A LETTER TO CULINARY SCHOOL GRADUATES

A LETTER TO CULINARY SCHOOL GRADUATES

First and foremost allow me to congratulate you on accomplishing a significant goal: completing your degree. Know however that this is only the beginning of your culinary education. You have chosen to pursue a career in the greatest industry on the planet (yes, I do show a bit of bias), one that will provide you with maybe 40 years of challenges, excitement, opportunity and great satisfaction. Allow me to offer some (hopefully) words of wisdom as you cross the stage and pack your knives for this next phase in your professional lives.

1. Appreciate diversity: our industry is a melting pot of every ethnic group, race, young and old, straight and gay, tall and small, male and female, passionate artist and content job seeker, introvert and extrovert – providing you with a tremendous opportunity to experience the world every day you show up to work. Take it all in and appreciate everyone for who they are.
2. Know that every day will provide learning moments as well as opportunities to share what you know with others.
3. Remember that you must become dedicated followers first as you learn how to become the leaders you want to be. YES CHEF is still applicable.
4. Be patient with yourself and with others.
5. Be a team player – always.
6. Have your goals firmly established and choose your steps along the way with that in mind.
7. Ask yourself every day: “Is what I am doing right now bringing me closer to realizing those goals”.
8. Be in service of the potato. In other words, always respect the ingredients you work with and the effort that was made to bring those ingredients to you.
9. Every position in the kitchen is important and every person is a critical piece of the restaurant puzzle. You may have a different job than some, but every person in the kitchen is equal.
10. The foundations are always your friends. Never forget the basics that you were taught in school. They are called the foundations for a reason.
11. Shortcuts never produce the same results. “If you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it over”?
12. Build your flavor memory.
13. Protect your tools –keep your knives sharp.
14. Sanitation and Safety is your most important job.
15. Look and act like the professional that you want to be.
16. Be a person of integrity. Be known for a person of high moral character and know that honesty is of consummate importance.
17. Be known for your dependability.
18. Seek to be trusted by all people who surround you.
19. Read and travel now.
20. Try to find balance in your life. Don’t look back and say “I wish I had spent more time with family and friends”.
21. Take care of your health. Eat right, sleep well and exercise.
22. And as Chef Michel LeBorgne would always say: TASTE-SEASON-TASTE!

Best of luck: now it is your turn to change the world.

Chef Paul Sorgule

A Letter to Culinary School Graduates

A Letter to Culinary School Graduates

First and foremost, congratulations on completing your formal education and welcome to the best industry in the world. Granted I have a certain amount of bias toward an industry that I have spent my life in, but I do truly believe that you have made a wise choice. You must, however, realize that your real education has only begun. The experiences that you will have over the next 40 or so years will be enlightening, rewarding, challenging and unsurpassed. Please allow me to offer a few (hopefully) words of wisdom as you move forward.

* Appreciate diversity. the food industry is a melting pot of every ethnic culture, young and old, every race, straight and gay, short and tall, type A personalities and type B personalities, passionate artists and complacent job seekers: they all make up a dynamic and exciting industry. Take it all in and relish the opportunity to work with others.
* Know that every day will be a learning moment and every day will provide you with an opportunity to share that with others.
* Be patient – you must become a loyal follower before you can grow into the leader you want to become.
* Every job in a kitchen and dining room is important. You may hold a different position but you are never better than anyone else.
* Have your goals firmly in place and choose the steps that you take to get there wisely.
* Be in service of the potato. In other words, always respect the ingredients you have the opportunity to work with and the effort that it took to get those ingredients to you.
* Be a team player. Your opportunities now and in the future are dependent on how will you support the team effort.
* The foundations will always serve you well. Remember the importance of proper cooking techniques and stay true to them.
* Never forget that you are in the SERVICE business.
* Protect your tools. Make sure your knives are sharp.
* Sanitation is the most important part of your job.
* Look and act like the professional that you strive to be.
* Read, travel and taste now.
* Never forget the people who help you along the way.
* Build your rolodex and your network of influence.
* Maintain your integrity, character and honesty.
* Try to find balance in your life.
* and as Chef Michel LeBorgne would say: TASTE, SEASON, TASTE!

Good luck. Now it is your turn to change the world.

