buy food from another chef to bring for thanksgiving. and booze (i.e., templeton rye whiskey in this case).

when wing wings tweeted that they were thinking of offering up ready to bake biscuits for thanksgivng, i was ALL OVER IT. it was a no-brainer. i treat them like a bakery anyways, so i bought two dozen assorted (i.e., plain buttermilk, brown sugar black pepper, and bacon cheddar scallion) and picked them up the day before thanksgiving.

the FOH folks were really nice as usual. the ready to bake biscuits were packaged up and had heating instructions. i also received some additional instructions from the chef as well which was much appreciated.

i ended up baking them at my place before i headed over to richie's and mrs. hapa ramen's (yes, i'm calling her that because i don't have her permission to name her....but she really does have her own distinct separate identity). i had a feeling that the oven at their place was going to be in constant use and didn't want to add another potential stressor. baking the biscuits helped me get into more of a holiday mindset since a work project dropped on wed morning that i had to finish before i headed out for thanksgiving festivities at the nakano home.

when i arrived at the nakano residence, things were already in full swing. the apps of boccalone salumi, cheese from cow girl, gigantic shrimp that looked like mini-lobsters, etc where already on the table and bubbly wine was being passed around.

the aromas throughout the house were absolutely delightful. when i walked into their home, i walked into warmth, comfort, and hospitality. the hours went by quite quickly.....and then there was a flurry of activity to put out all of the thanksgiving mains and sides.

richie had deboned one of the turkeys and stuffed it.

oh yes he did.

he also sous vide turkey and then pan fried it.

oh yes he did.

of course, it was all so good.

there was no dry bland tasting turkey in the nakano residence that evening. absolutely not. as for the sides, there was also greens, brussels sprouts with guanciale, cranberry sauce, au jus gravy, a roasted squash with dates, dumplings (homemade russian style from svet), biscuits (wing wings), holiday souffle-like mash potatoes (riche's mom), and desserts (jesse).

the food was great. quite frankly, i wasn't expecting it to be anything less than great.

while the food was wonderful as expected, there were also some rather choice non-food moments throughout the evening that make me smile....and make the rather cynical foodie hunter all warm and fuzzy as i recall them days later.....
  • watching richie show his mom how to use a knife
  • colton dancing.
  • hearing how proud richie's mom was of him
  • mrs. hapa ramen and i discussing various options for our next date. richie trying to not look too excited or too encouraging about one of the specific shopping options.
  • jesse instigating a "making whipped cream contest". the young adorable brothers who put 300% behind the whisk. enthusiasm was infectious. i couldn't stop laughing.
  • my slight panic when i found out richie's mom had read "foodie hunter". i did a mental scroll through my blog...trying to figure out if i've written anything offensive. then panic completely dissipated when she let me know that she follows her son on twitter. then my reaction was sending richie a look that translated into "OMFG-your-mom-follows-you-on-twitter-especially-given-what-you-tweet". richie's response? a half shrug.
  • jesse and his wife holding hands. adorable.
  • getting to meet violet blue. i went to a commonwealth club panel earlier this year to specifically see her speak. smart, sassy, articulate, and even more uber awesome in person.
  • richie giving me a cup of coffee with a cheshire grin. anytime he smiles like that it means something is in the drink. sure enough, it had enough booze in it to put hair on someone's chest.
  • colton making a grunt noise to get my attention, holding up his arms, and wiggling his fingers....all indications that he wants to be picked up. i'm well trained.
  • at the end of the evening.....two seconds before i closed my eyes....trying not to laugh as a very inebriated friend gave his wife a lap dance. hence, my closing my eyes as i realized what was going on to prevent something like blindness.
  • the appearance of darth vader.
  • richie showing me video games, specifically the third person fighting game....which is like waving crack in front of an addict btw. i got a wee bit too excited and said that i had to stop. i was having flashbacks to being stinky at 3am with numb ass playing video games. this was thanksgiving after all.
  • the nerd moment when a group of us instantly identified that the picture of the space ship was serenity.
  • mrs. hapa ramen yelling out that she knew that i knew the answer to a movie trivia question because i read the young adult science fiction novel rather than watching the movie. we talk a lot. usually not about food.

