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Whimsical Moods and Memories - My Restaurant Career

Updated on August 10, 2011

Baking Bread, making cake

Mmmmmmmm.....triple layered, double chocolate cake!
Mmmmmmmm.....triple layered, double chocolate cake!
There is nothing like warm bread right out of the oven!  Please ignore the curlers...but NOT the cats!  This is the only pic I could locate w/me AND food.
There is nothing like warm bread right out of the oven! Please ignore the curlers...but NOT the cats! This is the only pic I could locate w/me AND food.
This is one of several chocolate mousse recipes.  this one was baked....the favorite one is chilled, not baked.  Both use 100 % cacoa  among other "secret" ingredients
This is one of several chocolate mousse recipes. this one was baked....the favorite one is chilled, not baked. Both use 100 % cacoa among other "secret" ingredients
Pumpkin pie made from (*imagine that!) an actual pumpkin~! I LOVE the crust so I always make a BIG  one.
Pumpkin pie made from (*imagine that!) an actual pumpkin~! I LOVE the crust so I always make a BIG one.

Continuing thoughts about life in general - my restaurant career!

I tried to make this hub a little more exact by adding tags and assigning a category but, alas, HubPages does not 'break down' the categories enough to allow for intricacies and 'out of the box' subject matter. So, I hope I find an audience for my mental ramblings with the tools which are provided.

To continue with my stream of consciousness in Melancholy Mood, I'll try to re-enter the mental stage I often find myself inhabitating. The fantasy world which can be made to order; perfect for my needs and always accomodating.

Many lifetimes. I wonder what it would have been like to have lived in the same place most of my life. I can't imagine it though some of my very good friends have done just that. When I really think about it; their lives seem more "set," predictable *(not a bad thing) and, perhaps, they question things a little less than those of us who have chosen a different path. My new friends; those whom I've met during my 3 1/2 years here, have developed life long relationships and travel in circles "where everyone knows your name." This is the first thing I noticed when I began to socialize with my current circle of friends. Each and every step greeted by passers by, shop owners, store clerks, postal personnel and more. Big smiles, hand waving 'hellos;' abundant and welcoming. History is a big common interest with decades long friends 'remembering when.' The general feeling in mid America harkens back to earlier, easier times. Being a California West Coast native where everything is rapid, fluid and momentary, where people come and go where careers demand and neighbors are, oftentimes, renters who travel light; the steadfast nature of middle America; the "Heartland," is somewhat foreign. I've opted for change, even though I sometimes hate the idea ! I've been motivated by the unknown, the unseen; not yet experienced experience! Just as the move here was a 'self challenge,' so have I lived my life.

I once dated a man several years older who was the manager of a popular restaurant in 'the heart of the Napa Valley.' I fixed dinner for him; a menu I'd never tried before but (typical 'challenge') happened to turn out deliciously! Upon finishing our meal, sipping after dinner wine, he asked if I'd be interested in trying out for chef position in the restaurant he managed. Feeling self confident and up to the task, I agreed it would be a fabulous idea! Long story short, I cooked several meals for the owner who loved it and, voila!, I became the head chef. During the period before the opening of the fall season, I holed myself up in my mountain cabin with dozens of cook books by James Beard, San Francisco Ala Carte, Julia Child and other authors, teaching myself the delicate art of fine cuisine. I even turned down a chance to fly with a friend in his private plane on New Year's Eve because I wanted to be sure that I would be ready for my opening night.

Opening night! With my best friend, Al, sitting at a table closest to the kitchen, I was ready! Showtime! The fare was considered "boutique," in that the menu was small, offering 4 or 5 entrees, several soup and/or salad choices and 3 or 4 desserts. Traditionally, there would be a selection of fish, meat, foul with several options under one or more of those. Soups were usually a cream based and hot or cold style; gaspacho, etc. Desserts were one of my favorite items to prepare. Diners seemed to have several favorites; my own chocolate mousse torte, home made apple pie and classic bread pudding (with a twist!). Being executive chef of a boutique restaurant meant several things; one of which was....the EC created and prepared most of what the clientelle ate! Morning to late night, I was toiling in one (or both) of the upstairs kitchens, desserts baking away in kitchen #1 while main course preparation was happening in kitchen #2. Soups, breads and appetizers also came forth from these upstairs kitchens while the final steps before serving occured in the lower kitchen, just off the dining room. Wonderful smells eminated from above, wafting down to the first floor, stimulating guests and employees, alike. It was not unusual to send down a completed dessert to the serving area only to find that half was gone before the doors opened for service! Knowing this, I always had more hidden away, waiting for that moment when a waiter would, sheepishly, admit that - oh somehow - there just wasn't enough for the guests!