RESTAURANTS NEED TO PAINT OUTSIDE THE LINES

What ever happened to creativity and the fun associated with developing something new, exciting, delicious and trend defining in restaurants. Certainly you could cite those handful of unique restaurants that grace the cover stories in trade magazines, win James Beard Awards and Michelin stars, and are home to chefs with names that are present on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but what about the other 950,000 restaurants in the United States along with business cafeterias, college cafes, and health care facilities? Are there exceptions to the rule, you bet, but they are few and far between.

Playing it safe is the rule of thumb, until someone creates that “ah ha” moment in restaurant dining that reinvents a segment. Do we really need another shop that serves Pizza Margherita, Ameri/Mexican restaurants with burritos and Chimichangas, white tablecloth operations with Shrimp Scampi or Veal Piccata? I have found myself many times referring to how important the classic dishes are and that they are always great to fall back on because after all – they sell! The problem is not their acceptability or the taste profile; the problem is that the industry is too boring. Did I really say that? Yes, the restaurant business is boring.

Customers play it safe, just like restaurants do, and thus the cycle continues. Those chefs and restaurateurs who try to break the mold gain notoriety among journalists, young chefs looking for excitement and that 2% of the population referred to as innovators, but walk down the street and you will find dozens of restaurants who are content (or stuck) with doing the same thing that everyone else does.

I am not a fan of what has been referred to as “molecular cuisine”; however, I am fascinated by those chefs who are head-over-heals committed to pushing that envelope. Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria, Wylie Dufresne are part of the pack of rebels who (forget what you think about the food) are trying hard to pull us out of our shells and learn to “think different”.

Steve Jobs was a genius. Some loved him and others despised him. Say what you will, but as the soul of Apple Computer he embraced creative thought above everything else. He had the uncanny ability to go beyond what people wanted or needed, he anticipated what they were going to need before they ever thought of it. So too is the case with a few contemporary chefs and restaurant owners/operators.

If Achatz, Adria and Dufresne are too radical for you, consider some who have been with us for a long time, treasure the classics, but who interpret those items in a way that breaks the barriers of “playing it safe”. Eric Ripert, Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Alice Waters, Charles Carroll, Daniel Boulud, Gavin Kaysen, Marcus Samuelsson and Cat Cora all continue to move their creative ideas to the forefront of restaurants that carry their signature while 950,000 others continue to ignore the need to be just a little unique.

Part of our job as chefs is to educate the staff members who work with us and the guests who choose to grace us with their presence. Of course, I am fully aware of the fiduciary responsibilities that go along with taking the helm of a restaurant and the fragile nature of restaurant economics. It is also our responsibility, however, to grow our business, attract new customers, and most importantly: exceed guest expectations with a food experience that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

To quote a culinary friend of mine from the past: “There is little talent in cooking a steak. Certainly there is a skill that goes along with timing and organization of a char-grill, but the talent is in preparing a chicken leg or inexpensive cut of meat in such a way, and presented with such unique grace, that its value far exceeds that of even the best steak.”

Please do not misinterpret what I am saying: I love classic Italian, French, Asian, German, Polish, Irish, Norwegian and every other traditional ethnic food. I sometimes salivate just thinking about that perfectly cooked steak, but how often is it that a restaurant experience truly excites and builds unforgettable memories?

Creativity is not exclusive to high-end restaurants. Starbucks was a real “wow” when they first began. The quality, the variety, the atmosphere were game changers. When was the last time that this type of change has taken our breath away in the coffee business? I would dare say that there is little difference between the Starbucks of 1990 and the one of today. Remember the first time you experienced an Au Bon Pain or Panera Bread and how it was fun to take it all in? Where is the next game changer hiding?

Playing it safe has a price. The price is complacency and transition of unique concepts into commodity restaurants. I am waiting for the next Steve Jobs in the restaurant business to catch everyone else off guard. Every once and a while we need to paint outside the lines.

WINE QUALITY IS A REFLECTION OF THE WINEMAKER’S PASSION FOR LIFE

WINE QUALITY IS A REFLECTION OF THE WINEMAKER’S PASSION FOR LIFE

I am far from a wine expert, however, as is the case with many things in life – I become more knowledgeable and appreciative as the years go by. I know what I like to drink, I know which foods I enjoy with certain wines, I am very open to trying anything new, and I have become very enthralled with the people who dedicate their lives to the grape.

Case in point, although I am not that fond of white wines, I am very enthused with Sauvignon Blanc, and in particular, those grapes that wind up as a Sancerre. Having visited the town of Sancerre many times and having built some familiarity with the Loire Valley, I consider myself to be a bit of a Sancerre advocate.

