Alaska

“People come to Alaska for one of two reasons, they’re either running for something or searching for something. Ty the bartender.

Coolworks.com strikes again…… I need to just block the site from my computer because every time I go on the site, I end up sending out my resume while stoned, then getting interviewed and having smoke blown up my ass and end up on yet another misadventure. This is how I landed in Yellowstone, this is how I got to Cali and now it was going to be Alaska because…… why the fuck not?

I saw the red flags and I chose to ignore them for the sake of adventure and the simple fact that I thrive in the strange but don’t handle stability very well. I’m saying this because I don’t want you to think that I’m that stupid after this many years. I act against better judgment all the time. It’s a hobby.

When *Annie called me less than 3 hours after I sent my resume I could tell two things, she was drunk and she was desperate. She also had that Queen Bitch attitude that told me right away that she surrounded herself with “Yes Men”, people didn’t or couldn’t disagree with her. I figured this out within minutes.

Pardon me if I come off as a bit of a Sociopath for a second.

I know how to read people, I know how to figure out what they need and how to be that thing. This is how I cook, this is how I fuck, this is how I get jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lie and I never talk shit I can’t back up. This is why she looked up the website and despite the fact that I was clearly nuts, she wanted me to talk to her father who actually owned the lodge.

The lodge itself was nothing special. It was on a lake in the middle of the Kenai Peninsula miles away from anything other than a general store. It’s just like one of the hundreds out there and that’s why I can say what I’m saying and keep it vague but you still get the point.

*Boiler was a retired Marine and that’s really all I need to say. The simple fact that he hired me to run the Kitchen should tell you how desperate he was.

Trash, pack, and store. The three piles my life fit’s into in the days before I hit the road. I do this several times a year and have been doing this for over a decade. I’ve learned to travel light and not get too attached to material goods. I know that shit can hit at any second and there have been several times that I’ve had an hours notice to pack and go. It sounds a bit extreme I know. Trust me, it sucks living like this but it makes great content for the site.

I stayed in Seattle for 4/20 because…… I’m a fucking stoner okay. I got a 10-inch joint and ended up making a batch of highly potent butter that went into a rather tasty batch of brownies that I passed out to my former staff as I said my goodbyes.

My friends understood. They’ve known me long enough to know this is normal. Even my buddies girlfriend has been part of 3 “Going away…..again” dinners at Zig Zag and she’s only been with him 18 months (great girl by the way). This staff didn’t know what to think but it didn’t matter, my bag was packed and I was catching a flight to Anchorage.

As soon as I landed things got strange. Annie and one of the bartenders picked me up and wanted to go out for a drink.  Something was going on and at first, I thought that they were going to tell me that they had hired someone else and that I was going to be the Sous Chef or some bullshit along those lines.

Nope, it was worse.

Now, let me just say the family has my utmost sympathy but I didn’t know the kid and am writing on my own experience with the matter. No disrespect is intended.

(You also know what I have to type this it’s going to get odd)

“One of your line cooks drowned in the lake Monday night.” said the bartender.

“Oh really, tell me more, what happened?” I said thinking that they were trying to fuck with the city slicker on his first day in the great white north.

“No, I’m serious, he went out on the lake without a life vest and they still haven’t found the body” she replied. She wasn’t fucking with me. Turns out they didn’t find the body until sixty days later.

I’ve dealt with some crazy shit but this was new. I could also tell that these people had known the guy and that they were still very much in shock so I did my best to keep my reaction to a bare minimum while ordering another double.

Late April in Alaska is when things really start to change. Out of all the times I could have been there this was probably the best for the fact that in the five weeks I was there I saw the place come to life. Every morning the snow was a little higher up the peaks and the birds started to come back.

I’ve lived all over and am writing this while sitting in Montana so I’ve seen some epic landscapes. Montana is big but it feels like a city park compared to just the small taste of Alaska that I got. To say it’s humbling is an understatement.

The ride from Anchorage back to the lodge was long. Annie and the Bartender spent most of the time interrogating me to get a feel of who I was. They knew about the website and Annie had done her homework so she knew that I was a bit left of center. Despite this, I tried my best to keep things toned down and explain that I was a lot louder on print to get people’s attention, but for the most part, I was a much more introspective person than I appeared.

When we arrived the place looked like I was stepping into a postcard. I took pictures but they never really captured how big the place felt. But I could smell the dysfunction that this level of isolation breeds.

Now, I’m not trying to talk trash about most of the people I met. For the most part, they tended to be cool as people but I wasn’t there to be friends or have a life, I was there to run a fucking Kitchen. You can be the best all-star person on earth, but if you show up late and cause problems in my Kitchen, I’ll fucking crucify your sorry ass.

I knew full and well that the Kitchen was mine, I had to sign a contract and all that bullshit. What I didn’t need to do, what I tried to avoid was coming in with both guns blazing. It intimidates people, it pushes them away.