Flambe' was a regular part of our cuisine! Reducing wine sauces requires a touch of flame. To add to the effect, and to the delight of diners, just when the match hit the pan, the maitre'd would flick off the lights thus allowing those in the dining room to view the reduction in action. This always inspired 'oooohhs' and 'aahhhs' from the crowd. It never failed to entertain and always served to make our guests gush over their dining experience.

Opening night! It was scary and I learned a great deal in rapid sequence. First of all; one must pre-cook much of the food. Sauteed vegetables must first be quick steamed so that they are tender crisp and need just a turn or two in the pan. Main course items should be prepped so that minimal time is required during the final stages. There are secrets to this that no self respecting chef will reveal! The pasta, rice or potato should also be pre-cooked...just to the point of 'done' so that when the order comes in, the final heating takes place and the dish is fresh and crisp...not overly cooked and, certainly, not undercooked. This CAN be done, even when your room contains dozens of hungry, paying customers!

I knew some of this but, not all. Suffice it to say that opening night was a little slower than expected, with the room allowing 1 1/2 seatings rather than the usual 2. All worked out well, though, with a standing ovation the result of the collaborative effort from wait staff to sous chef to .... ME!

As the months and years passed, the venue grew, offering outdoor dining, summer concert series events which ran 6-8 weeks during the height of summer, brunch in the main house and, eventually, a delicatessen which supplied sustenance to the regular workers who were employed in the area. My responsibilities grew with each area. Soon, I was not only preparing the nightly fare, but also creating brunch sauce (Hollandaise for Eggs Benedict and asparagus) nut breads which were part of brunch, along with the menu creation.

To say that this stage in my cooking career was cause for trepidation would be an understatement. I had to appease the elite eaters visiting the Napa Valley. The bar was constantly being lifted as more and more dining establishments moved to Napa, feeding the increasingly refined appetites of the upper crust!

I will surely write more about this part of my life; particularly the time I was a Chinese Chef, but, in order to publicize this hub, I'll go ahead and do just that...publish it, with promises of more to come on this and other aspects of my thoughts about ... everything! And, just an idea of what's to come, here's a little example of that which is near and dear to me...

. There are so many things that matter greatly to me. Empathy being first and foremost because I feel the ability to empathize encompasses so many areas of our lives. To relate enough to care about others; our friends, family, and, most importantly to me, animals, is the ultimate gift one can give and receive. I've written about this before so, to avoid being redundant, I'll just say that I sincerely value those who possess empathy. They are special in this, sometimes, difficult life

 

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    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      4 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Oh Bobby! WE just talked yesterday for the first time in YEARS...YES!! I can SEE it...what a great time we had so many many years ago. Love the memories and love you, my friend!!!

    • profile image

      Bobby 

      4 years ago

      home made bread hot with butter, your vegetarian pizza, banana bead , super salad with shrimp and monteray jack and beans beans beans on the oldest stove I have ever seen on Wheeler Street living with a paranoid communist who ran for city council Can you See it?

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi Peggy! It was such a challenge; one I was scared to death to try but, more lured by the dare! Self dares! They've either gotten me into great situations w/great rewards or gotten me into trouble! It was a great time - I worked at that particular restaurant for about 5 years. Learned so much and really had a crazy great time w/my co workers. As time has passed; the competition and raising of the bar in the Napa Valley has been tremendous and the little boutique restaurant, eventually, succumbed to the massive influx of high end and highly financed restauranteers. We were "the one" for about a decade, however. I also worked w/Maggi Gin (she had a number of great, gourmet sauces on the market for a while; sadly, she was killed far too soon in an automobile accident)....I worked as head Chef in her restaurant in the Napa Valley, too...I learned everything there was to know about Mardarin, Cantonese, Szechuan styles, and more. It was a great challenge, too...that was a while ago and, after Maggi's death, the restaurant closed. Thanks, Peggy, for visiting and reminding me of this fun time in my life. Kathy

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      After reading many of your animal hubs, I had no idea that you were the head chef in a boutique restaurant in the Napa Valley. Is the restaurant still there and operating? That is hard work being a chef! It must also have been very satisfying for you getting that ovation on opening night and expanding the offerings to include brunch, etc. This is an interesting side of your life. How long did you do it? Voted up and interesting!