I have enjoyed the privilege of tasting wines in the private cellars of noteworthy wine makers in Sancerre and in particular that of Daniel Chotard. After many years I now consider Daniel to be my friend (even though his English is almost as shaky as my French – almost). I have hosted Daniel and his wife in Saranac Lake, have worked diligently with my other French friends: the Weissberg’s – to get Chotard’s wine on regional lists, and have had the pleasure of breaking bread in various bistros throughout the Loire with Daniel and a cadre of enthusiastic chefs and wine afficandos.

I read the following review of Chotard’s Sancerre; in this case a 2009, by the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker:
“90 points Wine Spectator: “Super fresh, with lots of chive, fleur de sel, lime and chalk notes backed by a strong flinty note on the bracing finish, which really stretches out. Drink now.” (12/10) 89 points Parker’s Wine Advocate: “Daniel Chotard’s 2009 Sancerre is diversely scented and flavored with papaya, grapefruit, cassis, and passion fruit. A distinctly saline overlay – along with bright acids – helps convey a sense of invigoration and refreshment and offsets the relatively bitter cast to a persistently zesty finish. I suspect this will be best enjoyed over the next 12-18 months.” (08/10)
Not a bad review; one that certainly would help Daniel move his wine into certain American restaurant circles, however it really doesn’t tell the whole story. There is something else about wine that is more social that taste, flavor and aroma. Certainly anyone who enjoys Sauvignon Blanc would find Chotard’s to be quite exceptional, but to me it is impossible to separate the wine from the person.
Daniel Chotard, and now his son to follow, is 100% dedicated to the grape and his wine. Whether it is Chotard, Mondavi, or Helen Turley, that passion is what really makes a wine sing. Whatever the situation, it is the grape that comes first. To a wine maker caring for the grape is comparable to caring for a child. It requires so much time, knowledge, passion and luck, that it becomes quite apparent that the wine maker must pass on some of his/her own characteristics to the end product. Just as a parent influences how the child evolves and the type of person they become, so too does the grape reflect this caring relationship.
Daniel Chotard is a wonderful, hard-working, dedicated, caring person who in turn produces a wine of unique character. As is the case with those who are as dedicated to wine making, as a chef is dedicated to cuisine, Chotard represents all that is right in the world of wine.
I would certainly encourage anyone who can find a bottle or two of Chotard Sancerre to saver it, but more importantly I would encourage you to plan a trip to the Loire and pay my friend a visit. I guarantee the wine will become more than a great beverage, it will become a reflection of the man and a memory for life.
Harvest America Ventures will be planning a Educational Adventure Wine Vacation to France in September of 2013. Daniel Chotard is one of the program contributors. Visit our website for more details as they unfold:
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com
click on Wine Vacations

The Importance of the Neighborhood Restaurant

The Importance of the Neighborhood Restaurant

I have waited some time before writing this post – I needed to let the significance of the event sink in. Anyone who ever spent time in Saranac Lake over the past 30 years knows Casa del Sol. “Casa” as it was known, was the consummate neighborhood restaurant. It was a staple in everyone’s diet and an important memory for those who moved on from the Adirondacks at some point. This past year, “Casa” closed its doors. Maybe its time had come. Quite possibly it was a victim of the economic downturn. It could be a result of too much competition in a small town or maybe a changing population demographic. Whatever the reason, an important part of our community culture is gone. I felt it was important to talk about the role of the neighborhood restaurant in American society along with some history of this landmark restaurant.

I remember moving back to the Adirondacks in 1976 and starting work at the Mirror Lake Inn as a chef/manager. Like most chefs, I still had a gnawing desire to run my own place (thank God I never followed through) and always had an eye open for the right opportunity.

At the entrance to Saranac Lake stood a French Restaurant/Motel combination called Le Petite Francaise. The couple who owned and operated the establishment were ready to retire and the shop was up for sale. My mind was spinning with ideas. Of course, I would make it a classic French Brasserie with all of the classic dishes that I was trained to prepare. People would flock to try my food (that’s what I kept telling myself and my wife Sharon). Fortunately, I didn’t have any money and the restaurant would require more funds than I had access to.

Harry Tucker bought the building and took a year to renovate it. Harry was going to build a Mexican restaurant in Saranac Lake, how absurd. He opened a year later and the place was packed from that day forward. He had the right concept, in the right location, at the right time. Whether it was genius or luck, I will never know, but it worked. Over the years Harry added many pieces of original Mexican art from his trips South of the Border, but rarely changed the formula: great margaritas, simple but tasty food, and most importantly: a place where everybody knew your name.