I understood the dynamics of living and working in an isolated environment with a small group of diverse people. I know how fast things can get fucked.

In that regards, I was lucky to have two seasons in Yellowstone to prepare myself for the inevitable shit show that I was going to face. People get weird when you take them out of their comfort zone and put them into a high-stress environment with others facing a similar dilemma. My solution was to stay either in the Kitchen or hidden away in my cabin. Sounds reasonable right?

When I arrived we were in the middle of the transition from the winter into the summer tourist season. I needed staff, I needed to find better vendors and get the costs under control. Before I could do anything else I needed to clean.

The Kitchen was, to put it nicely, an utter fucking nightmare caked in grease. How in the hell the place was ever able to pass a health inspection worries me. I’m not bitching, if the place was run right, I wouldn’t have a job. I’m Scottish, I’m used to having the odds stacked against me. With a power washer and enough degreaser, I would have the place shining like Jesus. On that note, I ended up going through close to 5 gallons of industrial strength degreaser to get the place to the point that I was willing to cook in it. Remember kids: A clean Kitchen is a Pimp Kitchen.

One bit of fun I was able to have was a trip to Anchorage for a food and booze show.Due to Alaska being so big and yet sparsely populated, it made sense to combine the two and I got wasted as hell. When I started to get really drunk I would go and eat free samples and fake interest knowing full and well I would never serve this shit to my customers. But I was drunk and it was free.

Okay, so I hope I don’t come off as too cold hearted but I have to state the facts and I know I’ll sound like an asshole but if you had been there you would understand.

My only line cook was a fucking moron. Yes motherfucker, if you’re reading this (if you can read) I tried to be nice, I tried to work with you but at the end of the day the only real benefit to having you around was that you were able to score weed, like 3 times. Other than that you sucked and from what I’ve heard, still do. 

A prime example of someone who has gone to school and gotten a piece of paper that says they’re a Chef and they then become a pain in my ass. Listen up fuckos, I’ve been in the game for a long ass time and paid my dues to EARN the title. I’ll wipe my ass with your fucking “degree”.

The problem was the labor pool. There wasn’t one.

The closest town was 30 miles south and the restaurants were a lot nicer and paid better. And they hadn’t already burned bridges with the talent which was limited. I was left more or less scraping the bottom of the barrel to find people like me who were stupid enough to come live there.

I was lucky, I got saved by an old friend who had already done a summer in the area and had a slightly better idea of what to expect. He was also one of the best guys I knew, both in and out of the Kitchen so he more or less saved my ass.

The problem was that I couldn’t fire the Monkey.

I make zero apologies for being an asshole in my Kitchen. I try to be nice but when being nice doesn’t work I’ll go to war in an instant. My Kitchen is my temple and if you fuck with it or my staff I will end you.

Granted, I still need to develop a stronger sense of patience. But when I have five tickets and am working a new line, don’t come up and start running your mouth about something that has nothing to do with what I have in front of me. In fact, unless something is bleeding or on fire, don’t fucking talk to me.

When I ask you to please get out of the Kitchen and you continue to pursue the course of action, don’t get butthurt when I then scream at you to “Get the fuck out now!!!!”.

Then, for the love of God whatever you do, do not come back and threaten to drag me outside and kick my ass. On a good day, I weigh about 150 pounds but I have no issue with cold-cocking a bitch with a hot saute pan to make a point.

For once, I didn’t snap.

The way shithead wants to play it is that he punked me down. I can see his point. My point was that he was a local and I didn’t have anyone to bail me out of jail in Alaska and it would have cost me my job. A punk redneck 24-year-old isn’t worth it. Checkers Vs Chess…..

The same night I had some 15-year-old kid we had hired to wash dishes. He had never worked a day in his life and this was the little shits intro to life in the Kitchen. I was amazed the kid came back. When I hear about how lazy the new generation is I use him as the prime example of an exception to the rule. In the three years since, I have yet to be anything but amazed at this kids work ethic, drive, and heart. Mentoring him was one of the few things that made the trip worth the hassle and I’m looking forward to watching his career. 

The next day I more or less told the owner that either he was firing the Monkey or I was done. I made it crystal clear that though I had played it cool that one time, that would be the only time. I don’t tolerate violence and I damn sure don’t tolerate mutiny in my crew.

Then I had a change of heart. The kid was a fucking moron but he was trying to take care of his girlfriend (who worked as a waitress there) and her kid. I also knew that no other place would hire him because he had already pissed off as many people as the Annie had. I felt sorry for him and for some reason thought that I might be able to pull his head out of his ass and get him to the point that he didn’t suck. In the Kitchen, he wasn’t that bad but he needed to understand that I was calling the shots and he didn’t get to have an opinion.

Fuck my pride, I had a Kitchen to run.

Having *Jose show up helped out a lot. He knew me, he knew my temper, he knew how to help keep me on point.