thanksgiving at the nakano home was filled with so many lovely moments. many more than what i have recounted here. moments filled with family, friends, food, laughter, and many reminders of what i am thankful for.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


the first slew of morning meetings is over. i'm waiting on a couple of things so i thought i'd steal away for a moment to revel in my crush over the pineapple guava that the fam dropped off yesterday. i know that they look quite humble .....small oval globes with bumpy lime green skins and tiny bursts at one end.

yet, there is more to them than just the humble visage.

as i take one in my hand....rolling the very firm, plump, and slightly nubby fruit through my fingers.....i bring it up to my nose and inhale the delectable fragrance....that hints of sweetness, citrus, green, floral, and a wee bit of mint.

then as i peel off the skin.....the ivory juicy fruit reveals itself......the enticing fragrance becomes more present and i can feel the freshly wet grainy pear-like texture underneath my fingertips...engaging and teasing the senses which builds up the anticipation for the tasting.....hmmmmmm....hey lover....

then as i slice into the fruit, i can't help but think how humble it looks....

so at odds with the potent fragrance. yet, then i take a bite.

the first note of tartness sparks the tongue....stimulating the senses to full alert....and then follows through with sweetness....almost lullingly....soothing the taste buds after the initial intensity.

hmmmm, such a lovely way to begin the morning....don't you think?

Monday, November 14, 2011

moment away from the headache

something hit me today and literally knocked me off my feet.

i think i caught a bug or something. completely unexpected.

at the moment, i can finally feel the headache lessen a bit....which is quite a wonderful thing. when i was talking to the heart sis this evening, i was pleading with her to not make me laugh since the headache would reach a rather epic level. the fam is going to be keeping an eye on me over the next couple of days. i think i'll be getting a check-in visit tomorrow as well as a potential delivery of some pineapple guava from their back yard. not only will it be good to see one of the godkids but i also do love pineapple guava quite a bit.

i know that it seems to be a bit odd for me to be writing, despite feeling a bit ill....especially with a headache. yet, one of the things i found out this evening is that a friend of the godson was diagnosed with a brain tumor. this friend is seven years old. i find this pretty heartbreaking....which is why i am writing about this now.

in case you haven't figured it out yet, this blog really isn't about food. this blog is about what i am thinking about at any given moment. this blog is me.

right now, i'm thinking about what it means to be diagnosed with a brain tumor at seven years old. seven years old. i'm thinking about what this mean for her parents. i'm thinking how does one explain this to the godkids....who are seven and five...that a friend of theirs has this. i'm thinking about how my family is thinking about it is natural to do so when your children are so close in age. how can you not think about the challenges that life presents and how there are things we can never predict despite so much planning. i'm hoping that the tumor will be benign and easily removable.

unsurprisingly, hearing about this also reminded me how important it is that people that i care about know that i care about them. this is really the most important thing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

stopping by my local "bakery" before sunday dinner

i was running a wee bit behind today. i wanted to ensure that i arrived to oakland on time to make sunday dinner at CK's house. while i had no idea what was on the menu, all i knew was that it was my responsibility to show up with the marrow bones (marin sun farms). i also knew what i wanted to put together my host present which would be a jar of peacotum (plum peach apricot hyrbrid) jam from blue chair that i already picked up.....some baked goods from wing wings, and a bottle of wine from paul marcus.

yeah, i know that wing wings that has a large focus on chicken wings. i also think the readers of this blog are aware of my affection for the chicken wings and chicken salad on a biscuit. yet, to be quite frank, i also treat wing wings like a bakery. for example, when the sis crashed at my place for an evening a while ago, i ensured that i was stocked up on the brown sugar black pepper biscuits as well as the pineapple sweet cream cheese pies (see top pic) which were a hit btw. we also paired the brown sugar black pepper biscuits with ice cream (strawberry je ne sais quoi from three twins for me....which is the one pairing in the picture..... and a vanilla goat milk ice cream for the sis).