The neighborhood restaurant serves many roles, but most important is a gathering place for friends and soon-to-be friends. In most small towns, it is the role of the restaurant to provide a forum for people to talk, argue, laugh, clink glasses and enjoy the reality of where they live. Restaurants with great food come and go, it is the neighborhood restaurant that typically survives swings in the economy and changes in customer tastes.

It is quite disheartening to see certain very important community focal points call it quits and put that closed sign on the front door. Bookstores, Movie Theaters, Newsstands, Groceries, Restaurants and even Churches are falling victim to a disturbing trend. Sometimes it is the convenience of the chains, the pricing that can’t be beat, or the ease of clicking on amazon.com (I am just as guilty as most) to get what we need, but in the process we destroy the soul of our towns.

As we collectively adopt the need for supporting farmers and local producers of raw materials we must also look at the sustainability of our communities. We need to protect the core of what made America great: the small business, and in this case, the neighborhood restaurant.

After 25 years in business, Harry Tucker threw a party for the community to celebrate his restaurant and thank his neighbors. Traffic was stopped, whole goats were being roasted outside, a mariachi band played, and EVERYONE in Saranac Lake came out to toast its important landmark.

A few years later Harry passed away leaving the operation of Casa to his wife and seasoned employees. They did a great job for a few years but as is the case with many restaurant folks, grew tired of the relentless work schedules. Casa was sold to Bryan Morgan, son of Saranac Lake’s most infamous restaurateur: Dew Drop Morgan. Bryan is a seasoned restaurateur in his own right and took his role as operator of a Saranac Lake icon very seriously. Casa was back! Unfortunately, in a few years, the restaurant just could not sustain and closed its doors in 2012.

Saranac Lake is not void of other neighborhood restaurants, nor is it lacking new ones opening up, but Casa was special.

Saranac Lake still has The Blue Moon, Left Bank Cafe, The Belvedere and even the Red Foxx to lean on. Bryan Morgan even reopened a family restaurant called Morgan’s Grill just a few months ago. We wish all of these restaurants well and implore the residents of our community and those passing through to support the small businesses that work so hard to maintain a sense of community.

All across America people must rally around the idea of the neighborhood restaurant. This is, after all, the center of the community, the place where we meet our friends, toast to their good health, break bread and relish the places where we live.

Small business is the backbone of our country and the heart of free-enterprise. Think small!

The True Role of the Chef

Mary Petersen is one of those rare individuals who falls under the heading of a silent superstar. She continues to have a tremendous impact on the quality of culinary education throughout the United States and the integrity of our profession without seeking the recognition that is due to her.

I have known Mary, admired her dedication and professionalism, and have called her a friend for a few decades. Her work with American Culinary Federation Accreditation set the stage for insuring that culinary schools meet a universal standard for excellence and her current organization: The Center for Advancement of Foodservice Education (CAFE) is the gold standard for in-service training of culinary faculty from coast to coast.

I am very pleased that she has agreed to offer this guest commentary for culinary cues.

For those unfamiliar with CAFE, check out their website at: http://www.cafemeetingplace.com.

Mary wrote:

“I was trying to think of a phrase which captured the role of a chef and therefore, the role of a chef instructor. Words like techniques and inspiration and even wellbeing crossed my mind. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

I believe that the role of a chef (like the role of a business manager or bus driver or team captain or blog creator) is to “figure things out.”

As a coordinator of special events (for chefs) around the U.S., I am no stranger to moving various pieces around according to a check list of “things to do to ensure that the event goes well.” Programming, marketing, hotel blocks, meal functions, assessments, etc., are part of my vocabulary in order to make attendees as well as the hosts of these events feel that they have been involved with something worthy of their time and effort and dollars.

What I do three to six times a year, chefs do on a daily basis, multiple times. How can they teach those skills? How do they help eager students learn from their mistakes so that they become worthy of a paycheck?

Schools are offering both cooking and service opportunities through catering and even running restaurants. They encourage internships and then after a couple of years, chef instructors pop a toque on their students’ heads and wish them well.

Their first chefs expect them to work twice as hard as experienced co-workers; they expect an incredible volume of output; and they expect these beginners to keep quiet and learn.

But chefs also take time to show them shortcuts; they complement them on their efforts; and they feel hugely proud when they become a viable part of a team.