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Thank you my dear friend, Amy. It really was a challenge; taking on this little botique restaurant..but I couldn't back down...worked many many hours...7 days a week and I LOVED it! I had an excellent and fun loving crew working w/me so it was fun as well as satisfying work. i really appreciate your comments, Amy...such an uplifting and supportive friend! This comment is worthy of whatever the award is for promoting a product/person/thing..really really well written..!!! Thank you!!!

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 

      6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      An ambitious endeavor to say the least and is an example of your "can do" admirable, positive attitude. Your writing, Kathy, is so smooth, the creme of the crop, and every morsel you serve is a gourmet experience. I especially love your summation, because "you said a mouthful" that reveals the pure, honest direction of every endeavor you undertake. Whether it's haute cuisine or your passion for those without a voice, you serve it up with all your love. Bon appetit!

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi again, Augustine! The chocolate cake pictured here was one I made for my very wonderful friend, Carolyn, on her birthday. My friends and I had a 'birthday club' in which we celebrated all our birthdays which resulted in lots of parties! This was a chocolate on chocolate triple layered .. all from scratch (my goodness! even ground the flour and grew the caocoa beans!! ) not really :)...I miss that part of my Kansas life.

      I love pumpkin pie..did you know that it can be made using banana squash in the place of pumpkin? I use which ever is available at the time. Yummy!!!

      Thank you again and again for such kindness! Kathy

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Forgot to mention, Chocolate cake and pumkin pie are my all time favorites. I have to have my own pumkin pie at Thanksgiving, with suger free cool whip.

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      hi Augustine. Yikes! i forgot about the curlers...oh boy! It was a crazy, busy and challenging career...I thoroughly enjoyed that position. The summer concert series were great in the warm outside evening weather. Great bands ! What a fun time it was .. Thank you for reading this old one...maybe one of my very first. kathy

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      6 years ago from Texas

      HOW COME I NEVER SAW THIS HUB BEFORE? The chance to see you in curlers.

      Passed up a chance to ride in a private plane to get ready for work, that's dedication. I can't say I know anyone else who would do the same. Desserts and bread look good as well. Kathy the chef...

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Eiddwenn! My sweet friend! I forgot about this one, it's been so long; one of my first. Oh, I'm so glad you read this because those were really fun times and I learned SO MUCH "under fire!" I HAD to get it right (another self dare....the offer was made and I couldn't turn down the challenge even though, even then I rarely cooked in the style required for such a restaurant.) It was really a great career...I worked every day, 12 hours a day because my pride was wrapped up in anything that went out to the public..soups, salads, main courses, desserts, breads, condiments, all of it! I'm pleased you enjoyed this one, Eiddwen; we've certainly lived interesting lives, haven't we? Everyone here...so incredibly multi multi!! Love you, my endearing friend..now, I see you've written several new hubs so, I'm off to Eiddwen land! Kathy

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      6 years ago from Wales

      I have only just come accross this one and I really enjoyed it.

      Your life sounds fascinating then and now.

      Thank you for sharing these priceless memories with us all.

      You have the gift of breathing life into your words which in turn gives us the feeling of actually being thereith you.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

      I push all buttons on this one and look forward to reading more on your life experiences.

      Your cakes ook delicious by the way !!!

      here's to many more hubs to share my dear friend.

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 

      7 years ago from California

      Multi talented indeed LC - The chocolate one looks divine!!! I must have chocolate each night or I go into withdrawals. BTW - I have some curlers like that, I just love em! Cheers! Must go eat some chocolate!

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      "would"..that I had been....I don't know...never spoke the language. Which is it? LOL

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Ahhhhh....EMan! Were that I had been appreciated so generously in my 'other' lives!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      7 years ago

      ...you are quite the renaissance woman - you are an excellent writer and scribe with a probing mind and by the looks of this hub - a world class chef , and as I know from other hubs - you're a lover of animals (lucky them!), an art lover, a nature lover and you have a keen eye for home decorating and design ...... even Martha Stewart couldn't do all of that unless she got help from his production staff and a few good scriptwriters!!!

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathy 

      7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      We all love to eat, don't we? I'm looking for pie pictures, too..I'll find them somewhere in my hard drive. Thank you both for your comments!

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Great little story Lucky. Liked it immensely...and I'm not one who usually enjoys reading about food things.

    • profile image

      jca197493@yahoo.c 

      7 years ago

      Enjoyed reading this. I kept a smile on my face throughout. Love the curler's and the cat. Well done.

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