so yeah, i treat wing wings like a bakery. i really shouldn't be surprised by this. the most common things i get from OTD on bush to go are the steamed buns and the pate choux. there is precedence for this kind of behavior.

when i like food..... i just like it. i also end up buying it for loved ones to try as well.

while i was a bit behind schedule today, i knew that i still wanted to buy some baked goods from wing wings before i picked up the marrow bones. so i got in a cab to the lower haight and i don't know what it is about me and talkative cabbies....but this happens a lot. the cabbie ended up telling me about this sandwich place that he likes in soma and then proceeded to ask me why i was going to the lower haight. when i told him that i had some jam in my bag and wanted to pick up some biscuits from wing wings as part of my host present for the sunday dinner know...something for the folks to have for breakfast the next day as a treat. he had a good chuckle and said something about how i must like to cook and then proceeded to ask me about the wing wings menu + how late it was open.

while i was answering the cabbie's questions, i did think this was rather funny on very many levels.

then i got his curiosity going so much that when we arrived to the lower haight....instead of dropping me off at the corner (which would have been much easier), he wanted to drop me off literally right in front of wing wings + double that he could get a good look at the place as he wanted to remember it for him to visit later. we were both chuckling quite a bit when i gave the cabbie the fare+tip and hopped out.

after i bought some brown sugar black pepper biscuits, i caught muni to bart.....

and made it in enough time to pick up the marrow bones and wine (a young barolo). sunday dinner included roasted marrow bones w/home made bread (using a tartine recipe no less!), a poached egg in the broth from the pot de feu (well hello you sexy dish), the super tender meat from the lovely pot de feu, and a deliciousness dessert of goat milk panna cotta, pears, and a pine nut brittle.

i think i'm still glowing from the pleasure from the meal.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


not to state the obvious or anything....but i haven't written for quite some time.

it hasn't been a case of not having things to say, to write, or to process.

it has been more of a what should or shouldn't i say?

everyday i have sat in front of the monitor, put my hands on the keys, and thought "is this the day?"

every. day.

there is some comfort in anonymity as it provides a mask.....albeit sometimes an illusionary mask....yet, the anonymity mask is still a device that provides me with the capability to be vulnerable and "speak" truthfully. the more folks that know who i am "in the flesh", the more difficult it becomes to maintain that level of vulnerable truthfulness....the sort of stark blunt honesty that enables this blog to be a sanctuary space.

a small sanctuary space where i could just be me with all of my contradictions, weaknesses, and foibles. a space where i could be nerdy uncool unhip in my passions. a space where i could type of many seemingly unrelated random things that make up snippets of stories....just unassuming tiny snippets about an everyday life with everyday challenges and everyday moments of pleasure. yet, no matter what...the snippets would be honest, open, and truthful in the moment.

what has been on my mind recently is that i don't know if i will be able to continue to do so. as the anonymity slips here and there....i don't know if i will be able to write with the same blunt honest mindset that i did before.

to be quite frank, i don't know if i'm strong enough to do so.

i want to believe that i'm strong enough to do so.

yet, i don't know if i will be.

how's that for some honesty?

there are some things in life that i have some overwhelming epically large amounts pride, stubbornness, analytical processing speed in the identification of patterns (which unfortunately is decreasing with age....sigh) and the like...but i'm not carrying around a big load of "willingness to be vulnerable". the amount is more a kin to a thumbnail...and i have small hands.

do i know that it is something i need to work on?


you can't hear me...but if you could. you'd hear a whisper that would also sound like a remarkably squeaky kind of "yes".

it is one of the reasons why i started this blog...years ago. i knew i needed to work on this.....and i have been working quite diligently on this.

yet, it is still a challenge.....for me....and one that doesn't seem to get easier.