I heard a well-known and respected chef say that when a student asked to be an intern in his kitchen, he (the chef) told them that they should pay him for the time they spent with him. The audience gasped when they heard this. The chef then said that if he hired the intern, then he would refund all the money he had been given.

Fair? Depends on how hard the intern wanted to work and how much he was willing to listen and learn productivity. By the way, this was not in New York City!

The chef in the classroom or in the first job wants the student/worker to succeed. They have high standards of effort required and more than anything, they want to produce someone who can figure it out.”

It is Time for Reform – Your Health is the Top Priority

The Elephant in the Closet:

So here is the reality: I praise the president for making an attempt at healthcare reform and unlike some I do not necessarily oppose what has been labeled as Obamacare. I think the greatest nation in the world should be able to make quality healthcare affordable for everyone. The real issue is that nothing has been done to address the sinful pricing structure of hospitals (some of which is driven by extraordinary cost associated with liability, bureaucratic processes, and fund distribution), the immoral pricing imposed by drug companies, and the lack of support for preventative medicine (nutrition, exercise, healthy choices).

Two cases in point: I recently had to spend a few hours in a Philadelphia Emergency room where they drew blood, had a doctor see me for less than two minutes and scheduled a CATScan that took about 5 minutes. I received a bill for $13,800 of which $75 is out of pocket for me and the balance was billed to my insurance company. The bill was not even itemized! This is immoral and should be considered illegal billing.

Another case is a friend of mine who has to take a medication every day for the rest of his life. Each pill cost $150. Fortunately for him, the majority is covered by insurance, however in both cases it is this sinful billing that continues to cause an absurd increase in healthcare costs, fraudulent misuse of funds, and healthcare costs that without government support would be out of reach for most Americans.

We should stop blaming the president and put pressure on our representatives to investigate the drug companies and immoral pricing expenses from many health care providers. Additionally, isn’t it time for another national wellness and physical fitness campaign similar to what John F. Kennedy did in his administration? We can reduce the cost of healthcare by simply addressing the need to take better care of ourselves in the first place.

As chefs and restaurateurs we have a role to play in this. I would support a national campaign for healthier menus, smaller portions, reduced use of sodium, fresh always before processed, and calorie, fat and sodium counts that are required on all menus. As a nation we are killing our people one fork full at a time and restaurants should be the voice of reason rather than the nail in the coffin.

A Tribute to My Father on Memorial Day

A Tribute to My Father on Memorial Day

I posted this once before as a series on Facebook, but it seems appropriate to offer it again in its entirety on Memorial Day.
A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER

So, this is something that I promised myself after clearing out both my father and mother’s estates over the past ten years – when my mom passed away this past August I found a letter that my father had written to his parents in 1945 from his various positions as a US Army private immersed in WWII. It was so telling that I felt it was worth sharing with others. Even if you don’t agree, I felt it was important for me to pass it on. It is lengthy, so I will offer it in a couple of segments. If you like it, then share it. If not, that’s OK too. So here it is…..

From Earl Sorgule – September 7, 1945.

“Dear Mom,

Not more than two hours ago we heard an announcement saying that censorship has been discontinued, so now that I have the opportunity and the urge to write, I shall give you a complete analysis of events from the time I left the states, over one year ago, until now.

Now it was way back in July of 1944 that we were alerted for shipment from Camp Reynolds. We had been completely outfitted with new clothes and equipment. We boarded the train at Reynolds and headed in a northerly direction toward New York State. That afternoon we passed through Erie, PA and that night before I realized it, we pulled into Buffalo.

The troop train stopped at a signal tower along Harlem Road someplace. I can remember seeing that cream-colored schoolhouse and little red fire station we passed so often when we visited the Larsen’s. It seemed to me that we passed over that railroad bridge on Stephenson Street where the Larsen’s live. We stayed here about 2 hours not being allowed to leave the train. It was mighty heart breaking being so near, yet so far.

Then we pulled out of there and took that old familiar route through upper New York State: Rochester, Albany, the Hudson River and New York and from there to Camp Shanks. We remained at Camp Shanks for about 4 days; long enough to be processed and issued new rifles and bayonets. It was the 22nd of July that we departed for the docks to board our transport for overseas. To our surprise we found the gigantic Queen Mary sitting there so proud – waiting for us.

We naturally thought that we were in luck having such a swell ship to take us overseas, but to our regret, we were stuck down in D-deck, just about water level. The Queen was plenty crowded-18,000 troops “like sardines, we were”. We pulled out of New York harbor and the last vanishing thing we saw was the Statue of Liberty.

