Driving towards Elm Street, down Marginal Way, the gaping hole in the former Whole Grocer building caught my eye and, slightly my breath. To the left of the front of the building, where the shadow of it’s old sign seems burned into the paint, sat a small sign reading “Future New Site of WalGreens,” or something like that, that made me sink a bit further. A back hoe stood just feet from where I believe I truly became some semblance of a cook.
“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right…”– ‘Scarlet Begonias’–Grateful Dead.
I was interviewed and hired there on 4/20/0something. It had to be a good sign, right? I had spent the past few months working under the table for a friend as they gave into alcohol and a bit of insanity and ran their restaurant into the ground. I left being owed a bunch of money and feeling the burn that inevitably comes when you work for a friend. The only reason I subjected myself to their insanity was because I had royally screwed up at my first cooking job, something I still beat myself up over, and had no income. Then I found myself on Marginal, which was not where I thought I should be going with my career, but I was in the midst of a lot of life reevaluating and a paycheck was needed to hold off moving back to NY.
It turned out to be pretty fucking awesome. It was basically rule free. There were needs: vegan muffins, vegan cookies, two soups, two hot dishes, sandwiches and deli items. Mostly all vegan. Every day was playing a bit of (the original) Iron Chef, the mystery ingredients you’d have to create with wouldn’t be revealed until a box of produce or grocery items were culled and left. Dandelion Greens? Quinoa? Seitan? Huh? So, long before I was roasting pork bellies and failing miserably at pickling a cow’s tongue, I was a vegan and, sometimes, raw cook. And, honestly, it made me the cook I am now.
Being able to cook and, more importantly, adapt to completely unknown ingredients forced my hand to learn more about the food I ate and had to handle. Most days were filled with 1/2 portabella mushrooms, various chards, root veg and some type of soy fermented products. The muffins were filled with Safflower oil and Strawberry Hill maple syrup. Sometimes you would be able to transfer items from the grocery shelves for your recipes and other times you were forced to simply use their extras: like 20 containers of coconut oil. But, as time changed and we were allowed to cook exactly what and how we wanted, vegan found itself balanced out with dishes filled with Caldwell Farms meat and cookies began to be made with butter and eggs.
And before the last of the shelving was sold off, I had cooked around 300 different recipes in my time there. It’s easy to remember this because before I left I took every recipe/ingredient card I had written and put out with the dishes I had cooked. Someday I’ll have the Mrs. do something artsy with them but, for now, they sit as sentimental tokens of a tour spent in a kitchen that I got to have fun and be creative in everyday. It is time that I would be hard pressed to forget.
So, here’s to what was–my horribly inartistic handwriting and all:
Vegan and Veg… I think the NYC style came from a recipe I found searching around for a cheese-less pesto. After so many years, I forget where the names came from.
Rasta Fries were completely ripped off from Bomber’s Burrito’s in Albany, NY. I don’t think more than half of the amount I made ever made it to the shelves.
My favorite cookie and my favorite hot dish to make when the ingredients were available.