Saturday, January 23, 2010

Far from then

I started my work life like most of us – college and then the search to find my place in corporate America. I landed a position in a company that did sales and marketing for television programs which, was fascinating and I loved when we would brainstorm ideas and plot marketing campaigns. What I did not understand was the face-time you had to put in – I mean, if I was done at 4:20 in the afternoon why push paper around until 5:30? Not to mention, the math I needed to perform in order to calculate an amortization schedule or cost-out a per-minute advertising spot over the term a contract. This did not harness the best of my abilities. It did not take too long for me to choose drop out.

I retreated to the perpetually pleasant environs of southern California. Healing my injured psyche by withdrawing into a cave to contemplate my navel; then there were days sitting, meditating on the beach. I needed to find my voice – my joy.

I would search the help-wanted ads looking for something to jump out at me. I had a stint in a novelty warehouse, moving inventory from here to there. I leveraged my sales experience to represent a badge and signage company making dreadful cold calls, a job I hate the most. Not surprisingly I got fired. Then I saw an ad for a prep-cook. I had no hospitality experience only a love of cooking that had me hosting weekly dinner parties for my friends. So, I put on my blue power suit; slipped into my way-to-expensive Italian loafers; tucked my resume into my otherwise useless attaché case, and walked into the hotel kitchen, hopeful. The executive chef who interviewed me was a good-old-boy type – a bit too large for me and insisted that only country-western music play on the radio – I am a disco baby! I was the type he ate for breakfast after a keg-filled night.

Surprisingly, I got the position and spent my first month charged with washing lettuce. Think the chef was secretly hoping I’d crumble and run from the kitchen bruised and defeated, but I fell in love – I tore, washed, drained, re-washed and spun the day’s lettuce to perfection. I kept my eyes open, volunteered to assist anyone in the kitchen with their tasks– I found home.

This simple, lowly job captured my imagination and catapulted me to culinary school (let’s be serious, being a lettuce washer was not a career). I found a way to harness my creative spirit: employ my business savvy, and even on the most daunting days, hear the song of my soul fill the kitchen.

The lost and terrified young executive morphed into an enthusiastic, fearless chef. These days when I am low, fed-up or looking for motivation I remember those first steps and the bounce they had.

Salt Cod Coquettes - yields approx. 24
1 1/2 -pound salt cod - soaked in a few changes of water over 24 hours
1-pound potato
2 shallots - diced
2 teaspoons thyme - chopped
1-teaspoon celery seed - ground
1 habeñero chili - seeds removed, and diced fine
3 garlic cloves - pasted
3 eggs
Flour for coating
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Bread crumbs for coating

In a 2-quart pot place the salt cod and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the salt cod for 5 minutes. Drain. Cool the salt cod and then flake the fish.

Peel and cube the potatoes and cook until soft. Mash to smooth, and then cool.

Combine the salt cod, mashed potatoes, 1 egg, shallots, thyme, celery seed, habeñero and garlic together. Form into 1" balls and flatten slightly.

Beat the remaining eggs. Roll the croquette in the flour then egg and finally the bread crumbs. Heat a frying pan with enough oil to cover the croquettes and bring the oil to 360 degrees. Fry the croquettes until golden brown on all sides.

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