Now after 4 1/2 days at sea, we pulled into Greenock, Scotland. We boarded a train there and headed straight for England. The Scottish countryside was very beautiful with all its rolling hills and thatch roof homes.

We weren’t on the train more than half a day when we pulled into Chester, England. Our reception committee consisted of a couple of stuffed shirt officers, who got us green horns on the ball, but quick. Out in the street we came upon a line of GI trucks. We climbed aboard and like a flash we were tearing through English streets. After an hours rough ride we came upon our home in England. It was a ground forces “Replacement Depot” – Repo-Depo, we call it. Here we stayed for 6 weeks taking more training. It was rough while we were there, but we all came out of it OK.

At the end of our sixth week of training we volunteered to ship out to an outfit. Three of us from our barracks were on the shipment; Shives, Sherrel and myself.

Well, at last we were to join an outfit. There were thirty of us in the group that left. We rode the train all that night and through the next day. By mistake, we got off in a small town called Brekan, in Wales. It was a nice, quiet little town where American troops hadn’t been seen very often.

We got off here and had over a half day to wait for our next train. So we roamed the streets of the town buying apples, pears and pastry. We had nice chats with the Welshmen. Then we finally hopped on a train and headed for 1308.

Almost continually we were troubled with rain. We had one spell of it for 53 days without any let up. When I tell you the mud was 3 feet deep in places, I am not kidding. We weren’t equipped for this weather; we had no boots, leaky raincoats and poor chow.

The Company had one bad accident while at Cherburg. That was when our big tarmac distributor, 10,000 gallon tank blew up and burned for 3 hours. We lost some time and equipment in that mishap.

My impression is that Cherbourg is a German loving wet hole where nothing but the poorest Frenchmen would live. They had a collaborationist camp with over 2,000 Frenchmen within it.

One night in December we were alerted and by the next day we had our camp completely dismantled and we were ready to pull out for someplace up front.

The weather at this time turned colder and instead of rain, things began to freeze and we had snow. We were on our way out of Normandy by that night, and it got colder by the hour. When we drew near to Paris we were just about froze. The temperature dropped to 7 above zero and believe me we felt every degree of it. All wrapped up in our blankets, too cold to talk, too tired to and hungry to even move. Everything was silent.”

“The convoy stopped just about 12 o’clock that evening in a suburb of Paris. We had time to get out and stretch and get our circulation back. We were so cold we would do anything to get warm.

One of the men in our platoon managed to buy a bottle of wine from a Frenchman, which sure helped to keep us warm for a while.

About the time we reached Reims, the cold became unbearable. When we stopped we quickly went about ripping a wooden fence down and with the aid of 5 gallons of gasoline and a match we got ourselves warm again. While in Reims, we refueled all of our trucks and drew ammunition.

As the convoy crept up the long cold road ahead we noticed the Frenchmen, old men and women, middle aged and children waving us farewell. There was something very warming in this that one felt way down deep inside of them.

Now, we were supposed to reach our destination that night after two full days and nights of riding in the back of a GI truck. Night drew near and still no sign of a stop. It was well into the morning when we found out we were lost. The roads were icy and rough; the snow lay deep in the fields and woods. We could see ourselves getting out and [itching pup tents in those woods, but luckily we never did stop. Off in the distance we could see and hear the artillery. The convoy crossed one river and then another. The second found to be the Meuse, so we knew we were pulling into the Battle of the Bulge. It seemed we were completely lost either in Belgium, France or Luxemburg. We suddenly stopped and our C.O. was seen walking up to a building. He went in and two other officers followed. We knew now that something was up. The company remained in the trucks. In the cold, clear air we kept hearing the roar of guns and the rolling of tanks.

Like a flash out of the sky came a whine and a roar and the heavy rat-tat of a Gerry machine gun. Before we even knew what had happened we had all jumped clear of the trucks and took cover. Our eyes saw the silhouette of a Gerry plane fading into the pitch-black sky. He circled and came back again. We were safe this time, but plenty scared. When things got under control again the captain said we had places to bunk for the night.

We had nothing but straw and the hard floor to sleep on but it was worth a million. After sleeping like logs that night we arose the next morning feeling fresh in the crisp winter air. What an appetite we had built up. C-rations sure tasted good.

It was two days before Christmas and we never realized it. The morale of the outfit was good, but everyone was sincere in what they were doing.

