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Painted in Waterlogue

Every day that I walked into a kitchen, from the time I was a 15-year old dishwasher with working papers, I saw something that made me feel special. It was the sense of camaraderie, the feeling that we were all in this together. I knew that most every day would be an opportunity to learn something new. Beyond the expected evolution of skills that come from time, repetition, and execution of the designated menu, there was always an opportunity to learn something unique from the diverse group of teammates that made up the restaurant. It might be the right way to make pierogi from Amanda who grew up in Poland, how to roll gnocchi from Dominick who came to the U.S. in 1973 from Firenze, Italy, the blending of more than 30 ingredients in the process of perfecting a true mole from Juan – a Mexican native, or that secret dry rub for brisket from Lloyd who grew in in Southern Georgia and immigrated from Cuba a decade before. Every day was a chance to learn more about food and the culture that impacted on how it was prepared.

“If you’re looking for a line cook who’s professional in his work habits, responsible with your food, dependable, a guy with a sense of humor, reasonably good character, and a repertoire of French and Italian standards, and who can drill out 250 meals without going mental or cutting corners too egregiously, chances are you’ll go to Carlos, your grill man” and ask him for a recommendation. And Carlos will have a cousin or a brother for you.”

-Anthony Bourdain

A Cook’s Tour

The most fascinating and rewarding aspects of spending a career in the kitchen is that I have had the opportunity to work with African Americans, Ethiopians, Venezuelans, Peruvians, Mexicans, Haitians, Ecuadorans, Cubans, Bulgarians, Russians, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Rastafarians, Creoles, French, Brits, Irish, Germans, Swiss, Italians, Greeks, Turks, Spaniards, Romanians, Austrians, Norwegians, Swedes, Fins, Saudis and Eastern Indians, Pakistani’s and Nepalese, Canadians, Japanese, Chinese, Australians, New Zealanders, Koreans, Dutch, Gays, Straights, Tall and Small, Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Independents, Male, Female, Aged Veteran Cooks, and Newbies fresh out of school, College Grads, High School Dropouts, Alcoholics and Recovering Alcoholics, Consistently Nice People and Raging Assholes, Wealthy and Poor, incredibly hard workers and lazy time wasters, and anyone who falls into another “category”. The reality is that, at least in the restaurant, we are all the same in many respects. We all have a job to do and collectively that job can result in dynamic teamwork and happy customers.

Angry bias – I don’t get it, I don’t support it, and I don’t have any patience for it. Everybody is unique, important, good at different levels, anxious to be respected for who they are, and valuable to the team. Show them respect and they will walk a million miles for you. The old adage of treat people the way you would like to be treated rings true ALWAYS. I love the kitchen for this – I have learned to always try to see the person inside, the one who has many of the same feelings and desires that I have, the one who when the restaurants doors open is standing beside me ready to perform.

It is very disturbing to think that what has always made our country great in the eyes of everyone else is this commitment to acceptance, the foundation of bringing people into the fold and providing opportunities for anyone who is willing to work hard – may be changing. If the world begins to no longer view America as the country willing to wrap its arms around diversity, then what are we left with?

“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

-Emma Lazarus

* This is what is written on the Statue of Liberty – the symbol of our great country to the rest of the world. This is how we must continue to be viewed as the leader of the free world.

Yes, there are many people who come to our country illegally and we must figure out the right way to get this under control, but we should also consider why they are choosing to come here. We have been the land of opportunity, the place of refuge for those in need, the protector of those who relish freedom. I know that in the restaurant and hotel business (agriculture as well) we would be hard put to provide the services that Americans demand without this diverse workforce, yes – even those who are not here illegally. Are these people here to steal opportunities from those of us who were fortunate enough to be born in the U.S. or are they excited to become a part of what we are known for in the world. In many cases, these immigrants are excited to take on necessary jobs that many American’s are no longer willing to do. Just ask any restaurateur or hotelier and they will tell you the same thing.

We need better control, we need to screen effectively to keep out those who have harm in their hearts, but at the same time we should not lose sight of our role as the leader of the free world. I hope that our politicians can look at the whole picture, learn to appreciate the value that immigrants bring to our country, and remain compassionate as was the design of our forefathers (also immigrants), and continue to raise the flag of freedom for every other country to admire and respect.

Working in a kitchen has spoiled me – I look forward to working with people from every background so that I can learn to be a better person.

This is an issue in the election, an important issue, and one that should be taken on not with anger but with understanding. Please don’t walk away from your privilege to vote on November 8th – vote for the person(s) who you believe personify what has made us the greatest nation on earth and a beacon of hope for those who feel that they have none otherwise. If we lose this we become no better than anyone else.

This is not a partisan pitch for any particular candidate. Immigration and diversity are big issues that will play out over the next four years and as such should call for everyone’s study and attention. I know that I am going to vote from my heart with an understanding of how America has been viewed and how I hope it is viewed for generations to come.


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