Then *Mary and *Carrie showed up……

Both of them needed rehab and a few hundred hours of therapy. The punchline was that Carrie was one of my new line cooks. She was working on her culinary degree……

A big pet peeve of mine is someone who says’s they’re a Chef, yet doesn’t have their own Knives. Now, I’m not saying that you need a full set of folded steel that’s been baptized in France, just one or two good sharp knives that you know how to use and you take care of. And fuck you no, you can’t use mine

Since the Monkey was on my shit list, it meant that Jose and Carrie were my left and right hands. Jose was great but I knew I was still fucked though I really tried to be optimistic about it and see if I could work with them and make them awesome

Oh, and Carrie had decided the minute she laid eyes on me that she was going to fuck me.

For once in my life, I tried to do the right thing but I have never in my life had I had a woman want to fuck me this bad. I was drunk and high and stupid and it was a mistake and I’m sorry. I ended up fucking her for three days. Stupid stupid stupid.To explain how bad it turned out, three years later and I still haven’t hooked up with another member of my staff… THREE YEARS.  

I asked for one night to myself to deal with the shit in my head. The main thing was that my old man in Arkansas wasn’t doing well and I was worried. The stress was taking its toll as well as the isolation and I just needed a night to just sit and recharge. As par for the course, she flipped out and started fucking the maintenance man.Then she got crazy. 

Yup…..

I didn’t care, all I was worried about was how it was going to affect things in the Kitchen. She acted like a total child and made me out to be the bad guy, that I had used her, etc. Whatever I figured, crazy bitch line cook is better than no line cook and I’m used to working with people that hate me. 

Jose and I managed to get a day off and borrow the truck from Annie to go drive and see the area. My cell phone didn’t have service so I made it a point to get a burner just so I had a way to stay in touch with people other than the internet.

The next day I called everyone to let them know what had been going on. I meant to call my old man never got around to it……

That night I was getting ready to pass out and I checked Facebook one last time. My brother had posted that the old man had had a heart attack and I jumped up to call him………

I’ve never screamed so loud in my life……..

I’m typing this 3 years later with tears in my eyes and it really hasn’t gotten better. Everything changed when I lost him.

Better days

I don’t remember much about the first few hours after I found out. Jose came over and tried to calm me down and I knew I had to stay up and let my sister in San Francisco know.

That was one of the hardest calls I’ve ever had to make. I was still in shock and couldn’t quite get the words out but she was able to put it together. All I could say is “ I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” as if it was my fault he had passed. She was lucky, she had spoken to him the day before, hours prior.

I flipped out on Monkey and told him to get the fuck out of the Kitchen again. This time he didn’t question me. It was oh so clear that I was out of my mind. I was too scared to go home and being in the Kitchen was the only place that felt safe though I was in no shape at all to be cooking. From what I remember I made Shiner Bock beef stew in memory of him since that was his favorite beer.

One of the bartenders was nice enough to give me a shit ton of pills to calm me down and make me sleep then poured me a few strong drinks and called the Monkey back in. He was understanding of the circumstances.

Even the few days after were a total blur of tears and booze. I wasn’t handling things well at all.

My father touched a lot of people, a lot more than even I knew about and people came out of the woodwork to share stories of how the old man had changed their life. Time and time again, people from all walks spoke of how stubborn yet compassionate he was.

When they did the memorial service they broadcast it on the web. I got to watch it from my laptop in a bar in the middle of fucking Alaska. Right after this, I snapped and quit.

My sister in Cali insisted that I come stay with her and we look after each other and I looked around to see how pointless the situation had become. The food was shit, the people didn’t care and I was wasting my time. Most importantly my family needed me and for the first time ever, I put my family and myself before a Kitchen.   

Annie and her Dad were not happy at all despite the fact that Jose was, for some reason, staying to cover the Kitchen. Once again I packed my gear and said goodbye to no one other the Jose.

Thing’s did end on a high note surprisingly though. While waiting to catch my flight out of Anchorage I got in touch with a friend who was working around the corner from the airport and I was treated to the best meal that I’ve ever eaten in a Restaurant, anywhere in the world. Let me put it to you like this, I had to go get stoned halfway through so that I could get the munchies and continue eating.

I caught shit when I mentioned online that one of the reasons I left was the overall quality of the place and that I didn’t want my name attached to a place that served shitty food. I caught hell from some of the staff but a week later I was doing a seven-course pop-up dinner in the Mission using local ingredients from the farmers market and they were serving “Southwest egg rolls”.

Yeah…… I think I won that argument.

In the end, I don’t regret the trip. It was a trip to say the least and the place land itself humbled me. I’m pissed that I didn’t get to smoke Northern Lights while watching the Northern lights but that little dishwasher I mentioned. I left him a copy of Marco Whites book and the little fuck went and got himself a Chef’s knife (Cassie still doesn’t own one) and the kid has potential. I’m excited to see what he does with it.

I got a taste of the place. It’s cold and bitter and not for everyone but it was enough to make me want to go back for more…… at some point.

 

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