Now, Willie Lanz and I were chosen as Company runners. This was a day and night job that brought us plenty of exc

Our regiment was stretched out along the Meuse and we had quite a job patrolling and guarding the all important bridges. Every night from one-three, Gerry planes would harass us with bombing and strafing.

Christmas came upon us like a flash and we weren’t prepared for it. Christmas Eve Willie and I slept in a barn in a town outside of an American cemetery from the last war. Christmas Day we ate C-rations and liked it. After delivering a message to our Company we were hailed by a Frenchman who called us into his home. They offered us wine and roasted chicken. We were very thankful for the way they treated us. That man and woman were an example of the kind of people living in this region.”

“We had friends all along our routes – one could tell that these people were appreciative and understanding. The German loving people of Normandy had no such feelings.

Willie and I had several scrapes during our adventures in the Ardens. One night a Gerry plane almost had our number. We were putting along the road in the Jeep on that crisp moonlit night. The hills and surroundings had a weird glow and everything was quiet and still. You could hear for miles around. Down from the sky in back of us came this Gerry, spitting away with his machine guns. Luckily he missed the first time. We had pulled into a grove of trees, but we were leery of this spot and we decided to move to another place of safety. We pulled the Jeep around behind a barn and waited there in the darkness to see what would happen. Sure enough, back he came blazing away with all four guns, peppering that same grove of trees we had just left. We had butterflies in our stomachs after that incident. We raced back to our headquarters but fast, giving that old Jeep everything she had.

Another time, Willie and I had to take a message to Stenay, France and just as we pulled into the town it seemed to light up like the light of day. The Gerry’s were dropping firebombs and you could see and hear the explosions in the outskirts of this innocent French town. The Nazis must have known that part of the 17th Airborne Division was there and that the 28th Division was withdrawing through that sector to regroup. They wanted to smash the bridges, I suppose, but no soap.

They did manage to get a few hits on a P.O.W. stockade however and drop guns and explosives for the prisoners to use. Immediately, the P.O.W.s started swarming through the gaps in the barbed wire. They were mowed down by machine gun fire just as fast.

Now, we were attached to the Third and Fourth Armies while there. We did our job and when the Bulge was knocked out, we were on our way again. Now we headed west.

This time the Company went by rail. Dad knows what that means; we were packed into boxcars with no heat or light. The old 40-8’s, what a mess. Well, while the Company was speeding west in the bitter cold our equipment was in a convoy heading in the same direction. Willie and I rode in the open Jeep all the way. I nipped both feet pretty bad then. It was way below zero at that time.

Now we pulled into La-Harve and it was too cold to live, it seemed. Our job there was to operate a staging area for incoming troops. When the Company arrived they bore some important booty. It seems they stole overshoes, gloves, sleeping bags, socks, etc. That’s the only way we could get anything in France. There were over 1,300 sleeping bags stolen from that quartermaster depot in Reuon, France.

The camp we operated outside of Le-Harve was named Lucky-Strike. We sent the 65th Division through there together with many other small units. We remained there until around February. This time I rode in a 40 & 8 together with the Company. This trip took us 4 days and nights. We arrived in Marseilles and found it much warmer. We camped there for 2 days and finally moved out to a town called St. Chemois; we remained there for one month doing roadwork. Now we had to move again.

This time it was the French Riviera. The city was “Nice” and it was great. We were 6 miles from the front but safe as all get out. Here we worked on hotels and apartment houses to be used for the GI rest center. This is where I bought all my film and had them done up.

We stayed 7 weeks in Nice and then departed for Marseilles again. Here we got a job working construction on a staging area. Shortly after, the war came to an end. It meant nothing to us because we kept on working.

Then came the point system and they added up our scores. Mine was 33, so we kept on working. Later we received one more star, which gave me a 38. When we had completed our job we were the first ones to be placed in the camp. It wasn’t until later that we found out we were headed for the Pacific.”

It wasn’t until later that we found out we were headed for the Pacific. Now, one more Battle Star came through for us giving us a total of 3 and making my score-43.

At the end of six weeks doing nothing we were alerted so that meant but one thing, we were headed for a boat. Indeed we were, for shortly afterward we found ourselves climbing the gangplank of the General Mann. This was the 14th of July that we boarded the ship. Just a little less than a year from the time I left the States for Europe. The General Mann had some 6,000 troops aboard and she sure was crowded. The first week we ate better than we had since we left the States. Then it started to drop off and it got so warm we couldn’t sleep at night. Nothing to do but sit on deck and talk and dream.

