Almost exactly a month ago, my coworker Myles strides into the prep kitchen with a huge smile and a warm greeting, much like he often does. Then he quite triumphantly drops down his prize: his own copy of Sean Brock’s new book, Heritage. I can sometimes be a real brat, and while I jokingly pointed out that he could have gone to Strand Books and bought it for less than at Kitchen Arts and Letters (both stores that I adore), I had time for a moment or two of appreciation for the book and for his enthusiasm. Within the opening pages of Heritage, Sean Brock shares his Manifesto of twenty-two bulleted items which include phrases like “Listen to your tongue, it’s smart.” and “Eat with your hands as much as possible.” When our friend and Executive Chef Morgan arrived soon after, there ensued the first of many discussions concerning the final statement of Brock’s Manifesto: “He who dies with the biggest pantry wins.”
This statement has maybe become something of a culinary world catchphrase, but it’s sentiment is not new. Certainly not in any of the kitchens that I have previously worked. This just brings it to the forefront of the conversation. In a pretty entertaining way. So hats off to Sean Brock. I haven’t managed to read the book as much as I’d like, its on our (still pretty empty) cookbook shelf in the office next to Tartine Bread, Manresa, and a few others. I’ll get back to it soon, if I don’t get distracted by the next shiny new book.
The restaurant where Morgan, Myles, and I all work is a new one. Our day to day is still taking shape. Our pantry is still taking shape. Aided by the hilarious but very true statement made in Heritage (as well as many other “hilarious” moments from our mutual past) we are making strides to have a versatile and well, bigger, larder. We do laugh a bit at ourselves while we make the attempt to expand, and find where our footprint will lie, but the solid reasoning behind it is this: When you have more variety and better quality ingredients available to you, there is more room for versatility and creativity. It can also be more cost effective, and a fantastic way to bring summer or spring vegetables with you through the winter. Pickled, cured, jellied, jammed, fabricated into oils, vinegar, dried, etc. There are amazing things that can come from extending the life of extra vegetables. Even over-ordering mistakes. The same can be said for our attempt to source local ingredients, continuing to spend time at the Green Markets every week. Even when we can’t buy it, we check in. It’s partly about what is at peak and local, and partly about keeping the conversation fresh, the ideas rolling as we push towards our goal of great ingredients made tasty, simply. Morgan is the driving force, but we are behind him, adding fuel to the wood burning fire, so to speak.
As the Pastry Chef, I try to participate in the conversation, and once in a while I can shut up long enough to listen. It’s pretty entertaining hearing the moments of real excitement that these discussions can bring. I very much share it. If I could fill a shelf in the dry storage with whatever Valrhona product they would let me buy, I would. As an equally enthusiastic savory cook, I am thrilled every time the Flying Pigs Farm delivery arrives: half a whole pig slung over some poor guy’s shoulders lands on our immense butcher block table at least once a week. That pig quickly becomes fabricated in a way that will use as much of it as we possibly know how. Loin, ham, hock, shoulder, head, ribs, bones, fat back becomes large roasts, sausages, terrines, stock, bacon, lardo, etc. It’s pretty impressive. At least I think so. We may push to keep our P.M.A. (positive mental attitude) up, to be ready for service, to do our best with whatever is happening around us. We may struggle to pay our rents, to see our families, interact with normal humans, to wake up ready to take the new day without the pain and frustration of the last. The shiny new cookbooks help. The inspiration and the drive of competition helps. Keeps us interested, keeps us from getting lost in the ennui of the day to day. For us, a little bit of laughs, a lot of perseverance, and taking pride in our work are huge factors in what keeps us in Chinese collars and fancy aprons (if we managed to do our laundry that is).
I‘ll finish reading Heritage first before I confirm that it is worth a read. I’m sure it is. The “manifesto” most definitely is. It reminds me a lot of Thomas Keller’s Core Values, 12 words that shaped a lot of my professional conduct. These ideas and values are not new, but are good to know. Thanks to Sean Brock for the laughs you probably didn’t mean to evoke, and for the reminder.
For more about Sean Brock, link to the New Yorker’s 2011 article here: True Grits
but you can’t have Myles’ copy. You’ll have to get your own. Here are links to some of my favorite places in NYC to get (or just look at) cookbooks:
New York Public Library (because there isn’t always room in my apartment, or my budget).
If you are in Brooklyn, come visit Morgan, Myles, and I at Cow & Clover. We’d be happy to see you.