All this time the officers were being taken care of, getting three meals a day, sleeping in air-conditioned compartments, loafing around in their lounge where ice cream and sodas could be bought.

Fifteen days on the Atlantic and all we saw was the Rock of Gibraltar and water and more water. Finally, we pulled into the Caribbean Sea and prepared to take the cut through the Panama Canal. We were allowed to go ashore at Christopa and here we were given free hot dogs, coffee, cokes and candy. Here is where I wrote that one letter!

Oh yes, we also received some mail. I received quite a batch of letters, two packages, and the two envelopes with T-shirts and briefs.

Shortly after we had pulled out of Panama we were put on K.P. There we remained for 3 weeks. We swung past the Marshal Islands and continued on our way. We pulled into the Carolina’s several days later and anchored. Then came the news of the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese surrender.

Now after 54 days at sea we sat anchored off of Mog-Mog Island waiting for God knows what.

To give you a little dope on what’s going on and how we were being treated, I’ll start like this: We’re being treated like cattle! The chow is miserable, the heat is unbearable. I have never sweat so much in my life. There isn’t an enlisted man aboard who hasn’t lost 10 pounds. The officers and crew get three meals of the cream of the chow, and we get two that even a starving dog would balk at. The cereal is wormy and moldy, the potatoes are rotten and nothing is ever attempted to be fixed right.

The war is over, they have no need for us, yet we sit here waiting while the officers get fat and the big shots argue about what they’re going to wear to Emperor Hirohito’s tea party. Day after day we get news about the poor boys in the States who shouldn’t go overseas and why continue the draft. There are enough troops there now to take care of the occupation. That’s all we hear: what McArthur wears to dinner, how he feels and how some general bought chickens from a Japanese farmer and one of them laid an egg.

I’m letting you know this Army organization stinks from the words “I Do”. If we don’t leave here soon I’m telling you something bad will happen, the men have been uneasy for weeks. It’s rotten the way things are run aboard this ship. If we ever do get off we shall never be the same hard working individuals we were before. We’re fed up with the Army and all this nonsense.

We hope and pray that we can return to the States again soon. We shall never leave again as long as we may live, that’s one country where you can fence me in.

Excuse me if you think I got a little harsh there but it’s the truth and I don’t see how anybody can hold it back.

Well mom, that was a long one. Maybe I’ll read it over when I get home.

Your loving son,

Earl”

This is the tenth or so time that I have read this letter and it always chokes me up. The irony is that my dad NEVER talked about the war, and unfortunately, I never asked him about it while he was alive. I re-read this to stay in touch with him and to try and understand more of what made him the great man that he was.

If there is a lesson(s) it would be this: Make sure that you take the time to sit down with your parents and ask them about their life experiences, do it often. Secondly, think about those young boys and girls overseas who are representing our country on foreign soil. The job is never easy.

Plan Your French “Wine Memories” Vacation

In the fall of 2013, Harvest America Ventures, in partnership with The Weissberg Family of Paris and Chef Sarah Steffan of the Lake Placid Lodge, will present a vacation opportunity of a lifetime.

Unlike most wine tours that focus primarily on tasting, this educational wine immersion program is designed for wine lovers, restaurant professionals, cooks and chefs, those who appreciate the connection between wine and culture, and adventure tourists who are drawn to the beauty of Burgundy, France.

Participants will tour regional vineyards and wineries, walk the vineyards and touch the vines, chat with wine makers and renown chefs, taste various wines from the rich regions of Loire and Burgundy, visit Middle Age and Renaissance castles, enjoy the aromas and flavors of traditional French food, become a part of French village life, enjoy the musical talents of a renown French pianist, and bike through the most picturesque and peaceful French countryside.

Your home base for the wine experience will be a 16th century stone building: “The Maison des Adirondacks” in Entrains sur Nohain, France. This beautiful property is in close proximity to Beaune, Vezelay, Sancerre, Pouilly sur Loire, Chablis and Auxerre.

All of your meals, in-country transportation, wine tastings, classes, immersion activities, and lodging are included in the price of the week long, life-experience.

Watch for additional details as they unfold by checking our website at: http://www.harvestamericaventures.com. The anticipated dates at this point are September 23-29, 2013. Mark your calendars! The program is limited to four couples (8 persons) this year.

Paul Sorgule
Harvest America Ventures, LLC